Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Collecting Pencils

The Museum of Innocence. A Love Story.

I am intrigued by the new novel of Ohran Pamuk The Museum of Innocence not because I have read it but because of its main character's obsession with collecting objects. In 1970s Istanbul, Kemal becomes infatuated with Füsun and goes about collecting things that she had touched or used. The objects find their way into a museum that Kemal builts, a shrine to his lost love.

As a provider of emotional security an object is the finest of domestic animals, writes Baudrillard. An object is the perfect mirror that sends back not real images but desired ones. All that cannot be invested in human relationships is invested in objects. What gives objects a "soul", what makes them "ours" is their capacity to regulate time, to regulate everyday life, to provide an outlet for tensions and energies that are in mourning. And Kemal is in mourning.

I lack the single-mindedness of collectors. Take pencils for example. The idea that I would start collecting pencils by manufacturer, make, date, etc. is beyond me. To be as systematic with pencils as to know them intimately (type of wood, manufacturing process of lead, design of barrel) and order them into series does not appeal. But I do understand the need for the creation of an environment for private objects. Possessing objects is a controlled, self-addressed discourse - by using objects we recite ourselves.

Baudrillard had said it all: The environment of private objects is an essential, if imaginary, dimension of our life. As essential as dreams. Objects help us cope with the irreversible movement from birth towards death. And so if Kemal's obsession with collecting objects associated with his lost love "bears the stamp of solitude", I can feel the importance of investing objects with meanings. If I don't collect pencils, I collect their meanings and their private environments. They way they are transformed into dreams into people's heads.

Let this crystal inkwell and pen set belonging to my mother that Füsun toyed that afternoon, noticing it on the table while she was smoking a cigarette, be a relic of the refinement and the fragile tenderness we felt for each other. (28)
The way her hair tumbled onto the paper, the way her hand traveled across the table, the way she'd chew and chew a lead pencil, only to slip its eraser between her lips, as if sucking a nipple, the way her bare arm grazed my own from time to time - all this sent my head spinning, but I held myself in check. (64)
I knew from experience that Füsun's lead pencil had the greatest consolatory power of all the things in the apartment, with her teacup, which I had not washed since her disappearance coming in a close second; I took these things into bed with me. After touching them and stroking my skin with them for a short time, I was able at last to relax. (511)

*Michael Gorra, "The Museum of Innocence by Ohran Pamuk", The Guardian, 10 January 2010;
*Orhan Pamuk... is standing among a sea of objects - sewing machines, clocks, soda-bottle tops, buttons, lottery tickets, china dogs, bird cages, cigarette lighters and false teeth... The Art Newspaper, 16 September 2010  Read more...
*Jean Baudrillard, The System of Objects, Verson: London & N. York, 2005.
*Ohran Pamuk, The Museum of Innocence


  1. Lito,
    You might be interested in this excellent, moving short film on collecting, hoarding & obsession


  2. 'What is decisive in collecting is that the object is detached from its original functions in order to enter into the closest conceivable relation to things of the same kind. This relation is the diametric opposite of any utility...' Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin (Cambridge, MA and London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1999), p. 204.

  3. Botogol: Fascinating glimpse into the obsession of hoarding or collecting. Thanks for the link.
    Nemo: "Functionality is forever collapsing into subjectivity, and possession is continually getting entangled with utility, as a part of the ever-disappointed effort to achieve a total integration." JB
    I shall look into Mr Benjamin. Merci.

  4. Oh, The System of Objects is a great book. I can never understand why the later Baudrillard gets all the attention. There, in that first book, is everything we need. (Well, everything we obsessives need.)