To the patron,
Here lies a catalogue of a system of objects, most commonly referred to as a collection, that I have amassed over the years. This does not encompass the entire collection—no, that would take pages and pages!—but instead constitutes a sampling of some of what I believe to be the most notable objects. Each entry consists not only a physical description of the object, but its primary reason for being presented within the collection, and why I believe it holds merit among the shelves and shelves of objects that, if I may speak hyperbolically, endow my life with its one and true calling upon this earth. But without further ado…
I. A stapler, embossed with fingerprints of an unknown person (rumored to be notable poet, Ezra Pound).
This stapler is, perhaps, one of the most exquisite objects in this room in which you are presently standing. To your left, on the shelf, you may note the box of opened and half-used staples; these being used, presumably, to load the stapler itself and lend it utility. Conjecture over who owned this stapler drives me simply mad! Clearly, these rounded fingerprints belong to none other than the poet of our generation, mentioned in the title of this object. To suggest otherwise would be blasphemy. Blasphemy!
II. A china dish, rimmed on the edges with a flaky substance that is off-white in character, presumably the bits of custard left behind from whence Alice B. Toklas, lover of the great Gertrude Stein, consumed dessert from this very dish.
This object speaks volumes beyond its obvious correspondence with the rise of modern literature in its totality, thanks to the inimitable work of the owner’s lover. (As a note, I’m currently in dispute with several historical museums regarding the nature of this object—whether it truly belonged to Toklas—but I assure you I speak only truth of its origin!) You may trace the intricate designs in the rims of this dish, its potent visualities just tingling all senses like nothing I’ve ever seen before! More generally, this work, perhaps, speaks to capture a world system that revolved around the Parisian salons as they grew in prominence, namely a collision between European and Asian cultures that saw its high mark in the early twentieth century. In a sense, this dish acts, in its own way, as a dual catalogue: one of Toklas’ life, both in the salons of Paris and in her personal life, and of a world system much broader than hers, conjuring an almost cybernetic graph of all worldly possibilities, the East and the West, all right here! In this very room! A beautiful plate! A beautiful object!
III. A most exquisite, empty picture frame, found in the basement of a local library, which, according to local lore, was at some point a repository for works that, at some point or another, would become potential sources of interest for J. Edgar Hoover in his investigations into the Communist infiltration of the American fabric.
Please, please! Take a look at the wonderful finish lining the edges of this frame. Don’t they gleam? It’s almost as if, looking into the light as it’s refracted from the frame, you can see the ardor with which it was dispossessed—stolen!—from its owner, whomever that person was, and planted so brusquely into the tomb of objects from which I recovered it. I heard word of this dispossessed object by way of mouth (the circles I travel in are almost as concerned as I am with amassing all things of intrigue). After tracking down this rumored object for years and years, I found it in the basement of the library (which I mentioned earlier in the object’s introduction). There’s something to the order of a world system here, but something else as well. Slightly more ineffable. Its past ownership lives on in the careful attention paid to its sturdiness, begging what I can only deem to be an unanswerable question: what was inside of it? I directed this question to the librarian who watched over this object for many years, to which she responded: “Uh… I don’t even know how old that thing is… Are you sure it’s from the McCarthy era?” Her incredulity at the truth of the object only speaks more highly to its sanctity, its deserved place on an ultimate pedestal of reverence. Whoever owned this would know what it contained, but of that owner we have only an essence and nothing more, a canvas upon which we may, should we want to bastardize the holiness of this object, paint our own view of this person. But I see no reason to do as much.
IV. An artfully crumpled, lightly used tissue, used, incontestably, by Virginia Woolf upon completing To the Lighthouse.
Look at the angles that compose this artful bodily extension of, I would argue, one of the greatest writers of all time. The way it contorts in on itself, undulating tirelessly in the flux of all existence! It both stands still and dances in a glimmering light—look at what happens when I turn off and on the lights in this room. How long this tissue has remained intact, proving that objects of the highest authority are granted leave from the watershed of time’s heavy hand. Look at its texture, the way it looks like velvety fabric. Were you to put it in a department store window, all those who walked by it would no doubt be attracted to the textures emanating from its folds and creases, be so tempted, just as I am every time I walk by it, to take it up in their hands and caress with deep sensuality its fine curves. But alas, this object is not for holding. One would, of course, run the risk of altering its most exquisite shape in which it was found. And that would be a disaster of epic proportions! To have and not to hold! This is the greatest curse of the collector, you should know. I heard, one time, of a scholar who, claimed rightfully that the act of collecting was a struggle of sorts against the inevitability of dispersion. And, I think, I can rightfully say that I have conquered this struggle. For how fleeting, how subject to the forces of nature is a used tissue! Used by none other than Virginia Woolf! It’s simply a miracle that if finds itself here, upon this shelf. Look how to speaks to the stapler I mentioned earlier across the shelf—Pound and Woolf chuckling together on opposite sides of the room. These shelves tell a history! An entire history! One of entirely arranged and rearranged semiotics. And isn’t that the task of the collector? To tell some sort of a world history through a system of conversant objects?
How did I obtain this tissue you ask? Well, perhaps the greatest hallmark of a collector is that he never reveals his sources. But suffice it to say this tissue could save you from financial ruin if you were to demote it to the status of commodity. I found it at the most reasonable—no, the most egregiously under-market—value! To predict taste, dear reader, is what I see as another one of my chief jobs. And, might I say, I do it quite well.
V. A second-edition copy of James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, with an inscription in the front cover that, if you turn sort of to the side at approximately a 37-degree angle, seems to say “Joyce” in the most garbled penmanship.
Dedication of one’s work to another is the ultimate form of transference between the author and the reader, a sign of, at the very least, a shared experience that takes place over the book itself. Both the author and the reader share a moment of reflection of the other, and thus they are unified into a conglomerate being that digests the work that the dedication precedes. And, why, how marvelous it is to be sharing each moment of entry into this chamber of objects with one of my favorite authors in all of existence! Joyce! What a mentor in the cerebral fashion of collecting. Wasn’t it he who started this triumphant novel with the collection of consciousness (moocow! O baby tuckoo!)? I read in his works an anxiety, perhaps, of ownership. I hold this fear as well. A fear that, at any moment, all of my objects could suddenly disappear—or worse, I could disappear—and then what would become of the objects themselves? Would they wash away through the vortex of time, slowly ebbing away from all consciousness until they are wiped away from the collective memory? Were they even there to begin with?
I sometimes wonder, would you be able to reconstruct some image of me through the objects I’ve left behind? Would know what I looked like? Smelled like? How I acted in public and in private? Maybe a collection is like a book, or a painting: the author and painter, through their pens and brushes, stamp their name into their respective canvases without even knowing it. Later, we extrapolate from the work the person that created it. And so, sometimes I find myself consumed with this question.
But above all, I am certain that the eternity of this collection, the inarguable rigor with which each piece was verified against its claimed owner or being from which it was descended, act as the tersest of fabrics from which to glean any life picture—my life picture—and for that reason, I rest easy.
Sincerely yours, and please do enjoy the parts of the collection I had no time to outline!