Cultural theorist Joshua Glenn and journalist Rob Walker last week kicked off an experiment that will test the literary significance of otherwise useless objects. As curators of the "Significant Objects" project, the duo are pairing writers—Lydia Millet, Luc Sante, Matthew Sharpe, and others—with knickknacks picked up for a pittance at thrift stores and flea markets, and asking the scribes to feature the objects in short works of fiction. The items, along with the stories, are then put up for auction on eBay.
The founders stress on their Web site that the aim of the experiment isn’t to trick people into paying a premium for useless tchotchkes (the stories accompanying each object are clearly marked as fabrications), but to test whether fiction can lend measurable value to things like ashtrays, plastic hotdogs, and kitschy John F. Kennedy busts. "Invested with new significance," these objects should, Glenn writes, "acquire not merely subjective but objective value."
Leading the pack at the Significant Objects auction thus far is a button emblazoned with the legend "All American Official Necking Team." It, along with the tale of its (imaginary) significance by blogger Susannah Breslin, is currently fetching a bid of $36.88. The winning bidder will get both the object and a copy of the story in which it features, with proceeds going to the author. Writers slated to contribute to the site include Bruce Sterling, Mark Frauenfelder, and Sam Lipsyte.