Friday, October 1, 2010

The Intangible Aura of Material Goods

Stuff is just stuff, except when it is not.

Stuff is utilitarian, surely. That's the easy part. You need this knife to cut your steak. You need shoes so you don't freeze your toes off.

Stuff can be pleasing and delightful. We call that art for the most part. Everyday items, well made and good in the hand are a wonder.

Stuff can be plastic crap from Mal-Wart, and not worth more than a disdainful "screw you" and a toss toward the landfill.

Stuff is history. "This is the first known example of tool making by proto-humans." "This is your great grandmother's scarf she wore on her journey from Europe." "This horse is my first toy."

Stuff can be potential. Did you buy that blouse because you needed to cover your tits? No? You bought it because it gives you a feeling, perhaps of being secure financially, of being pretty, of being chic. Mom bought cookbooks, not for the recipes, but for the possibility of loving family dinners. Look in any craft room and it will be stacked to the ceiling with patterns and scraps and fabrics, each a symbol of the loving mother handmaking memories with her children.

Stuff is memory mixed with emotion. "This is the glass teapot Mom bought in the bazaar in Shiraz, next door to the silversmith who made the silver bowl for the Empress." The glass teapot represents every magical day in the bazaar. "This is the print I bought for dad's birthday at the New Sanno." The print is more than a gift, more than art for the wall, it represents dad's love for Japan, and for every joyous weekend spent in a fine hotel. Cat stuff means mom, every bit of porcelain means a love of beautifully crafted pieces, travel to far places, and an abiding respect for the wider world.

Stuff is best with stories. Stuff which has lost all history, has lost its people, that is sad stuff indeed.

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