Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Dragon's Hoard

"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.


Dr X said...

The memento is a repository of attachement

In two instances, when I worked with patients who hoarded, they sheepishly confessed that they believed the objects had feelings that could be hurt. Neither patient was otherwise psychotic and both clearly understood that their empathy for the objects was not rational. It was as if all of the past was alive, but in danger of death if it wasn't loved.

Novalis said...

Interesting...keepsakes as manifestations of the depressive position, substituting for the vulnerable object. One could also think of them as transitional objects, beloved in themselves but also insofar as they gesture toward something or someone beyond.

Retriever said...

I think hoarding can also be about holding onto an ambivalent attachment (for example to a parent, where one keeps a hideous inherited desk and creates a personal myth about being precious to them around that desk). Also it can be about fear of future privation/a way of walling oneself up alive/a way of barricading oneself safe from a frightening world or just keeping obnoxious family members from walking into one's room. Or it can be a perfect excuse for not entertaining. Or it can be a way of telling a spouse that one has no confidence in them as a provider: "Because you will never work, I accumulate stuff against the possibilit of future hard times...".

I've never given much credence to the trad Freudian explanations for hoarding as people nowadays aren't toilet trained the way they used to be, and it seemed to reflect more of Freud's personal preoccupations than reality...But I do think that physical hoarding of possessions mirrors a certain tendency to be both greedy and stingy at the same time with one's emotions and finances, perhaps fearful and mistrustful, not wanting to give one's heart lest it be trashed. The child of an alcoholic or histrionic mother is frequently like this. The kind of person who will insist on a pre-nup and go into marriage determined not to share or risk being ripped off.

Of course all of us, to some degree, find part of our ID thru our toys. I do thru my cameras, and computers, and other tech gizmos and books etc.

Mostly, tho, your point about the attachment is good. The lust for possession. All collectors know this (think of the Biblical meaning of to know). They study an object like a lover. Catalogue its features, good points and imperfections. Pros and cons. Want to keep it hidden for private consumption, jealous of others who seek it for themselves.

THere's a rather nice dragon story in the C.S.Lewis story of THe VOyage of The DawnTreader (out this Xmas, I think, or is it the SIlver CHair? you could take the kids to) where the loathsome Eustace has a dragon encounter of an edifying it.

Anonymous said...

Hoarding is the fear of forgetting oneself. It's keeping time. It's the necessary friction that sustains the narrative self. It's the persistent ambience of death as a kind of ironic immunity against it.