Posted by Katharine Hawks on March 20, 1999 at 00:54:35:
I was so pleased to see this topic! During last discussion, I sincerely hoped to see a topic about the collection impulse in general.
When this topic was posted, I went back and re-read some of the critical theory I have in my library on collecting. One of my favorite cultural critics, Walter Benjamin, has a lovely essay in his compilation "Illuminations" (Ed. Hannah Arendt) called "Unpacking my Library," in which he discusses his passion for book collecting.
In this delightful essay is a fascinating quote:
"For inside him [the collector] there are spirits, or at least genii, which have
seen to it that for a collector -- and I mean a real collector, a collector as he
ought to be -- ownership is the most intimate relationship one can have to objects.
Not that they come alive in him; it is he who lives in them."
Suffice it to say, Benjamin's theory of intimacy certainly isn't the only 'explanation' for collecting (and many of the theories about collectors are extraordinarily negative). This one, however, I found very poignant. I was especially moved by the idea "living through one's objects", in the intimacy of ownership.
This passage reminded me of a recent email correspondence I had with an ebay seller, where I rambled about why I it was rugs I loved more than anything else, which I'll paraphrase:
One of my graduate school teachers used the metaphor of weaving to describe the experience of knowing -- specifically in the way that art speaks to us. In attempting to describe this, he would speak of Aristotle's commentary on a lost play my Sophocles. In *Poetics*, Aristotle comments on a (since lost) play by Sophocles about the story of Tereus and Philomela. In a nutshell, Tereus rapes Philomena and cuts her tongue to maintain her silence. Philomela begins to weave. She weaves a robe which tells her story to her sister. And this is what Aristotle means by the "voice of the shuttle" -- that art can speak in ways which language cannot.
Remembering this passage helped me to understand exactly why rugs fascinate me so much. In my imagination, they articulate both silence and the "voice of the shuttle." It matters to me that weaving is a woman's art. It also matters to me that that Afghanis responded to Soviet aggression with war imagery in their rugs and wove that silence/oppression into their rugs.
It also matters to me that the culture, history, and context of rug weaving is not transparent to me -- that I have to work fairly diligently to begin to actually *hear* the voice in the shuttle.
IF anything, I want to be an anti-collector. I don't want to be someone who fetishizes my rugs. I don't want to be someone who collects as compensation. I don't want to show off. I am interested in rugs with a "voice." I want my collecting to be about listening to other people -- not shouting "hey, this is ME!"
Kinda abstract, I know. What can I say. It's late.
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