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Methodologically, collecting may be the most accessible element of the theory. Starting from self-observation, it is also highly subjective. Texts on collecting or interviews with collectors can be drawn upon to triangulate the psychologizing and rationalizing that will occur in self-observation. Other fields of collecting are probably equally valid - some collectors change fields, some completely lose the interest in the former field when they start collecting in the new field. Benjamin has something to say on collecting, in Das Passagen-Werk, H [Der Sammler] - a quarry to be accessed later, once a foundation has been established.

The most immediate thought is that collecting replaces something else without replacing it completely, something more fugitive and more painful. Not so much the possession of a loved being (which exists more as a phastasma or projection than in reality); the risks and difficulties of relating to other human beings, especially the phase of befriending them (acquiring them as acquaintance, friend or lover) is replaced by the unilateral grasp, or control, of the process of approximation, desire, evaluation, valuation, acquisition (this somewhat incoherent set contains terms that all play their part, but will need to be disambiguated later). Is there an English equivalent of 'liebenswert'? The unilateral nature of collecting processes is reassuring, reduces the risk of rejection or relational quagmires. The time-hogging breadth of the activity means it implicity assumes importance and reduces the importance of other non-collecting activties. Is this too simplistic?

(The relation to significance)

The collecting relation is not quite unilateral, as bargaining with owners of desirable objects may play its part; often, however, there is a technical layer with many known parameters which establishes a prime relationship between a collector subject and his or her object, or this is what appears to be the case. In fact, such relation cannot exist since the object cannot enter a true relation; instead, it acts as a conduit for an imaginary relation to a significance fed by comparison to the field of like objects, a significance which can be decomposed and rationalized as skill level, age, magic or religious meaning, utility value, asumption of rarety, reflection of the object one's own knowledge, one's own ability to break its spell by calling its name. Last no least, all these parameters translate into an assumption of an certain exchange value (the estimate may soon be disappointed at the attempt of selling the object). The acquisition of the object implies negating possession by others, which points towards an oedipal structure?

(Tabu on commercial value)

The tabu on discussing the commercial value or prices (e.g. in Turkotek) of objects should be investigated. While it appears benign on the outset, intimating that the value of the things collected could never substantially affect one's material comfort, money still lurks everywhere. The explicit reason for the tabu is to distance the discussion from anything commercial; dealers and would-be dealers might use disucssions or valuations of knowledgable participants to gauge or crank up the value of an item they want to sell, or use the discussion to advertise the very fact that the item is for sale. Another policy, at yahoo oriental rugs mailing list, is that prices may be discussed but the moderator will not take part in such discussions. Elsewhere, on rugrabbit and other sites where rugs are avertised for purchase, the label 'Price on request', or POR, keeps a veil on the price to tempt would-be clients into strictly bilateral discussions of just price, the same way as two people leave a party determined to consummate a sudden flirt. The erotic charge of asking for the price of a desired object may be compensated by a perfunctory and terse character of the request, or on the contrary, by a verbose request using some polite exchange (a compliment, a question, a reference to something) to cushion the stingy question 'how much?'

(The burden of possession, agression)

The act of acquiring the object would appear to be more important than the status of posession itself, which would explain a certain neglect of the items under possession that can sometimes be observed (this would need verification); the valuable objects give excuse to hiding them in safes, storing them rolled up to protect them from wear, light, and moths, etc. The process of discarding the once desired items in favour of other presumably more desirable items has also been described under the rubic of 'evolution of the personal taste'. Focusing on a narrower field allows collectors to discharge of other items that do not fit the bracket anymore (e.g. Peter Hansen disposing of everything but his Shahsavan weavings). For some however, agression is played out as reckless use, as wearing these items down and thus destroying them. This is a sacriledge for a true collector who cannot feel but disdain for someone establishing the item simply as an object for use, disregardful of its value. The magnificient antique Ming carpets of Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza come to mind, which were so rare that one is foolishly tempted to call them priceless at the time of acquisition; put to use in his Spanish mansion, they had become mere rags, worn away by hard shoes and tainted with wine, cigarettes and licquor when the heirs took them back to the dealer after the Baron's death.

(Obsessing about the collection)

The opposite of the rejection of or agression towards the possessed is obesessing about these objects, i.e., all the cleaning, sorting, documenting etc; it seems that only a process that can be attached to the object makes its bleak and essentially meaningless presence bearable. Buying and selling may fall into the same bracket, combining disposal as negation of the collecting activitiy with the concomitant activties of research, acquistion, description, listing, packing, dispatching, accounting etc. For me it is hard to imagine admiring and fondling an object for an extended period without realising the ersatz nature of such activity.


Some fragments dealing with the addictive nature of collecting:

"I think you have mistunderstood the pathophysiology of rug collecting (cacoethesis lodicis?). An initial exposure (rug purchase) does not serve to immunize against further purchases, but rather starts an autoimmune reaction that soon develops a life of its own. Only powerful immunomodulator therapy can get things back under control. Spouses or significant others can perform this function, unless they too suffer from the same immune dysregulation. Failing that, aggressive therapy can slow things down for a while, like spending a lot of money on a fake (see the other thread). Regardless, the condition is often progressive with frequent relapses. Happily, sufferers of the condition are blissfully unaware of their malady." (James Blanchard, on Turkotek)

Last update: 20 May 2007 | Impressum—Imprint