Contemporary materialist theory is converging with the study of material culture, as evidenced by increasing attention given to the book as a material object produced, circulated, and consumed as a commodity. It is, however,problematic to conceive of the book as a material object, since writing itself cannot be straightforwardly conceived as a material thing, as Derrida has shown. Moreover, it is difficult to conceive the book as a commodity, since the notion of the commodity is also problematically rooted in the notion of the material, as can be established by reference to Marx and Benjamin. To consider the materiality of the book we need in place an architext of the use of the terms matter and materiality in theoretical thought. These terms are central but elusive, even when they are consciously thematized, as they are, for example, in the work of Judith Butler. This elusiveness arises only partly because the distinction between Cartesian and Aristotelian matter is forgotten, but mainly because these terms are used in an approximate fashion by Marx, who is the principal source of this vocabulary in contemporary theory. We should treat the term matter with the same skepticism we employ when dealing with other idealist concepts, not as their preconceptual other and redemption.

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