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robertogreco : jean-paulsarte   1

Why I love my possessions as a mirror and a gallery of me | Aeon Essays
"The trouble is that I am my things and my things are me. I don’t want to relinquish them. This reluctance is not acquisitiveness: it is that I don’t want to abandon myself. Single, childless, I’m all I’ve got: me – and the accumulated external markers of who I am, which are also narrative prompts for the ongoing story of my life. These stories connect me to the past, present, future, and live in nearly everything I own. Those oak tables in my living room come from a Maryland junk shop; embedded in their grain is the story of my bribing friends with a promise of crab cakes in exchange for help transporting the furniture back to New Jersey. A kitschy dish shaped like a duck taking flight reminds me of researching a book in Nashville. The bisque Rosenthal vase shouts: ‘Get back to Berlin’ every time I dust it.

In Being and Nothingness (1943), Jean-Paul Sartre wrote that man wishes to possess things in order to enlarge his sense of self, and that we can know who we are only by observing what we have. Studies of ownership and identity – by marketing experts, anthropologists, psychologists and sociologists – come to the same conclusion: we project our sense of self onto everything we own. According to Russell Belk, a professor of marketing at York University whose 1988 paper about possessions and the extended self remains a touchstone for all subsequent research, this kind of projection serves a valuable function for a healthy personality, ‘acting as an objective manifestation of self’. Humans have a fundamental need to store memories, values and experiences in objects, perhaps to keep them safe from memory loss; proof that, yes, that really happened.

It is not even necessary to own these totemic items for their charge to hold. People speak about ‘my’ television programme, ‘my’ movie star, or ‘my’ seat in a classroom – a form of possessive self-definition that extends to matters of taste as well as to stuff. Questions such as: ‘Are you Beatles or are you Stones? Blur or Oasis?’ are examples of how taste funnels us into tribes that proclaim our aspirations and ideals along with our interests.

Who are my people? Open my front door and the first thing you notice are books. They line the walls, hover overhead, and stack up on tables. Each is a chunk of autobiography, a clue to who I was while reading it, what I found to love inside its pages and where it sent me next. Umberto Eco understood this phenomenon well, saying: ‘The contents of someone’s bookcase are part of his history, like an ancestral portrait.’"



"As I contemplate a possible future of enforced minimalism, I am unsettled by the words of the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who wrote in ‘Why We Need Things’ (1993) that: ‘Artefacts help objectify the self … by demonstrating the owner’s power.’ They ‘reveal the continuity of the self through time, by providing foci of involvement in the present, mementos and souvenirs of the past, and signposts to future goals… objects give concrete evidence of one’s place in a social network as symbols… of valued relationships.’ As such, they stabilise our identities, giving permanent shape to ourselves ‘that otherwise would quickly dissolve in the flux of consciousness’.

I fear that disposing of my possessions would dissolve me. I’m precariously balanced on an emotional seesaw. On one side, writ large, are phrases such as ‘check your privilege’ and ‘first-world problems’, which remind me that many endure far worse. On the other side is the gut-wrenching sensation that I’m being erased. I try projecting myself into an unfettered future of ease and liberation. But all my imagination conjures is the kind of grim bedsit existence depicted by Muriel Spark."



"Sophie Woodward, a lecturer in sociology at Manchester University, works on a research project called Dormant Things. She studies the items that people store in cupboards and attics, and which they often never use, but which have ‘implications for understanding memories, life and relationship changes, and also for developing more sustainable consumption’. Time and again, Woodward notes that people think they ought to get rid of stuff; but, she tells me: ‘The more I talk to them, the more I realise that they get immense pleasure out of having those things, even things they don’t look at, because when they do it reminds them of something.’"



"Anecdotal evidence reinforces my instinct that jettisoning everything would undermine my me-ness. Daniel Miller, an anthropologist at University College London, spent 17 months conducting interviews with 30 London residents for his book The Comfort of Things (2008), in order to explore ‘the role of objects in our relationships, both to each other and to ourselves’. He was testing the popular assumption that ‘our relationships to things [come] at the expense of our relationships to people’.

He discovered that this assumption wasn’t true: ‘usually the closer our relationships are with objects, the closer our relationships are with people’. One of his most unsettling encounters was with a man who owned nothing, living ­– perching, really – amid a minimum of donated furniture and clothes. ‘There is a loss of shape, discernment and integrity. There is no sense of the person as the other, who defines one’s own boundary and extent.’ This seems to support Csikszentmihalyi’s belief that our psyches need the stability that possessions bring."



"Which brings me to a last, shaming truth. While I don’t buy high-cost, high-status items, my pride in what I possess is linked to a desire for admiration and love. I hope that people visiting my home will get me in a way that’s not possible when meeting me elsewhere. What’s more, this happened: my ex-husband swore that he fell for me when he saw my library and the dictionary that lives by my bed. Yet I’d need a nonstop stream of visitors to justify my numerous possessions. Why do I persist in playing to an imaginary audience, like a fairy tale princess in suspended animation, waiting to be discovered? Perhaps the dream of an improved future self keeps us whole and functioning in the here and now. Perhaps this is the necessity."
possessions  leerandall  2016  minimalism  jean-paulsarte  sartre  umbertoeco  mihalycsikszentmihalyi  michaellandy  sophiewoodward  meaning  memory  psychology  danielmiller  objects  relationships  marcallum 
august 2016 by robertogreco

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