Collections

Thursday, 15 July 2010

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).