Jonathan Hay, "Sensuous Surfaces: The Decorative Object in Early Modern China" (U Hawaii Press, 2010)


Sensuous Surfaces: The Decorative Object in Early Modern China (University of Hawai'i Press, 2010) is a study of domestically produced, portable decorative arts in early modern China. Decorative objects connect us, visually and physically, to the world around us. In many ways they think with us, and an experience of pleasure emerges from this mutual relationship. This was as true in late Ming and early-to-mid Qing China as it is today, and Jonathan Hay's careful study of decorative objects functions as a toolkit for experiencing the surfaces of decorative Ming-Qing objects and understanding the pleasures of a relationship with those surfaces. Part I introduces the context of production and consumption of Ming-Qing decorative objects and argues for the importance of sensuous surface to the experience of them. It also sets out a history of the transformations of urban taste in early modern China, and offers some methodological tools for helping us think about the relationships of objects, movement, and bodies that are inspired by the work of a range of authors including Brian Massumi. Part II is a rich, detailed guide to the surfacescape of decorative objects in Ming-Qing China. Part III moves from the surfaces of individual objects to the landscapes they collectively create, offering a language for understanding, experiencing, and describing the objectscapes of urban interiors. Together, these parts of the book cooperate to change not only how we understand and articulate the experiences and pleasures of early modern interiors, but also how to perceive and give voice to our own constructed environments with a re-energized sensory language. This is one of my very favorite recent books, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. At the end of the conversation, Hay mentioned two books that are worth checking out:
  1. Muriel Combes (Tr., Thomas LaMarre), Gilbert Simondon and the Philosophy of the Transindividual (MIT Press, 2012)
  2. Alexander Nagel and Christopher S. Wood, Anachronic Renaissance (Zone Books, 2010)

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