"Man is hungry for beauty. There is a void."
Oscar Wilde (via review by Arthur Krystal)
I always thought of dragons, the greatest and darkest creatures of Faerie, chiefly as collectors and connoisseurs, not primarily as plunderers or marauders. Their treasures would be rich, strange, and obscure, gained as much by study and ingenuity as by brute force or fire. The trove under the mountain promised a hidden plenitude.
As I think more about Paul Bloom's How Pleasure Works, and his theory of the "life force" embodied in art works and artifacts, it occurs to me that this life force really consists of attachment, to a transcendent Other that is an artist or other cathected individual. The memento is a repository of attachment. If money is about power and freedom, collected items are about connection and the gravity of history.
In Plato's "Symposium" Socrates presents a theory of erotic love as a deficit state, as the craving of an inherently incomplete entity. Aristotle wrote that the solitary man is either a beast or a god (and I don't think he saw men as gods). No matter how we attempt to defend against it, need is the default state of humanity. This need is best satisfied by relationships, but even those with abundant relationships maintain a system of stored attachments in the form of memorabilia, whether in the form of photographs, letters, books, or other valued items.
Having a romantic connotation of the dragon's hoard from childhood, I found it jarring for a while to hear of hoarding as a hallmark of pathology. How indeed does one shape and prune one's network of keepsakes? This is a deeply personal art. Just as, per Samuel Johnson, one should keep one's friendships in constant repair, so should one maintain one's personal record of attachments.
This art is distinguished by discrimination. Just as we are dismayed by those who would cast away every book, photograph, and card, we are appalled by those who cast away nothing. Just as he who loves everyone arguably loves no one (in particular), so he who keeps everything has become blind to relative value. In the case of hoarding the "life force" has become clotted and stagnant; a natural need has defeated its own purpose. If Thoreau was right that one is wealthy in proportion to what one can do without, it is also the case that human beings are those animals in need of apparent superfluity.