Collections

I talk about Wal­ter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechan­i­cal Repro­duc­tion too much. By too much, I mean every cou­ple of years. I real­ly should read some oth­er stuff that he’s writ­ten, so I don’t get too pseu­do-intel­lec­tu­al­ly schol­ar­ship-boy­ish. Like I’m about to.

I col­lect stuff, not a lot, but stuff nonethe­less. It used to be base­ball cards, then Tolkien books, then good sci­ence fic­tion in gen­er­al and now beach glass, good movies, and local music para­pher­na­lia. I used to col­lect things as if the things them­selves were pre­cious. Ben­jamin would call this the aura of the art object. He posits that orig­i­nal works of art have greater val­ue than repro­duc­tions. That’s the kind of rea­son that peo­ple go for mint first edi­tions, signed copies, &c. There’s noth­ing wrong with that. I would still love to get my mitts on a first edi­tion Star­ship Troop­ers with the awe­some dust-jack­et, but my collector’s cri­te­ri­on has changed over the years.

I no longer col­lect things as if the things them­selves were pre­cious, I col­lect them because of what they con­tain. So now when I’m at Half-price Books, and I see a hard cov­er of LeGuin’s Lathe of Heav­en with the orig­i­nal dust-jack­et cov­er art, I don’t care that its just the book club edi­tion, I care that it is hard-bound and there­fore more durable than my paper­back ver­sion. The dura­bil­i­ty mat­ters because it pro­tects what is real­ly impor­tant about the book, the sto­ry itself. So I’ll pick up an Asi­mov omnibus and get rid of my ancient paper­backs (which are worth more than the omnibus) because the omnibus will last longer.

I don’t mind that my Egon Schiele came from All Posters or that the Death of Marat in my bath­room (which nev­er fails to make me act dis­gust­ing­ly smug) came from the same. If my art selec­tions are con­sid­ered a col­lec­tion, I have what I have because I like it, not nec­es­sar­i­ly for its extrin­sic val­ue. I try to col­lect expe­ri­ences, emo­tions and moments of com­mu­ni­ca­tion now, not every last edi­tion of the Lord of the Rings. (Although if you want to hook me up, I won’t com­plain).