Autobiography: Memorabilia


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This document is APPENDIX 2 to my autobiography entitled PIONEERING OVER FOUR EPOCHS


The following are some initial thoughts on this subject, thoughts put down in the sixteen years 2005 to 2011, years after the completion of the first edition of my memoirs or autobiography in 1993. In order for this section XI of my autobiography PIONEERING OVER FOUR EPOCHS, a section devoted to memorabilia, to have any relevance at all it would seem to me that it would require a man like Charles Nicholl.

Nicholl was mesmerised by the minutiae of archival evidence. The shreds or perhaps shards of everyday life preserved accidentally or on purpose for posterity, and from which the biographer-sleuth could piece together the parts of a life or enrich a vivid or not so vivid personality which already existed, at least in part, and perhaps on paper as my work is, and thus make a more plausible career, a more detailed lifeline, a more interesting narrative were, to Nicholl, the very breath of life. Each shard of writing deciphered from the margins of a manuscript, each artifact, however trivial, determined for Nicholl a direction for further exploration.

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Autobiography: Memorabilia

  1. 1. APPENDIX 2 (APPENDIX 1 IS AT THE END OF VOLUME 1) PIONEERING OVER FOUR EPOCHS SECTION X1: MEMORABILIA: The following are some initial thoughts on this subject, thoughts put down in the sixteen years 2005 to 2011, years after the completion of the first edition of my memoirs or autobiography in 1993. In order for this section XI of my autobiography PIONEERING OVER FOUR EPOCHS, a section devoted to memorabilia, to have any relevance at all it would seem to me that it would require a man like Charles Nicholl. Nicholl was mesmerised by the minutiae of archival evidence. The shreds or perhaps shards of everyday life preserved accidentally or on purpose for posterity, and from which the biographer-sleuth could piece together the parts of a life or enrich a vivid or not so vivid personality which already existed, at least in part, and perhaps on paper as my work is, and thus make a more plausible career, a more detailed lifeline, a more interesting narrative were, to Nicholl, the very breath of life. Each shard of writing deciphered 1
  2. 2. from the margins of a manuscript, each artifact, however trivial, determined for Nicholl a direction for further exploration. In recent years, only as I approached the age of sixty with a life and a lifestyle devoted to writing and not having to earn a living and not having to deal with people in community as extensively as I had for decades, did I begin to contemplate this topic of memorabilia: relics, portraits, photographs, memorial items, archival writings, inter alia, the detritus and leftovers of my material life. The words here in this section of my autobiography are still quite tentative and preliminary, but they offer some suggestive directions, some supportive structures to this autobiography—at least potentially. Nicholl’s book Leonardo da Vinci: The Flights of the Mind is an expansive volume, dense with footnotes and copiously illustrated with images from the manuscripts of Leonardo da Vinci. In Nicholl's patient hands, acres of undervalued and unread material are painstakingly unpicked, rewoven and moulded into an armature. Together this material is given coherent shape in the long life of a Renaissance genius. Who will arise to 2
  3. 3. unpick, reweave and mould into something useful for posterity all that I have left behind? If one is not a Leonardo, does it matter? The more than 7,000 surviving pages of Leonardo’s notebooks are, for Nicholls, a goldmine of clues to follow, theories more or less tentatively proposed, with assertions of "fact" boldly risked. I’m not sure anyone will arise who will see my memorabilia as a goldmine with its own clues to follow, theories to propose and assertions of fact to be boldly risked. Like all biographers, future authors who take on any biographical excavation of my life will have to wrestle with the problem of forming coherence from the mass of disparate pages I have left behind, no matter how well organized; from the multitude of fragments of "fact" which give much shape here in my memoirs and only shadowy shape there in other places in my several genres of writing. Perhaps there is too much in the archive of my literary memorabilia. Future authors may come to meditate on single phrases here and broken passages there of, say, my autobiographical and sociological annotations. These annotations and various meditations might come to an end with: "because the soup is getting cold” or “W anal R funct” short for “Weber 3
  4. 4. analysed religion functionally.” These same authors will have to proceed to build their painstakingly constructed edifice of possibilities on the very large pile of paper I have kindly provided. If some fact informs my autobiographical database, some fact like “I ate a bowl of lukewarm soup on Tuesday 21 February 2001,” this hardly would qualify as an important piece of biographical data. What seems to make the work of biographers special is the quality of surprise, of casualness, of some personal feature they are able to bring to their writing. Into the dry abstractions of my social sciences and humanities studies, my physical and biological sciences notes, must intrude moments of simple, daily humanity and moments of insight that biographers will elicit in order for readers to seriously bother reading their text at all. Their problem, their challenge, is not simple. My Dell computer(Pentium 4) Model-optiplex GT280 with its operating system WindowsXP; my printer, a Xerox DocuPrint Model N17 Network Laser; my monitor a View Sonic VA1903wmb(model # VS11618--made in China manufacture date:8’08) with a screen resolution of 1440 x 800 pixels and a screen size of 15.7 x 10 inches or 39 x 25 cms; my old shoes: sandals, slippers and runners among other types of foot garments, my several garbage cans, old hi-fit, inter alia--they will all appear as mythic and as ancient as the 4
  5. 5. remnants unearthed from Pompeii should they be kept and studied by some future biographer. Other pieces, like my nine clip-boards, my three boxes of assorted stationery items: paper-clips and sticky-tape, marking pens and staples, books marks and magnifying-glass could be made to appear like extinct flora or fauna in a natural history museum; crafted out of balsa wood and displayed upside down, they could be made to rest as evidence of a technological ‘survival of the fittest’ game − a stark reminder of the increasing speed of commodity obsolescence in both my life and the life of my society.1 that an artist might hope to resuscitate. One of the earliest decisions of some future library committee, some Centre of Learning perhaps or some other body responsible for archives, will be whether or not to form any collection at all of material relating to Ron Price. Will a memorial to the poet or a body of print be desired for some historical purpose. Through donation by Ron Price’s executors, this vast memorabilia will keep busy some institutional body, some appointed group, whose task is to concern itself with memorabilia, dealing with many thousands of items depending on how an item is defined. Among the many interesting and valuable items in my collection are the more than 300 1 ilament, June 2005. 5
  6. 6. Notebooks, original editions of nearly 65 booklets of poetry, original copies of my autobiography and the several editions of my book on Roger White’s poetry. There are, too, some 25 volumes of the original manuscripts of letters, although in 2009-2010 I donated them to the National Baha’i Archives of Australia. Will some publishing house embellish the external surfaces, the special features of my memoir, such as the shape and size of the book, the design of the dust jacket and cover, the stock of the paper, that make my memoir, now entitled Pioneering Over Four Epochs, a fascinating and telling popular cultural curiosity? There will be something resonant and poignant in the attempt to frame my text as more than a generic, impersonal commodity, as invaluable, personal memorabilia, as a souvenir or keepsake, as textual ornament infused with affect, sensation, wonder and curiosity. Whether such an exercise will ever take place, of course, only time will tell. The text of my memoir will hopefully possess a resonance of the kind described by Stephen Greenblatt as "the power of the displayed object to reach out beyond its formal boundaries to a larger world, to evoke in the viewer the complex, dynamic cultural forces from which it has emerged and 6
  7. 7. for which it may be taken by a viewer to stand."2 Who will exploit the phatic potential, the potential of my memoir to perform a social task, as opposed to just conveying information? Over my long life, I lived in about three dozen houses and flats in Ontario, the NWT and many parts of Australia. In the strange world of competitive writer shrine-making, I would not think any of them deserved the designation “Price houses.” Can the writing of an author be understood by examining his chewed pencils? Can visiting the historic home of a writer be any substitute for reading his work? Can any piece of real estate, including our own envious attachments to houses that are better, or cuter, or more inspiring than our own, be a worthy preoccupation? Should the places where writers write writers be given any sanctification? The only way to claim our real inheritance from any writer is by reading their works. You may feel connected to a writer by seeing some of him memorabilia, but it is not a substitute for reading his work. Still, the private life of the living and of the dead has becomes the world’s to plunder. If one 2 Stephen Greenblatt, "Resonance and Wonder," in Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics And Politics of Museum Display, ed. Ivan Karp and Steven D. Lavine, (Washington: Smithsonian, 1991), p. 42. 7
  8. 8. wants a useful and straightforward guide to writer’s houses all over the world, I recommend the website, run by A.N. Devers. My exposed and precarious existential position as Bahá'í pioneer over four epochs makes my literary practice a risky business, a hazardous proposition. My uncensored narrative willingness, unprotected textual openness and emotional fragility only heightens my vulnerability, laying me open to attack. I dread censure and yet I risk it. Thomas Greene who has written on what he calls the “vulnerable text” suggests that the symbolic wounding to which literature is prone may confer upon it power and fecundity.3 My wounding, symbolic and actual, is part of the source of the narrative power of this work. Exultation and arrest are dependent on the conditions of the moment in which it was written, on my fragile and vulnerable emotional state. As Greenblatt notes, "precariousness is a rich source of resonance.” My text also has the power to elicit wonder because, writes Greenblatt, it has "the power of the displayed object to stop the viewer in his or her tracks, to convey an arresting sense of uniqueness, to evoke an exalted attention."4 As 3 Greenblatt cites Thomas Greene, The Vulnerable Text: Essays on Renaissance Literature, Columbia University Press, NY, 1986, p. 100. 4 ibid., p.42. 8
  9. 9. a three-dimensional textual object, at least in a soft or hard-cover book form, my memoir extends itself to the reader and the wider public in a self- conscious, commodious gesture. The paratextual display5 that occurs prior to and outside the textual space of my work Pioneering over Four Epochs may infuse the book--even though it is an inanimate object--with a kind of agency, an agency born of desire. This desire is that of the commodity to be consumed and the desire of the reader to consume, a will to know and to possess. The desire mobilized by the paratextual is built into my authorial intent: my own desire to have readers. It is a desire that is acted out in the commercial process of commodification, exhibition and consumption. This primarily visual spirit of engagement and exchange is mobilized by scopophilic6 desire, a need to look and a pleasure in looking at the spectacle of my pioneering life. The peritextual elements aim to do more than secure the interest or attention of readers as potential consumers. They aim to generate a lust as well as a curiosity that is simultaneously erotic, emotional and intellectual.7 5 The paratextual display of a book is its cover, dust jacket, inter alia. 6 The desire to look, literally, the love of looking. The term refers to the predominantly male gaze of Holloywood cinema, which enjoys objectfying women into mere objects to be looked at. 7 In The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property, Lewis Hyde notes: "The desire to consume is a kind of lust," Vintage, London,1999, p.10. 9
  10. 10. In order to satisfy these urges, the packaging of my text proffers a reified self-presentation of my life, the promise of a personal and private encounter. I could arrange for the publication of an audio book version of Pioneering Over Four Epochs to offer an additional unique opportunity to hear my voice as I speak from these middle years(65-75) of late adulthood. My reading could be recorded in my study with the background clatter of my wife’s movement and "the muffled speech of visitors" captured in the audio book recording creating the sensation of being there. The text of my work offers, I trust, physical, mental and emotional stimulation, the experience of an affecting visual and auditory contact that fulfills the obligations or requirements of what might be called an aesthetic contract, a contract to teach, to move, to delight."8 Julian Murphet argues that whatever the literary work manages to teach us about our contradictory space will delight and move us at least as much as conventional affective devices, for in a context such as mine the cognitive itself becomes(such is my hope) a source of unexpected pleasure. 8 Julian Murphet, Literature and Race in Los Angeles, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2001, p. 26. 10
  11. 11. That context is, of course, one in which aesthetic pleasure, especially formal visual and auditory stimulation, is no longer confined to the isolated work of art, but has spilled out over and saturated social space itself.9 The fleeting, lightweight "aesthetic pleasure" of Pioneering Over Four Epochs is incorporated into its commercial intent as a commodity produced for consumption and generated by the "saturated” social and discursive space in which my text operates. The packaging of my work as a product, in book and audio book form, reveals strategic ornamentation. The graphic display of the dust jacket, the publisher’s peritext, is dramatic and eye-catching. The direct simplicity of the front cover denotes verbally and connotes graphically that is it a space of factual disclosure. As a paratextual device, a vestibular space or threshold, the dust jacket is an unlocked gateway, metaphorically opening to my life. As the will to know and have becomes an urgent necessity, an audience of consumers is corralled, transfixed by my life and my text. Here on view for our predilection in the publisher’s peritext I stand silent but not absent. Specularised and spectacularised textually, I am elevated and auctioned. The detachable, protective, promotional dust jacket of Pioneering Over 9 idem 11
  12. 12. Four Epochs disguises the fabric-bound hardcover book beneath. A surprising and significant shift from a public to a private surface is enacted by the removal of this dust jacket. Readers are about to enter a privileged realm, provoking and tantalising their voyeuristic desire. For Genette, a dust jacket is a wrapper or wrapping, a paratextual support that resembles clothing.10 The dust jacket encloses what lies within and the experience of entering the book becomes a delightful process of un-wrapping (undressing) the favour it purportedly contains. The reader’s physical introduction to the text is preparation for and initiation into the process of disclosure that will follow. The inclusion of photographic mementos accompanied by my own recollections reinforces the sense of a private record of a life, thereby giving the book a sentimental keepsake quality. It does not have the aura of a mass- market release. The publishing strategy, however, might position the book as a mass-market text and the ready-made marketing campaign guaranteed that Pioneering Over Four Epochs will be a bestseller. The initial print run for 10 Gregory Jaynes, "To Bankroll his Defense, the Accused Expands the Lucrative O.J. Industry with a Self-Justifying Book," Time Online Edition 6 Feb. 1995. Available from: <>. 12
  13. 13. the book might be 500,000 copies and the publishers "reserved press time for reprinting within a week if the demand was there."11 In an interview with Publishers' Weekly, my amanuensis might say that I had demanded that the tape be made available at an unusually low price. 'because I felt that there were lots of disenfranchised people out there who could not afford the book. As an item of memorabilia, the text touts its trade as collectable merchandise and advertises its status as a rare and precious private memento made accessible to the public. The packaging of the audio book mimics that of the printed book. The audio cassette could be mounted inside a cardboard box of a standard paperback size. The front flap opens like a book to reveal the promotional blurb and to credit the actors whose voices appear on the tape. The same photograph that appears on the back of the dust jacket appears on the back cover of the audio book presentation box. The layout for the front covers of the presentation box and the audiocassette case are the same as the book with some additional information at the top and the bottom of the page. 11 Greenblatt cites Thomas Greene, The Vulnerable Text: Essays on Renaissance Literature, Columbia University Press, NY,1986, p. 42 13
  14. 14. The work of an archivist is, in an obvious sense, historical, drawn to the signs of history, to documents and manuscripts, to letters and printed matter of all sorts. But it is not, as has often been implied, the intellectual equivalent of trainspotting or the study of antiques. The importance of some historical and literary projects lies in the redrafting of mistakes and errors of ignorance into pieties, illusions, certitudes and truths and a heritage industry associated with a particular writer so that he or she emerges from the paperland and the land of memorabilia. To mark the centenary of my birth in 2044 or the bicentenary in 2144, a new edition of the Catalogue of the Price Collection could be published. It could be arranged in four sections: Editions, Life, Analysis and Memorabilia, as Robert Burns’ collected works were organized back in 1996, over two hundred years after his death. More recent acquisitions in that far-off time could be included on a supplementary card index. Material in the collection could be available for reference during library opening hours. For security reasons it could be issued under supervision and readers could contact the library in advance to discuss their requirements. Visits for groups could also be arranged. It makes me laugh to even contemplate such pretentious. 14
  15. 15. Memorabilia is part of a more general category of collective memory. This form of memory is a rubric used to describe how social group members know the past. There is a helpful literature in the social sciences on this subject, but it is not my intention here to be overly academic, although I will make a short excavation into the literature. Collective memory is distinguished from both historical and autobiographic memory. Whereas historic memory is the past stored and interpreted by social institutions and autobiographic memory is the memory of events people have personally experienced, collective memory is a remembering of the past informed by shared experiences and public narratives. That is, collective memory is socially constructed by group members and is their present interpretation of events, persons, and objects from the past. There is not some single collective memory; there are many. There can be as many collective memories as groups in society; for example, family, friends, neighbours, social/civic organizations. The existence of multiple collective memories is a primary reason why each individual memory should be examined and discussed. Through discourse, social group members can begin to understand the meanings members of other social groups associate with the ownership, collection, or display of the items of memorabilia of the Baha’i community. The collective memory 15
  16. 16. framework recognizes that certain events, persons, or objects can be interpreted differently, depending on the perceiver's perspective and whether the perceiver was directly involved in the events or with the objects. Collective memory informs understanding of the past and present and contributes to future expectations. In addition, present interests, needs, beliefs, and ideals shape views of the past, thus suggesting that group members selectively retain, interpret, and forget information. Collective memory may or may not be used as the analytical framework. Collective memories may affect the sense of the past that persons associate with material objects. Researchers have used documents in the popular press and academic literature and the collective memory framework to analyze the evolution of images of persons, groups, and even of icons. One genre of collectibles could easily be Baha’i memorabilia (also referred to as Baha’i collectibles and Baha’i arcana). Baha’i collectible objects are from the past, the history of individual Baha’is and their communities and can tell a story about the meanings ascribed to Australian or American Baha’is or indeed one or more of many other national groups---by the producers, users, and, perhaps, 16
  17. 17. collectors of these objects. Baha’i memorabilia items can be made by, can refer to, or contain images of Baha’i Americans of Baha’i Australians. There is evidence of people collecting some forms of Baha’i memorabilia as far back as the 1820s and 1830s, if not as far back as the middle of the 18th century and the birth of Shaykh Ahmad, during the lives of the two precursors to the Bab lived and had their being. However, my focus is on contemporary collectors' perceptions of stereotypic depictions of Baha’is. As yet such depictions have not entered and, indeed, have far from permeated the world of advertisements and other marketing materials. The items of interest have primarily been disseminated from the century and a half, from the 1860s until the 2000s and they also include reproductions of such objects. After the 1850s and with the development of colour lithography, manufacturers and analysts and advertisers used images of Baha’is in various ways and it was not to sell a plethora of goods and services. Baha’is were not prominently featured in posters, on product labels, and as trademarks and product symbols for such diverse items as soaps, liquor, coffee, and motor oil. Scholars have hardly begun to examine the 17
  18. 18. motivations for the early use of the images of Baha’is in the marketplace. Some suggest the images were simply used as a marketing technique to gain attention and amuse potential buyers. Others contend an additional objective was to "prove" American Baha’is were not only different, but also eccentric. In Iran, of course, Baha’is were seen as "objects worthy of torment and torture.” However, there is almost universal agreement that the vast majority of the early depictions of Baha’is in the U.S. was visually attractive; in Iran they were seen as unattractive, often beastly, and revealed something about the dominant culture's perceptions of and prejudices against Iranian Baha’is. Collective memories about Baha’i memorabilia involve the Baha’i producers of the items, evolving Baha’i culture and subcultures, and individual consumers who collect the items. Collective memories about Baha’i memorabilia are both social and fluid; persons actively and constructively create their own meanings for these objects. This set of themes detected in the data suggests that informants assign valanced affective and emotional associations to the images and memories of those images, because the items 18
  19. 19. could not be completely understood using only cognitive associations. These affective meanings were "good" (positive), "bad" (negative), and "ugly but important." This last category was a juxtaposition of the first two, seemingly opposing views of the good and the bad.12 Such are some preliminary remarks about this subject of memorabilia to introduce this section XI of my autobiography Pioneering Over Four Epochs. As self-representation, autobiography is perhaps uniquely suited to validate, to explain and analyse, the experience I have had with my bi-polar disability, my marital difficulties, my second wife’s ill-health and the many incapacities that I have had to deal with in my own person and that of others. Through this written autobiographical work I can counter the negative and stereotypical representations which I find arise as a result of my own thoughts and actions as well as those of others. These negative images have arisen quite naturally, in some ways, in the course of my life in relation to the problems, inadequacies and personal tests I have mentioned. This autobiography is partly an attempt to justify and explain myself before the court of life and it is partly many other things. If this work is ever read to 12 Carol M. Motley, Geraldine Henderson and Menzel Stacey, “Exploring Collective Memories Associated With African-American Advertising Memorabilia: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” Journal of Advertising, Spring 2003. 19
  20. 20. any significant extent by others, I will by then be in the land of those who speak no more, as the Bab once said. The memorabilia that I have referred to above will be set in the context of this self-representation.13 The significance of domestic space is analysed by Gaston Bachelard in his The Poetics of Space.14 In Gaston Bachelard the phenomenal world is essentially psychological and metaphysical in its workings on the human mind and spirit. Artists' studios and the domestic spaces where a writer works are more than simply workplaces. They are part and parcel of his memorabilia. They represent a privacy where the artistic process can be nurtured. The interior space and the objects within it, both spatially and aesthetically contrived, in their mundane and accidental natures, all become vital components in the artistic process. Bachelard wrote, "The house allows one to dream in peace … The values that belong to daydreaming mark humanity to its depths".15 13 G. Thomas Couser, "Disability and Autobiography: Enabling Discourse." Disability Studies Quarterly, 17.4, 1997, p.292. 14 Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, Beacon, Boston, 1958. 15 Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space,1st English Translation, 1964; and Janet McKenzie,“A Review of Mel Gooding’s Ceri Williams(Moffat, Cameron and Hollis, 2002),” in Studio International, 2003. 20
  21. 21. I find that human figures, especially the female, that enter this space are invariably experienced in a state of reverie and their surrounding space encloses a world which is a source of immense physical pleasure. Bachelard portrays this reverie, this pleasure, in his description of the artist’s space. I strive not to allo w this physical, this reverie, to claim too great a share of my attention. The paintings in this house, those of my wife, my wife’s mother, my mother and others provide restful, quiet, unobtrusive backgrounds. The visual images of the female that are also part of my domain are crowded with colour, dramatic in action and intensely attractive. Although they are merely signs and symbols offered to my eyes, they are also ideas that stimulate, that allude to, that exist in colourful backgrounds, gloriously orchestrated in solid blues, greens, reds and yellows, inter alia. From time to time these female images dominate my visual place drawing within their symbolic power the walls, books, music, files, my flesh and they seem to become my very food and drink. Like Matisse, who was greatly interested in and influenced by flat Islamic patterning in floor rugs, this space in my study and my home represents a rich domesticity. It stands for a life enjoyed even, in its way, luxurious. In the sense that the contents of this study and home contain things which I need, they are a matter of feeling and spirit. They are both useful and 21
  22. 22. beautiful, both functional and practical, both aesthetically pleasing and perfunctory. Although they bring to me a collection of pleasing forms and patterns, they are also for the most part unnoticed. They are things which are the accoutrements of a civilised life, my civilized life, in this sheltered space, might I say, sheltered workshop. As a twentieth-century voyageur-cum-pioneer through more towns and cities than I care to count, my interest, my experience, was partly a celebration of the new, partly an enjoyment of the familiar, partly an injection of the present with inspirational possibilities, partly a series of depressions, anxieties, wins and losses. Against the literary, historical, and cultural framework of these places and the multitude of things, memorabilia, that filled their spaces, my pioneer orientation, my beliefs and values set a stage for the drama that was my life. To the sometimes elegant, sometimes alluring, sometimes empty and uninspiring landmarks and commodities, my neighbourhood and town, everyday objects and the quotidian provide an intellectual and spiritual setting which orient me to the whole of life. In this house in a small town, two hundred years old, with several thousand inhabitants on the banks of the Tamar River in northeast Tasmania on the 22
  23. 23. oldest continent and arguably the most beautiful and diverse, I am surrounded by a family of one, my wife, by occasional visitors from the Bahá’í community, from my family and from the more general community. I am also surrounded, as I say above, by objects familiar and valued. The paintings reverberate with colour and with the imprint of my wife’s domestic and artistic taste. So much of this space speaks to me of her. It possesses a decorative vigour and gives me a sense of the fullness of good things, sweet sounds and even of a certain perfume of life itself. They reflect a contained domesticity. They are deeply tender in feeling, but detached in mood. They all speak of a life that is so much my wife’s and mine because she is mine and I belong to her and we share the space and its solitude each in our own way, thirty-five years down marriage’s track. In addition, the combination of music, garden, books and the domestic spaces in all their variety operate on another level. It is a level inhabited by harmonies and dissonances of colour and shape, of life’s pleasures and its tests. The artist Vasily Kandinsky informs my view here. Music, Kandinsky once wrote, can be used to represent reverie but it can also be a dramatic accompaniment which engages one’s senses. It possesses an intimacy and symbolic meaning. And so can other objects and activities in this space. A 23
  24. 24. complex set of signs and an original approach to a range of intellectual and artistic shapes, objects which preceded me in time, result in creating a space that makes connections to aspects of my literary oeuvre. These connections, it seems to me, are largely unknown, unconscious, subtle, indirect. This space encompasses many oppositions of subject, theme and mood in its role as my immediate world of space. Some people are collectors of everything. Marlene Dietrich was one such person. At her death there were 25,000 objects and 18,000 images to auction off, to give to museums, to friends, to family and to worthy and relevant organizations.16 In some ways we all are collectors of different things. This short chapter gives attention to my collections. Stamps in my late childhood and teenage life, books from my late teens for the rest of my life, files of notes--notebooks--from my forties onward, photographs from my teens to the present: this covers my collecting spirit and its activities. Each has its story and, one day, I may tell more of the stories of these collections of memorabilia. I have already given some attention to the question, the issue, of photographs in this autobiography. But I would like to add a few remarks 16 Marlene Dietrich: Photographs and Memories, Random House Inc., 2006. 24
  25. 25. here. The vast expansion of the historical record into new media between December 7, 1941 and September 11, 2001, two dates of immense significance in North American history, presents serious challenges that will have to be surmounted in the coming years if future scholars and the public are to have access to an adequate record of the past. Yet despite the urgency of dealing with this mutating record, many in the cultural heritage community have major reservations about digital collecting, due in part to an understandable aversion to the complicated hardware and software involved, but more importantly because of some very real concerns about the nature of online work. At the same time that the web has enabled an exponential increase in cultural production, some argue that online collecting misses those older, less educated, or less well-to-do subjects who may not have access to the necessary technology. Furthermore, the shift from analog to digital entails a change from well-known and relatively stable forms such as paper to forms for which the preservation path is unclear. can be discussed and understood by myself and, hopefully, others who come across this essay on the subject. It seems to me there are many misconceptions about photography and photographs and, while not claiming to sort them all out, I would at least like to allude to them as part of placing the photographs in my life into some useful perspective. When I try to 25
  26. 26. reconcile the image in my memory with the photographic image, I come to understand that photography, even the most documentary type of photography, communicates through the confluence of objective and subjective factors, through the connection of photographic images to memory images. Thus, they are never purely objective or transparent. Once I know and accept this fact, no photograph can be accepted, categorically, as hard and factual evidence. So it becomes difficult to agree with actress Lauren Bacall when she says that one’s “whole life shows in your face.” I will make here some parenthetical remarks on the postcard17 which has served a multiplicity of uses and functions and which is enmeshed in a tangle of relationships which it is not my purpose here to elaborate upon. . A century ago the postcard was in its golden age. During these four epochs, the years 1944 to 2006, it became a periodic experience for most people and certainly for me. I have not saved many in my collection of photographs and memorabilia but assiduous biographers, researchers and students of this autobiography will find a few scattered throughout my collection of letters.. 17 Bjarne Rogan, “An Entangled Object: The Picture Postcard as Souvenir and Collectible, Exchange and Ritual Communication,” Cultural Analysis: An Interdisciplinary Forum on Folklore and Popular Culture, Vol.4, 2005. 26
  27. 27. However small a place postcards have in my collection of life’s goodies, they deserve a place, a comment, in this section of my autobiography devoted as it is to photos. Aesthetic appreciation of the picture motifs lay behind the postcard's popularity in general, although they also had symbolic purposes. The aesthetic dimension played a major role in its widespread use for greetings, in its function as a souvenir from tourists and friends to authenticate their journey and consequently as a type of status claimer and friendship confirmer. For some the postcard possessed an enormous popularity as a collectible and people collecting things was a strong current in popular culture. In my teens I collected stamps until the age of 21 or 22, but as far as I recall I was not a collector of any other cultural items during my life. For a short period in the early years of the 20th century the picture postcard eclipsed the world's number one collectible, the postage stamp. The two latter uses—souvenir and collectible—are closely entangled. Even if communication was the raison d'être of picture postcards, they seldom carried a substantial, linear message. New information was relatively scarce—from the sender to the addressee. As a communication medium, the 27
  28. 28. card carried messages more or less void of information; they served mainly as a sign of life and a reminder of social relationships. The picture postcard was predominantly a carrier of what might be termed "activity-oriented" communication, the purpose of which is to confirm, mobilize, or strengthen social relationships main purpose of the cards. The cards functioned as social glue, the exchange principle was immediate reciprocity. By the time I came to write this autobiography photographs and images in general were being transferred by the millions digitally on computers. Perhaps at a future time I will go into this type of postcard and the multitude of images falling before my eyes and the eyes of billions in our increasingly globalized society. But this work is more autobiography than social analysis. Such is my aim, not wholly achieved as any reader who has got this far will recognize. If Time magazine's nine New York-based photo editors can sift through some 15,000 pictures a week, selecting about 125 for each issue,18 surely I can sift through a lifetime of several hundred photos and select a few for autobiographical use? The task is not difficult, but I question the relevance of the process and that is what I discuss here in this brief essay. My task is 18 Caroline Howard, "Photographers at Work: Picking Shots," Columbia Journalism Review, July/August, 2002. 28
  29. 29. partly to distance myself from my own love of photographs in order to reflect accurately on the images.19 This business of reflection is critical. "Photography is a way for me to preserve the part of me that is only me," wrote Tipper Gore in her new book Picture This: A Visual Diary(Broadway Books, 2004). Yes, Tipper, "a way, but only a small part of me." I place these photographic images from 1908 onwards in various visual categories and frameworks and, as I do, I place myself with the images in a sort of photographic archive. And the photographs which flooded my world after 1953 and which I now can view with ease and convenience in a series of a dozen albums provide me with a reality that, for the most part, I can no longer touch. There is a certain magic I experience as I look at these pictures from my life in their quiet place on the bookshelf. They are, not so much a place of images as they are a place of thoughts or, perhaps better, a place of mnemonic devices. Indeed, their highest merit is their suggestiveness, the suggestion of a beauty, a character, a place, which the photo itself does not reveal but only suggests. It is as if a camera was nervously clicking over the surface of my life and my job now is to piece together, to paint, to translate from feeling to meaning and find some overall 19 Jim Roberts, "Introduction: Imagistic Information," Enculturation, Vol. 2, No. 1, Fall 1998. 29
  30. 30. pattern in the kalaedoscope of images. It is as if, while the camera caught fresh moments of my life, my task now is to keep a freshness of vision as I write amidst a vast, a pervasive and immense incoherence, with impressions always outstripping my capacity to analyse the data. I need to possess a similar degree of sensitivity as the plates possess and the developing equipment that photography requires to record my own impressions of life. In 2009 I arrived at the age of 65 and my last particular photo album was becoming filled to its maximum intake. People in my world had begun to send me digital photos enough to fill this and future photograph albums to overflowing. Those who could afford it, and who had the interest, in the first years of this new millennium, had begun to make videos of their family/personal lives; still others had telephones with visual images of the person they were talking to. There were large screen TVs, computer monitors, CDs, mini-discs, indeed, a cornucopia of new technology that was making the old world of the photograph in an album, the idea of keeping even the digital photo in an album, somewhat passe even declasse.20 20 One rarely sees this word, declasse--acute accent on the last e--in literature these days, but it seems applicable here; it means lowered in social significance, relevance and standing. 30
  31. 31. Time would tell just how I would respond to this change, this diversification, this amplification, in the technology of photography that had insensibly altered the rationale for the very existence of the old photo album. Photo albums had been delighting the eye, had been part of my memorabilia, for well nigh 60 years. As I write these words, six months after my 65th birthday, I have decided to continue to put digital photos in future albums on the same basis as those photos from cameras that I and my family have been doing since early in the 20th century. But I did not exercise this practice with much diligence. Instead, I simply kept a section of my computer directory for digital photos. William Burroughs' writes in his novel Naked Lunch: “There is only one thing a writer can write about and that is what is in front of his senses at the moment of writing; he is a recording instrument. . . . he can not presume to impose "story" "plot" "continuity". . . .21 For me the idea of what is in front of my senses includes memory and imagination. In sum, I could refer to the total package as my memorabilia. Story, plot and continuity are unquestionably already there. I do not impose them. But I do recreate them. The poet Robert Creeley writes about an approach to writing which gets caught up in sidewindings, improvisations and analyses—and which began 21 William Burroughs in Robert Creeley, The Collected Essays of Robert Creeley, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1989. 31
  32. 32. back in the 1950s--as an example of “a loss of coherence in contemporary American prose.” Many might see this same tendency in my autobiography since I wander over many subjects in the landscape that is my life, my society and my religion. The following poem by John Wieners' "A Poem for Painters” expresses the abstract aspect of this memorabilia so well. I have rewritten, recrafted, this poem, but Wieners begins by saying that his poem contains: Only the score of a man’s struggle to stay with what is his own, what lies within him to do, without which he is nothing. I come to this same struggle knowing the waste and leaving the rest up to love and its often twisted faces where my hands often claw, sometimes touching 32
  33. 33. tenderly and sometimes drawing back as I see blood running there. It is not the blood of my veins, but some inner blood that knows no colour, heat or cold, but has coagulated for years twisting, trying, clawing in a million hidden ways that only some unknown me some me that no one knows, yet, is trying to acquire precise definition. I found Frederika Shulman’s commentary on the film: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in the journal Philament a helpful one. Her article was entitled: “The Objects of Memory: Collecting Eternal Sunshine,” and it was useful in extending my thoughts on memorabilia. Shulman introduces her essay, for it is an essay as much as a film review, with words from Walter Benjamin: “Every passion borders on the chaotic, but the collector’s passion borders on the chaos of memories.” 33
  34. 34. As an autobiographer I am a collector of memories and this collection has become, in some ways, a chaos of stuff. For Walter Benjamin his collector’s passion was books. For Freud, it was antique fetish statues. For Vladimir Nabakov it was butterflies. For each of us, our collection is something different: a grandmother’s scrapbook, a father’s baseball card collection. All these and more can amount to one’s own treasured forms of memorabilia: records of the past and mementos, souvenirs of time spent and relationships cherished in the form of collected objects. The urge to collect the past is by no means a new one, yet it has only recently emerged as a burgeoning academic discourse. It is a discourse that is grounded in the interplay of material culture and memory studies and the recuperative veneration of the study of everyday things. As I say, for me, these everyday things in this memoir, are memories. Objects of memory can serve as memorial sites. Pierre Nora(1931- ), a French historian, says that such sites, such things or people or memoires, have the power to enable the conflation of the past with the present time, making lost moments visible once again. Alan Radley, a professor in social psychology, says memory is a practice through which we “engage with the material world.”[2] It is within this space that we recuperate the traces of 34
  35. 35. ourselves and of the past even if what we wish to do is forget about it; or, in fact, erase it. In the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) an effort is made to eradicate all traces of the memory of someone’s girlfriend. One of the characters undergoes a medical procedure to do just that. Objects play a crucial role in the transmission of the past into the present and so they have to be eliminated. These artifacts are imbued as agents of memory and as markers of identity. These artefacts determine the intensity of the memories associated with each item. In his review of the film for the Chicago Sun-Times Roger Ebert suggests, “at the end of the day, our memories are all we really have, and when they’re gone, we’re gone.”[4] But is it really that simple? Memory is a sticky thing and current theoretical consideration would argue it is not quite as prone to simple, mechanistic ‘forgetting.’ So maybe then it is closer to Benjaminian terms: memory is itself a process of conflation and construction, an idea embraced in contemporary scholarly discourse. In this sense, memory-making is performed consistently not so much in the recollection of a thing itself, but in the recuperation of the sense of it; the 35
  36. 36. very essences inhabited in collected objects serve as far more than mere repositories of memory transmission, but as actively engaged sites of memory practice. As such, objects have the ability to serve as living testaments to the liminal spaces of time, culture and personal and social identities. In “Some Motifs in Baudelaire” Benjamin, writing on Proust’s notion of mémoire involontaire, posits that this construct can be understood as a product of those “contents of the individual past” that serve to “combine with material of the collective past.”[5] It is within this site of transmission that memory can be located. What defines personal and collective being becomes a marker of communal experience. Timothy Robins points out that in the field of cultural studies memory is often conceived as a “product of social processes whereby the past is represented through cultural forms.”[6] For Pierre Nora these forms can be recognized in such diverse documents as: artworks, souvenirs and memorabilia. Nora further asserts that lieux de mémoire can be identified only when they are imbued with “a symbolic aura” which in turn serves to play a defining role in the ritual of memory.[7] 36
  37. 37. This ritual, as explicated in Benjamin, is derived from the notion that for the collector “ownership is the most intimate relationship that one can have to objects. Not that they come alive in him; it is he who lives in them.”[8] Memories become manifest through our personal assemblage. As we engage with the objects in our ‘relationship archive’ we realize that we often do not in fact wish to proceed. These objects are part of relationships and to remove them from our home is, as Kaufman writes, to remove “an emotional core of our memories.”[9] Without these reminders the process of forgetting can begin. “As we eradicate this core, it starts the degradation process. By the time you wake up in the morning, all memories that have been targeted will have withered and disappeared.”[10] It is the absence of artefact that makes this process possible. In this way it becomes clear that objects can be regarded as the vehicles through which memories are communicated. As Benjamin notes, “the most distinguished trait of a collection will always be its transmissibility.”[11] So maybe it is not really about forgetting at all, but a certain kind of co-existence between what is and what was. As Steven Johnson suggests in his essay about the film, maybe we should not be so concerned about what we forget but rather, how much we remember.[12] 37
  38. 38. The power of objects is not merely contained in their ability to act as lieux de mémoire. Alfred Gell(1945-1997), a British social anthropologist, maintained that agency is “attributable to those persons and things which are seen as initiating causal sequences of a particular type, that is, events caused by acts of mind of will or intention rather than the mere concatenation of physical events. (13) In this way, social agents can be regarded as “the source, the origin, of casual events, independently of the state of the physical universe.”[14] In terms of objects, Gell notes, it is not so much that things can act independently, but that they are necessarily fashioned by their owner’s intentions. In his posthumous Art and Agency (1998), Gell offers the elegantly simple suggestion that objects be understood in a manner analogous to social actors enmeshed in relationships with other social actors. 38
  39. 39. Social agency can be exercised relative to ‘things’ and social agency can be exercised by ‘things’” (Gell 1998, 16 and 17–18). Susan M. Pearce’s contention is that artifacts must be historically situated in order to ascertain and maintain their relevancy to the present. In this way they actually “accumulate meaning as time passes.”[15] Writing in 1994, Pearce explores the example of a British infantry officer’s jacket on display at the National Army Museum which she cites as a kind of souvenir: “nostalgic, backward-looking and bitter sweet.... It serves, also, to sum up, or make coherent in personal and small-scale terms, an important event” or a personal narrative.[16] For Pearce, the red coatee worn by Lieutenant Henry Anderson during the battle of Waterloo serves to contextualize the historical moment from which it derives. It is the very personal nature of its connotations that keeps it relevant today. Likewise, it can be argued that personal moments and mementos are similarly engaged through peoples’ collected items. What distinguishes these sites of memory as agents is the process by which otherwise insignificant things are imbued with personality. 39
  40. 40. Artifacts can transmit who and what we are via social and cultural myths, memories and practices. Even if such objects are relegated to the status of repository of memory they necessarily convey a history much larger than themselves. Artifacts thus bear witness to the past and define our notions of the present. But we must be forewarned: even if we remove the imbued object from the equation, memories can be recuperated by their re- contextualization in the present. Another observation Pearce makes about the Lieutenant’s jacket proves highly relevant. The coatee, she notes, serves a “metonymic function” for the actual battle.[17] Yet, as Pearce indicates, unlike individuals, artefacts transcend time. They do not die and, therefore, they retain an “‘eternal’ relationship to the receding past, and it is this that we experience as the power of the ‘actual object’.”[18] In this way, the significance of the jacket is perpetuated in the memory of the witnesses of the events and their descendants, long after the battle. This complex relationship forms “part of an ever-shifting flux of experience which was passed on as an inheritance to their successors.”[19] From this 40
  41. 41. operation, we can glean how physical markers of experience in the form of things are not only metamorphosed into the communicative technologies of memory but moreover serve to broaden the scope of recollections themselves as transmuted from the personal realm to that of social memory. As Pearce suggests, “Put in historical terms, the experience of Waterloo, in all its guises and including its physical souvenirs, becomes part of the collective consciousness.”[20] It is within these objects, these sites of transmission, that the past conflates with the present in order to be collected as markers of memory. It is here that the liminal spaces of individual identity and culture are negotiated. Traversing this domain of flux, objects as sites and agents of memory can also be understood as purveyors of identity. According to Pearce, “In a world of objects, different people will take different things into their hearts and minds.” [21] What is important for some will not be for others. As Benjamin notes, “One has only to watch a collector handle the objects in his glass case. As he holds them in his hands, he seems to be seeing through them into their distant past as though inspired.”[22] Similarly, James Clifford observes that objects and their collections have long served as “a 41
  42. 42. strategy for the deployment of a possessive self, culture and authenticity.”[23] In other words, collecting is a small way in which to make the world our own; or perhaps, usurp someone else’s world. Susan Stewart maintains, “The collection does not displace attention to the past; rather, the past is at the service of the collection, for whereas the souvenir lends authenticity to the past, the past lends authenticity to the collection.”[26] Furthermore, Stewart contends that within the space of the collection, all time becomes accessible.[27] As Stewart notes in her comparison of collecting to other forms of art, its function “is not the restoration of context of origin but rather the creation of a new context, a context standing in a metaphorical, rather than a contiguous, relation to the world of everyday life.”[28] In this way objects allow identity to be encoded as a means of accessing the past and a way in which to re-create his world. Whether as a site, agent, or purveyor of memory, objects and the collections they comprise serve to inform us of the past in the present and communicate 42
  43. 43. identities. Memory is a liminal space, made possible through a process of construction and conflation. In Eternal Sunshine artefacts as sites of memory seek to transmit the past, enact their own agency and establish identity. Collections of objects are often the key to the process of transformation: for it is not simply an archive of the past, but it serves to actively engage it. Here, objects become the open books of memory that enable us to access the past in the present and to remember even if we would rather not. ----------------FOOTNOTES FOR THE ABOVE ARTICLE------------------- [1] Walter Benjamin, “Unpacking My Library: A Talk About Book Collecting,” in Illuminations: Walter Benjamin: Essays and Reflections, Hannah Arendt, ed., Harry Zohn, trans. (New York: Schocken Books, 1988), p. 60. [2] Alan Radley, “Artefacts, Memory, and a Sense of the Past,” in Collective Remembering, David Middleton and Derek Edwards, eds. (London: Sage, 1990), p. 47. [3] Charlie Kaufman, “The Shooting Script,” Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: The Shooting Script, Intro. Michel Gondry, Newmarket Press, NY, 2004), p. 35. 43
  44. 44. [4] Roger Ebert, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” Chicago Sun Times, 19 March 2004. Available online at: [5] Walter Benjamin, “Some Motifs in Baudelaire,” Illuminations, p.159. [6]Timothy Robins, “Remembering the Future: The Cultural Study of Memory,” in Theorizing Culture: An Interdisciplinary Critique After Post-Modernism, Barbara Adam and Stuart Allan, eds., New York University Press, NY, 1995), p. 201. [7] Pierre Nora, “General Introduction: Between Memory and History,” Realms of Memory: Rethinking the French Past, Volume I, Arthur Goldhammer, trans., Columbia University Press, NY, 1996, p. 1 & p. 14. [8] Benjamin, “Unpacking My Library,” op.cit., p. 67. [9] Kaufman, op.cit. p.38. [10] idem [11] Benjamin, “Unpacking My Library,” op.cit. p.66. [12] Steven Johnson, “The Science of Eternal Sunshine: You Can’t Erase Your Boyfriend From Your Brain, but the Movie Gets the Rest of it Right,” in Slate, 22 March 2004. Available from [13] Ross Bowden, “A Critique of Alfred Gell on Art and Agency, Oceania, June, 2004. 44
  45. 45. [14] idem [15] Susan M. Pearce, “Objects as Meaning; or Narrating the Past,” in Interpreting Objects and Collections, Susan M. Pearce, ed. (London: Routledge, 1994), 19. [16] ibid., p.20. [17] ibid., p. 25. [18] idem [19] idem [20] idem [21] Susan M. Pearce, “The Urge to Collect,” Interpreting Objects and Collections, op.cit., p. 157. [22] Benjamin, “Unpacking My Library,” p. 61. [23] James Clifford, “On Collecting Art and Culture,” The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature and Art, Harvard University Press, London, 1988, p. 218. [24] Kaufman, op.cit., p.62. [25] ibid., p. 63. [26] Susan Stewart, “Objects of Desire,” in Interpreting Objects and Collections, Susan M. Pearce, ed., Routledge, London, 1994, p. 254. [27] ibid., p. 254. 45
  46. 46. --------------------------------------- This examination of the subject of memorabilia is incomplete but a start has been made to the issues surrounding it. These remarks will serve, for now, as a concluding word in this autobiography. 46