Thursday, May 06, 2010

the comfort of things

George’s flat was disorienting not because of anything that was in it, but precisely because it contained nothing at all, beyond the most basic carpet and furniture. Absence of a degree doesn’t particularly disturb. A place can be minimalist, or there can be a single plant or poster that gathers presence precisely through contrast with the lack of any other resting place for the eye. But there is always something: a little china ornament, a postcard from a trip somewhere, an image of a friend or relative, even an old ticket stub or label. What I can barely ever remember encountering is a habitation entirely devoid of any form of decoration.

There is a violence to such emptiness.

Faced with nothing, one’s gaze is not returned, attention is not circumscribed. There is a loss of shape, discernment and integrity. There is no sense of the person as the other, who defines one’s own boundary and extent. I was trying to concentrate on what he was saying, but I was disturbed by the sheer completeness of this void. I began to feel we simply had to visit the other rooms in his house, his bedroom and his bathroom, in the hope that they would not replicate this chilling absence. But when, during a subsequent visit we did take opportunities to glance around these other rooms, they proved just as empty.

Daniel Miller in The Comfort of Things.

This is the same fellow who wrote Stuff (also loaded with brilliant, tender insights into how we express ourselves and arrive at self through material culture).

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