Re: anti-collector

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Posted by R. John Howe on March 21, 1999 at 10:54:47:

In Reply to: Re: anti-collector posted by Katharine Hawks on March 21, 1999 at 00:48:30:

Katharine -

First, let me apologize for not handling the spelling of your name with proper care.

No, I have not read, Benjamin deeply. Have rather just read into him from time to time. And I quite agree with your point and Michael's that my suggestion need not be the modal tendency but is likely rather a kind of quibble. And it may well not be what Benjamin intended at all. I "jumped on his words" a bit.

Thanks again for these thoughts.


R. John Howe

: : But there is here even in this rather sophisticated view of the nature of connoisseurship, a hint of some of the possible dangers entailed.

: : In Benjamin's elevated phrase he says that"

: : "...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."

: : Katherine then assents, describing this thought as "poignant" for her and goes on to say, "...I was especially moved by the idea "living through one's objects", in the intimacy of ownership."

: : And Katherine's extraction from Aristotle of the related image of the "voice of the shuttle" --...that suggests that "...that art can speak in ways which language cannot..." is quite lovely (although I cannot think of a collector who is quite this silent.)

: I was thinking more about this today - the issue of silence. And I realized, of course, you're right. There is a crucial additional "voice of the shuttle" - specifically, if one is willing to metaphorically see a collection as a weaving in its own right, then the collector isn't silent.

: That said, the "voice of the shuttle" is inherent in any collection. The collection =will= speak about the collector. However, I think the strongest 'voices' will be those that are created by 'listening' to the pieces. 'Listening' is my somewhat awkward metaphor for digging at the rugs in terms of history, ethnography, mode of production; as well as aesthetics.

: As far as your feedback: "The potential danger here for me is this: that one might begin to live through one's art objects to the neglect of important human relationships. We all know collectors like this. The problem is detecting whether you have become one. The notion that one might begin to live primarily through one's owned objects is alarming and a little sad."

: I didn't interpret Benjamin's statement that way - though I can certainly see why his turn of phrase would lead you think of a kind of emptiness in the relationship. Are you familiar with any of his other writings, specifically "The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction", or his work on Baudelaire? In these writings, he talks extensively about the "aura" of the original artwork. Aura is a fairly complicated concept, but perhaps the simplest way to describe "aura" is the ability of art to "look back at us."

: In the phrase "…he [the collector] lives in them [the objects owned]…", I read/interpreted an emphasis on the willingness to acknowledge the power of the artwork - specifically, in it's ability to speak to us (or, in the case of Benjamin, to look back at us.)

: And I realized, this is another datapoint on "why rugs" (as opposed to, say, stamps.) More than anything else, rugs have "aura" for me. They have presence.

: --Katharine

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