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28 February, 2005

Too much?

Last week, Boing Boing posted a link to the website of a collector.  The main page showed the owner's 'Magic Roundabout' cereal toys collection, neatly arranged on shelves, in groups of common colour.  It went on to show his collection of decanters.  And his butterflies.  And lanterns.  The visitor could keep scrolling, and scrolling, and scrolling, the collections becoming larger and larger, though the objects themselves were little less prosaic.  Halfway down the very long page, respect and mild amusement at the variety of collections began to turn darker, somehow.

Anyone can accumulate quite a large number of, say, interesting bottles; picking one up on holiday, receiving another from a friend, and so on. However, when a collection of children's annuals running into the hundreds, on purpose-built shelves, lies alongside a collection of thousands of figurines on closely-spaced shelves covering the entire wall space of a large room, and when these are only two of many, many disparate collections (there didn't even seem to be any collective theme or comprehensible connection between the subjects), it all becomes a little unnerving. By the end of the page, it was downright scary.

I genuinely don't want to mock someone's hobbies, but I'm afraid this made me profoundly uncomfortable. I struggle to regard obsessive collecting, an essentially self-serving pastime with no discernible purpose (beyond the amusement of the participant, which is absolutely fine with me), as healthy, and this example went way beyond normality.

Apart from changing the tense, for a reason which will become obvious in a moment, I composed the foregoing paragraphs last Thursday, but I wasn't happy with the wording, so postponed publication. Whilst unable to deny that his website made me fundamentally uneasy, and wanting to write about that, I didn't wish to belittle the way someone spends his time.

It seems that other commentators were less circumspect. As a follow-up post at Boing Boing explains, the owner has shut down his website, due to critical e-mails and online discussion. I think that's really sad, and this action is plainly the result of anguish I wouldn't wish on anyone, but if I'm brutally honest, I'm obscurely glad it's gone.

I don't really understand obsession with material objects anyway, though it could just be that I'm not a 'things' person, but my discomfort in this case is more concerned with the mindset itself: the compulsion to acquire, organise, catalogue and display, and to keep doing so to an extreme degree. To be a little melodramatic, one can't help wondering whether he's struggling to sublimate and suppress some other compulsion.

As a more general point, I do find obsession, on any topic, to be a disturbing trait. I suppose I can see that tendency in myself (though nowhere near this level), a topic to which I may return.


Compulsive obsessive behaviour can be an indication of psychopathic tendencies. Perhaps that is what makes you feel uneasy about it.

Have you ever visited Snowshill Manner in the Cotswolds? The last owner of that place kept everything he every purchased and it is all on display in the Manor, now owned by the National Trust.

I found the whole place very depressing.

Posted by coffdrop at March 1, 2005 10:14 AM
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