The Convivial Society: Vol. 3, No. 13
If I may add a little poem to footnote #1: “The World” by William Bronk
I thought that you were an anchor in the drift of the world; but no: there isn’t an anchor anywhere. There isn’t an anchor in the drift of the world. Oh no. I thought you were. Oh no. The drift of the world.
This is why I think I love reading Donald Hall and Jane Kenyon. Kenyon was focused on the object, the gravity of a thing, like a bale of hay. Hall's essays and poems are anchored in the geography and history of Eagle Pond Farm.
I very much enjoyed this essay. I've been thinking about material possessions, and this gives me more fuel for thought. Particularly, I'm puzzled by the drive - which is not very pronounced, but it's there in me - to collect vintage objects. And I think that part of it is tied to trying to create just such anchors, if not to the past, at least to a form of identity. In my case, I end up with so much stuff, it becomes more of a bother than an identity. With the proliferation of the internet, and the instant availability of almost anything you can imagine, it becomes a merry-go-round of stuff at times. My family, (also from the southeast), always loved to "go antiquing" as I was growing up. I think I inherited that love of old stuff, and I have small collections - film cameras, manual typewriters, vintage backpacking equipment, bicycles from various eras. I would probably have more given a larger income and more space in my house. There are some things I only have one of - a wind-up alarm clock from the fifties, a rotary phone - but those things are just there to be used for what they are.
I'm drawn to minimalism, and to the reliance on digital devices. I could replace my rotary phone, the answering machine, my six cameras, my extensive library, my typewriters, etc. just by relying on my mobile phone and laptop. My house would be spare, spacious, stylish - or would be except for all the cat hair and scratched up furniture, but something would be missing, identity-wise, if I turned my back on my love of mechanical things. I love winding the alarm clock before I go to sleep. I love the mechanical sound the Olympus OM-1 makes when I take a photograph. I love the feel and the sound of the typewriter and its bell and the carriage return lever. (I had a student in my office playing with the typewriter I keep there for making labels, (more efficient for one label than the computer and printer), and she asked me where the enter key was when she got to the end of a line.) I even love the click of a ball point pen being extended.
My question has always been why. Why do I love these particular things, (and why did my family love to go antiquing and occasionally churn butter with some churn dragged home from some antique auction, etc). I think partly because they are all anchors into our human identity. Maybe they are all answers to the questions of what problems do we face, and how can we solve them. There's something satisfying about solving a problem with a simple handheld mechanism, versus solving a problem with a worldwide digital infrastructure. I've long convinced myself that the simple mechanisms will endure as testaments to our ingenuity, but as I've grown older, I've become less certain on that point.
I believe this is why I continue to spend money on vinyl records: they provide a physical texture to my experience of the music. There is no digital equivalent.
‘An array of distinct physical objects - …- become one thing. The texture of our experience is flattened out as a result.’ This is so true, and very eloquently and succinctly expressed - thank you! I also completely agree with the helpfulness of the anchor metaphor for our more migratory times, and those of us whose literal home-soil has been toxic rather than fertile, and therefore something to escape from rather than root down into, in order to flourish.
Thanks for the footnote poem "The World" Amy. Another companion poem for The Stuff of Life: Materiality and Self is "In Praise of Limestone" by W.H. Auden.
Perhaps we have entered the domain of poetry? I see my own response has been like others.
A necessary sense of 'home' seems more than geographical. I note that Kingsnorth & Shaw lately, like Auden late in life, have become Christians, and describe their experience as coming home.
When it comes to childhood experience with elderly relatives (mine were born in England in the 1870s), and old houses belonging to previous eras, I endorse your feeling. In my case a sense of solidity spoke of effective 'place' and long term maintenance, and these were humble dwellings. The same sense of welcome is still apparent and recurs from time to time in other places, which suggests a long term spiritual inheritance. Who knows, we have a contributio to make?