What We Hoard

Sophie Grimes’s article, “The Art of Hoarding” sparked a great little conversation between members of the Anobium team about physical hoarding vs. hoarding of more immaterial things–information, or even identity (and are these the same thing, nowadays). The conversation stayed in my head for a few days, flipping on switches and connecting all sorts of dots, until I recalled a small scene from the movie, Adaptation:

Not only did LaRoche stop hoarding fish, he stopped being obsessed about them—supposedly, at least, though he could recite species names from memory. It forced me to wonder weather LaRoche was simply a hoarder who moved from one thing to the next, or if he was a collector of a different sort.

Totemic Assemblages

Reading the article linked to by Sophie in her piece, I was struck by this sentence:

The authors [of Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things] argue that hoarders see potential and value in objects most of us do not.

That same article attaches the word disorder to hoarders’ activities. It was hard for me to overlook the subtle schism between these two things. On one hand, hoarders seem to have an ability to see potential in things that we tend to take for granted. On the other hand, they’re people with marked mental deficiencies. This same disconnect occurs when studying the concept of totemism.

In short, totemism is a concept used mostly by anthropologists to describe “a system of belief in which humans are said to have a connection or a kinship with a spirit-being, such as an animal or plant. The totem is thought to interact with a given kin group or an individual and to serve as their emblem or symbol” (from the wiki on totemism).

Traditionally, anthropologists saw totemic beliefs as earmarkers for “primitive thinking.” Thus, as humans evolved, they grew to understand that the world was not governed by animating spirits, but by science!

Enter Claude Levi-Strauss, a French anthropologist who focused on totemism in his 1962 book, Le Totémisme Aujourd’hui (here‘s a good, concise review of it). In it he basically stated that totemism is a fiction invented by anthropologists to support their predetermined worldview—that of evolutionism (AKA structural functionalism), which Levi-Strauss may have described with the words, c’est des conneries:

“Totemism is like hysteria, in that once we are persuaded to doubt that it is possible arbitrarily to isolate certain phenomena and to group them together as diagnostic signs of an illness, or of an objective institution, the symptoms themselves vanish or appear refractory to any unifying interpretation.” (Levi-Strauss, from page 1 of Le Totémisme Aujourd’hui)

If we’re to take hoarding as a form of totemism in which the hoarders see a kind of creative spirit in objects that most others do not detect, could it be possible that we are the ones who are who are afflicted? Perhaps we categorize those with hoarding “disorders” as aberrant because we have normatized not seeing those things, not believing in those invisible possibilities.

Could it be that we, the “sensical” masses, in actuality suffer from an inability to comprehend the potential of the things around us?

Is hoarding really about things?

The Spirits Within: A Creative Perspective

When you hear artists talk about making art, things go a little hazy. Often words like “the muse” come out, or the media of the art (clay for sculptors, words for poets, notes for composers) becomes anthropomorphised into a sometimes deist entity, somtimes relentless taskmaster. We don’t seem to have an issue with our creative people seeing things this way. After all, it’s probably just a figure of speech, an expression
that captures the difficulty of artistic pursuit. Either that, or they’re all nuts.

I vote for the latter. On average, per minute, there are few things less productive, less rewarding than creating art. The vast amount of artists are there are failures, in that they most likely won’t reach the heights to which they aspire. I recall one instructor of mine—a very talented writer in his own right—walking in on the first day and telling us to look around, because most people we were looking at were never going to be published. And it’s true—for any art.

Totemism is how we overcome the despair of anonymity and rejection. We create new pockets of alternate reality to assuage the brutality that logic imposes on our pursuits. The muse, the spirit, fate, and faith: whether we say “the spirit moved me” or “better luck next time.” The belief in either an intangible creative force or the invisible hand of fate are both manifestations of these kinds of totems.

We artists need these things. We hoard them.

I contend that hoarding is merely one form of Levi-Straussian totemism, one that serves to order our world in such a way that we can take the lows as well as the highs. For those who hoard physical things, they see those objects as resources to be used at a later date, or receptacles of memories that should not be tossed away like trash. Before we look upon them with pity, we should stop and see how everyone is a kind of hoarder—if not with objects, then with concepts that serve as totems keeping our universal constants constant.

Q said it best:

[Feature image from AllMoviePhoto]

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3 Comments on “What We Hoard”

  1. inquitdoria
    March 16 2012 at 1:53 pm #

    “Totemism is how we overcome the despair of anonymity and rejection. ”
    Love this line. Love your point of view.

  2. reinhardtsuarez
    March 19 2012 at 9:23 am #

    Thank you for reading and commenting! It’s a tough thing, existentially, to constantly bombard ourselves with increasingly anonymous voices proclaiming how much we suck. If you haven’t caught it yet, go back and read Sophie’s original. And stay tuned for Joshua Covell’s take on hoarding as well.

  3. Ben Leib
    March 25 2012 at 7:52 am #

    I also think that hoarders confuse the line between inner and outer, between the psychological and the material, so that they come to believe that the emotions which have been divested into the objects around them become synonymous with the objects themselves. Therefore, they believe that they might create a legacy through the artifacts that they’ve saved, and, conversely, that destroying these objects also destroys a part of an owner.

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