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