Category Archives: hoarding in literature

soliciting input on hoarding output

For those of you readers who are or have been personally impacted by hoarding, I would love your input on some questions I’m teasing out in my research.

I’m working on “Hoarding Memory” as a manifestation of loss in autobiography, but right now my questions are specifically related to the consequences of hoarding. It seems to me that hoarders hoard because they want to hold on to things, can’t bear to part with them, and then the accumulation over time becomes a sort of comforting nest, even if an isolating one. Although the intention is to save or salvage scraps,the sheer quantity of items quickly creates a storage problem. Consequently, the hoarded things that are meant to be preserved instead become inaccessible, forgotten, lost, and many times destroyed.

From your perspective, what are the other consequences of hoarding either on the objects accumulated or on the person who has accumulated them? Those of us who are in someway related to the hoarder are obviously impacted to varying degrees, so I welcome that insight as well.

Many thanks in advance for sharing.

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you can’t take it with you

A friend of mine commented on my recent post “Separation,” that I might be fooling myself in thinking that my parents’ hoard doesn’t bother me and that I might be able to escape it by moving so far away. Obviously she’s right. The problem affects me whether I’m near or far from the actual hoard – so much so that I have a blog about it. Add to that, I’m turning my research focus towards hoarding in exile autobiography. I know full well that this has not only deeply impacted me in the present; it will continue to haunt me in the future no matter my physical distance.

My organizational strategy over the past few months as we have prepared for the move that is perpetually delayed has been to ask myself if each object is worth the cost of shipping. Will I wear this particular garment enough to grant it a spot in my suitcase? Is this book so important to me that I should ship it? Yesterday I thought I’d send a nice crystal vodka set that I bought in Turkey to a friend in Switzerland – and the shipping ranged from $85 to $270, depending on insurance. I brought the set back home with me and decided to send her flowers. If you can’t take it with you, is it worth having in the present?

With that in mind, I think about the mess of a home my parents live in. They are radical right-wing Christians who believe in storing up treasures in Heaven. They are well aware that they cannot take any of the their earthly possessions with them; yet, they continue to hold on to the odd objects. Hundreds of cool-whip containers, travel mugs, empty cardboard boxes, used coffee cans … combined with collectibles like Fiesta-ware, miniature animals, and so on… the house is full, and they can’t take it with them.

But I will take it with me. The hoard has left an indelible mark on my mind and on my own relationship to stuff. No matter where I go, I will have this mountain of things in my memory that I need to sift through so that I can live in uncluttered freedom with my own family.

the collector

Several weeks ago, a friend shared Shel Silverstein’s “Hector the Collector” with me as we talked about hoarding in literature. I read this as a child but presumably forgot about it in this new context of adult self-diagnosis and recovery. Frost and Steketee also define the collector in their Q & A on Amazon.com:

A major feature of hoarding is the large amount of disorganized clutter that creates chaos in the home. Rooms can no longer be used as they were intended, moving around the house is difficult, exits are blocked, and life inside the home becomes dysfunctional. Collectors typically keep their possessions well organized, and each item differs from other items to form an interesting and often valuable collection. Further, an important purpose of collecting is to display the special items so that others can appreciate them. People who hoard are seldom able to accomplish such goals.

Although a self-proclaimed collector, Hector was seen by society as “Hector the Hoarder.”

memory hoarding with Sebbar

I’m working on a presentation on Algerian-born author Leïla Sebbar and how she may be using her collections as a source of memory hoarding. Certain objects recur in many of her texts such as postcards of the Odalisque, Parker pens, Singer sewing machines, and so on. I just read today on a French culture (www.evene.fr) site that she collects tobacco boxes because they represent a generational gap: “les pères algériens chiquaient, leurs fils fument des cigarettes” (‘Algerian fathers chewed, their sons smoke cigarettes.’)

In Sebbar’s 2004 book Mes Algéries en France (My Algerias in France), she presents other visual collections that I can imagine pinned on the walls of her office or in front of her in her work space. (She photographs the snuff boxes for this book.) When I opened the book today to take a few snapshots of her pages, a few of my own collected trinkets fell out: a used iTunes gift card, a makeshift bookmark leftover from a Target ad, and a promotional card from Delta with “Destination Paris” complete with Eiffel Tower facts on the back. Sebbar is so easy to judge, yet I obviously have a soft spot for her object fetishes.

gleaning with Varda

I finally had the occasion to watch Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse (The Gleaners and I) by Agnès Varda (2000) over the last few days. Although Varda is more interested in gleaning as a cultural activity from its artistic depiction and production to its life-sustaining ability (not for the pure sake of accumulating), her film got at some root questions about the activities of gleaning, picking, and recuperating. One of Varda’s interviewees, a judge, explains that the edict authorizing gleaning in 1554 is the same in today’s penal code: after the harvest, those who are in need (les pauvres, les malheureux, les gens défavorisés, etc.) can glean from sun up to sun down. Varda asks, how can we explain gleaning, though, for those who are not needy but simply enjoy it? “C’est comme s’ils avaient besoin de quelque chose pour manger. S’ils glanent par plaisir, c’est qu’ils ont besoin de quelque chose pour leur plaisir.” The Maître explains that the law still applies if they respect the conditions of gleaning. These people still have a need, a need for pleasure, that they are trying to fulfill.

At the root of gleaning lies need. The force (la pulsion) that compels is what interests me now as much as what is gleaned (l’objet).

Varda, herself a gleaner of sorts, collects images with her camera and is especially interested in the image of her own aging and foreign hand being filmed by the camera held in her other hand. She says she has little memory and that gleaning functions, for her, to summarize the journeys she has taken – c’est les objets qui racontent le voyage.

In some sense what we collect will always tell the story of where we’ve been and who we are because something within us, specifically related to our inner needs, dictates what objects we will pick up – especially if we must stoop over and humble ourselves to pick up someone else’s castoffs. What does it say about me if I’m willing (or what would it say about me that I would be willing, what is it in me that makes it worthwhile for me) to sift through someone’s trash to find … a fountain pen, a worn-out French text, a fragment or relic of beauty that would only be beautiful to me?

This isn’t really about me and, yet, it is only about me. What do my collections reveal about my own connection to my memory and the vacant spaces in me they are attempting to fill, whether they be theoretical or physical?

http://www.videodetective.net/flash/players/movieapi/?publishedid=517285

losing homeland

I finally tracked down the Marie Cardinal quote regarding her unexpected loss of her homeland. It’s both better and not as sufficient as I remembered it. I quote the original French from Les Pieds-Noirs (Belfond, 1988) followed by my translation.

Marie Cardinal in 1930 (from Les Pieds-Noirs)

Les années d’insouciance, celles de mon enfance, de mon adolescence, et les premières années de ma vie de femme… les premières amours…le premier enfant… Le poids de cette légèreté, de cette beauté, de cette tendresse, de cette inconscience ! Peut-être que cela palpite toujours en moi parce que je n’ai jamais quitté ces images pour toujours, jamais je ne les ai rangées dans un tiroir ou une valise, jamais je n’ai regardé la terre de ma jeunesse en me disant que je n’y serais plus chez moi. La dernière fois que j’en suis partie, je ne savais pas que c’était la dernière fois. J’étais venue de Grèce où j’enseignais au lycée français de Thessalonique. Enceinte de huit mois, incapable de voyager en avion dans l’état où j’étais, j’avais méandré soixante-dix heures à bord de l’Orient-Express qui prenait des allures de diligence, puis j’avais vogué vingt heures sur un paquebot, pour venir, comme une tortue, mettre au monde mon enfant sur mes plages. Je n’imaginais pas qu’un petit venu de mon ventre puisse voir le jour ailleurs que là… Ensuite je suis repartie avec ma fille dans mes bras, c’était l’été, je reviendrais pour Noël. Je ne savais pas que, désormais, je n’aurais plus de maison. Je ne savais pas que ma terre ne serait plus jamais ma terre. (11-12)

The carefree years, those of my childhood, my adolescence, and the first years of womanhood … first loves … the first child … The weight of this lightness, this beauty, this tenderness, this unawareness! Perhaps it still pulsates in me because I never permanently left these images, I never put them away in a drawer or a suitcase, I never looked at the land of my youth while telling myself that I would never again be home. The last time that I left, I didn’t know it would be the last time. I had come back from Greece where I was teaching in a French high school in Thessaloniki. Eight-months pregnant, unable to travel by airplane in that state, I had meandered seventy hours aboard the Orient Express that ran at the speed of a stagecoach, and then I wandered twenty hours on a steam ship, so that, like a turtle, I could give birth to my child on my beaches. I couldn’t imagine that this child coming from my tummy could ever see the day somewhere other than there… Then I left again with my daughter in my arms, it was summer, I would come back for Christmas. I didn’t know that, from then on, I would no longer have a home. I didn’t know that my land would never again be my land.

Her lightness of being, her state of carefree existence, came from knowing her home would be there to support her. Once it was gone, she attached herself to the mental image and repeated it throughout her literary career. Les Pieds-Noirs is a photographic coffee-table book mixed with autobiography and history of the Pied-Noir people. It is, in many ways, a reproduction of the lost homeland, a surrogate and horribly insufficient space designed to protect the past from being forgotten.

uncertain hoarding moments

Now that our departure is likely delayed for a few months, I’m a bit stalled with the project of this blog. I was at the point of beginning the serious removal of things and sifting through the real items of importance, including books or clothes that I’m not quite sure about. Today, as I started a new research project, I dipped into a packed up box and pulled out two theory books I wasn’t expecting to need. I also have a mental list of items in my campus office that have to come home to help me.

In addition to the physical aspect of hoarding and my current uncertainty, there is the parallel activity of memory hoarding that occurs. I was beginning to feel emotional about experiences that I thought were the “last time for a long time” such as our university’s pathetic bowl game that had me momentarily choked up. This, too, has gently subsided as I float along uncertain about the next few months.

from Elisabeth Fechner, Souvenirs d'Alger

This reminds me of a literary snippet that I cannot immediately locate in which the author, Marie Cardinal, complains (paraphrased in English here), “Had I known this was the last time I would see that beautiful port, and that sun on that sea from that angle, I would have soaked it up and treasured it.” Instead, she felt robbed of that memory because she left her homeland when it was still rather peaceful, fully expecting she would return. Then when (an expected) calamity struck, she was cut off for about twenty years, forced to remember her homeland and painstakingly recreate it in her writing. Cardinal was most definitely a memory hoarder who obsessively rewrote Algeria. I wonder if I might someday nostalgically rewrite my home or if my sense of home is sufficiently destabilized to keep my nostalgia at bay.