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

Cyn is Rick's wife, Katie's Mom, and Esther & Oliver's Mémé. She's also a professional geek, avid reader, fledgling coder, enthusiastic gamer (TTRPGs), occasional singer, and devoted stitcher.
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3 thoughts on “TotD: Bruce Chatwin on Possessions

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

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