The Urge to Collect


Sally Feldman considers our obsessions with collecting @ New Humanist.
Tom Hanks does it with old typewriters, Demi Moore and Courtney Love enjoy vintage dolls, while Quentin Tarantino prefers board games, and both Whoopi Goldberg and Lily Tomlin go mad for Bakelite jewellery. What they all have in common is that most powerful and human of instincts: the urge to collect.As someone whose closest connection with the hunter-gatherer impetus was the time I tracked down a bargain Chloe handbag at the Selfridges sale, I find it difficult to identify with this urge. It shouldn’t be that foreign to me. I’ve known my fair share of collectors. There’s Barbara, who can barely move in her tiny flat for the vast array of teddy bears dominating the soft furnishings; Roger, who collects saxophones, Hawaiian shirts, Art Deco ceramics and fake food; Guido, an Italian financier whose mansion is spilling over with vintage kitchen utensils and old radios. I once shared a flat with someone who eventually ended up sleeping in the kitchen because his room was piled to the ceiling with magazines, records and tapes of music programmes he’d carefully made, labelled, but never got round to hearing.Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to Its Own PastWhat I’ve learned, the hard way, is that the one thing you must never ask a collector is “why?” It’ll get you nowhere. They’ll just stare at you in baffled amazement before returning to contemplation of their most recent acquisition, or dreaming of the next one. These are people who thrive on making classifications, pondering the arrangements of their trophies and annotating them with informative labels. Often their obsession seems to derive from a need to impose order on a chaotic world, from the fear of death and oblivion. The collection will ward off mortality, carrying the illusion of eternity. Collections represent nostalgia for previous worlds, a desire to reclaim the past, to rescue and give meaning to objects otherwise lost in the flux. At the same time, though, collecting also encourages some of our most dangerous and base qualities: possessiveness, acquisitiveness, the lust for more