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TotD: Bruce Chatwin on Possessions

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

3 comments to TotD: Bruce Chatwin on Possessions

  • 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.