Notwithstanding its gross simplifications and misguided paranoia, Ian Svenonius’ Jacobin blog post “All Power to the Pack Rats” merits a quick read by those interested in the invention of the hoarder because it understands contemporary hoarding discourse in relation to digital technologies.
[This relation has long been a refrain on If I Were a Hoarder: I am convinced that the outpouring of hoarding discourse since around 2008, which includes novels, memoirs, network television series, documentaries, installation art, and the inclusion of “Hoarding Disorder” in the DSM-V, has has everything to do with digital technologies. I believe that the interest in people who accumulate material possessions is symptomatic of larger anxieties about the immateriality of much of what we experience and consume in the age of digital technologies….]
Anyway, Svenonius doesn’t put it quite like that: he offers up a paranoid fantasy that equates modern minimalism with Apple, and Apple with authoritarianism. Attributing intentionality to cultural phenomena, he makes the contemporary invention of the hoarder the work of a terrifying power controlled by Apple and the ‘cyber lords,’ ‘anti-stuff crowd,’ ‘cyber-elite,’ ‘computer lords,’ ‘computer overlords,’ ‘internet lords,’ and ‘digital super-despots’ who would have us send our books, magazines and records to the landfill along with, eventually, our severed limbs. He asks: “How long before we’re convinced that hands, arms, legs, and appendages are just bothersome?”
For more reasoned defense of hoarding, I’d recommend William Davies King’s “In Defense of Hoarding" published on PopMatters four years ago.
Of course, I’d also recommend my own writing here, both about my father’s hoarding and about Jill, the Pumpkin Lady from Hoarders.
- Vintage Pepsi Machine
- Hoarder? Or Someone with a Lot of Cool Stuff?
- A Very Nice Pumpkin
- The Remaining Pumpkin, the Reigning Pumpkin
- The Death of a Pumpkin
Obliquely related to the sleek minimalism with which Svenonius takes issue is a recent article in the Tampa Bay Times about people who live in staged homes, meticulously effacing all traces of their presence: “Human Props Live in Luxury Homes but Live like Ghosts.” Recall Walter Benjamin’s note in The Arcades Project: “To dwell means to leave traces.”
Such spectral inhabitants may also be the “type and genius of deep crime”: like Poe’s man of the crowd, “[sie lassen] sich nicht lesen.” Perhaps these two forms of illegibility, of eluding individuation, (that of never being never alone, and that of leaving no material traces), are not anomalous iterations but rather indications of a larger cultural shift between Poe’s 1840 and the Tampa Bay Times’ 2014? Perhaps. And though such a question may involve a gross simplification not unlike those that litter “All Power to the Pack Rats,” it is nonetheless interesting to think about.
Tony Cragg, ‘Larder’, 1999
NY Times: A History of the Now, Found in Politically Charged Objects at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London
See also the Museum Website: http://www.vam.ac.uk/blog/disobedient-objects
My father doesn’t hoard newspapers, empty containers, bottle caps or other ephemera of consumer culture, and he doesn’t live in filth, exactly. The diagnosis of “hoarder” would even seem like an exaggeration were it not for the fact that his house is now completely full, and in some rooms the clutter rises above shoulder level.
He has a lot of cool things: caffettiere (percolating coffee makers) of all sizes, shapes, and colors, espresso machines, tambourines, a piano, an electric organ or two, sheet music, upwards of a hundred stringed instruments in all states of repair, motorcycle helmets, motorcycles, bicycles, scooters, MBTA tokens (which occasionally can be had for free by scooping the coin return slot—once you know which turnstiles are broken this work becomes easier), furniture, all kinds of cameras, enlargers, a drill press, other machinery and tools, books, compact discs and shoes.
Some pretty interesting stuff, and it’s good to know that if I ever need a caffettiera of any size or shape, or if a friend needs a mandolin or a banjo or a tambourine, my dad can dig up the perfect thing. The problem is that the stuff now fills four bedrooms, the attic, the basement, the garage, the porch, the foyer, the front hall, living room, dining room, music room, a storage room, the kitchen, and a pantry…
OLIVER: It’s been said that your motto was “collect everything.” Is that true?
ALEXANDER: For specific problems.
OLIVER: Right, but you do understand that “collect everything” is also the motto of a hoarder? That’s the fundamental principle which ends up with someone living alongside 1500 copies of newspapers from the 1950s and six mummified cats.
ALEXANDER: Umm, what I would tell you is let’s go to where that statement applied: Iraq. And the situation was 2006 and the issue was the number of casualties for us and our allies was rising.
While it seems that the authors of this ordinance set out to be sensitive to the complex issues surrounding hoarding disorder, we believe that calling it the Anti-Hoarding Ordinance needlessly stigmatizes those suffering from a mental illness. Twenty years of research on hoarding disorder have revealed this to be a complex problem made up of three interconnected difficulties: collecting items to the point that it impacts the safety of the home and the people who live there, difficulty getting rid of collected items, and problems with organization. […] research has shown that for individuals who hoard, the areas of the brain used in making decisions about personal items are highly connected to areas of the brain that help determine the emotional value of objects and emotional responding. […] this is one of the reasons for the national rise in the use of Hoarding Task Forces as communities attempt to find a proactive, rather than punitive, approach to dealing with hoarding cases before they reach conditions that threaten the safety of people in and around the affected home. Instead of criminalizing a mental illness, cities need to be proactively thinking about how to mitigate the adverse consequences of hoarding behavior by addressing the underlying mental health issues and helping to resolve these cases sensitively and with help from various agencies.