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TotD: Bruce Chatwin on Possessions

Posted by Cyn | Posted in Thought of the Day | Posted on 08-04-2008

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And do we not all long to throw down our altars and rid ourselves of our possessions? Do we not gaze coldly at our clutter and say, "If these objects express my personality, then I hate my personality." For what, on the face of it, enhances life less than a work of art? One tires of it. One cannot eat it. It makes an uncomfortable bedfellow. One guards it, and feels obliged to enjoy it long after it has ceased to amuse. We sacrifice our freedom of action to become its privileged guardian, and we end its imprisoned slave. All civilizations are by their very nature "thing-oriented" and the main problem of their stability has been to devise new equations between the urge to amass things and the urge to be rid of them.

But things have a way of insinuating themselves into all human lives. Some people attract more things than others, but no people, however mobile, is thingless. A chimpanzee uses sticks and stones as tools, but he does not keep possessions. Man does. And the things to which he becomes most attached do not serve any useful function. Instead they are symbols or emotional anchors. The question I should like to ask without necessarily being able to answer it is, "Why are man’s real treasures useless?" For if we understood this, we might also understand the convoluted rituals of the art market.,
Bruce Chatwin Anatomy of Restlessness

Comments (3)

Well, what about mag­pies? They acquire pos­ses­sions, too. 😉 And, not every man’s trea­sures are use­less. Ask a woman who’s love is bak­ing what her favorite pos­ses­sion is? It might be her mix­er? I bet you’d under­stand a stitcher’s trea­sure trove. 😉 My husband’s favorite pos­ses­sion? A com­put­er, far from useless.

How­ev­er, I do agree with the emo­tion­al anchor. I do not treat pos­ses­sions as emo­tion­al items, hence I do not have lots of clut­ter. My hus­band and daugh­ter, how­ev­er, have tons. The com­put­er that I men­tion above is not use­ful if it is sit­ting up in the attic for 10 years and is only kept there because it is a sym­bol of peri­od of your life that has passed.

I pro­duce art. Prim­i­tive? Yes. Of val­ue to any­one but me? Not like­ly. But my art serves a pur­pose. It reminds me of emo­tions felt and places expe­ri­enced and mem­o­ries of my sons as boys and all kinds of oth­er things that I find of val­ue. A Thing? Yes. But far from use­less. And after I am dead and gone, my art will serve to remind those I leave behind, of me, and my mes­sage to them, the lessons I’ve taught them and the love I’ve giv­en them. Use­less art? I think not.

And, of course I total­ly mis­read this whole piece as “pos­ses­sions” rather than “art”. 🙂 I think I need to go back to 8th grade and a read­ing com­pre­hen­sion class.