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Orhan Pamuk’s new book catalogs the objects in his Museum of Innocence.(Photo: Refik Anadol)

Holly Brubach has written a compelling take on novelist Orhan Pamuk‘s latest book, The Innocence of Objects. This latest publication is a catalog of the contents of a museum Pamuk conceived in tandem with the writing of his last novel, The Museum of Innocence:

Every item in its collection, assembled over more than 10 years, figures in a memory Pamuk invented for the characters he imagined. “I had the feeling that focusing on objects and telling a story through them would make my protagonists different from those in Western novels—more real, more quintessentially of Istanbul,” he writes.

Brubach takes this cue and explores the relationships we create with things. She points to the paradox of a culture that is being urged to live in the present moment while supporting a multibillion dollar self storage industry and airing popular reality shows about hoarders. “Modernity means overabundance,” Pamuk says. “We are living in the age of mass-produced objects, things that come without announcing themselves and end up on our tables, on our walls. We use them — most of us don’t even notice them — and then they vanish without fanfare.”

Pamuk’s introduction to “The Innocence of Objects” concludes with his own manifesto. Tenet No. 3: “We don’t need more museums that try to construct the historical narratives of a society, community, team, nation, state, tribe, company or species. We all know that the ordinary, everyday stories of individuals are richer, more humane and much more joyful.” Tenet No. 11: “The future of museums is inside our own homes.”

In deciding how to display the things he acquired, Pamuk was struck by “their loneliness,” and it led him to “the shamanic belief that objects too have spirits.”

I’m in that tribe, the one for people who have experience with the power of objects. For those of us who fill our homes with art and collect for the sheer pleasure these objects bring, that goes without saying. My life is full of embodied artifacts that speak to me every day. And believe me, paintings DO get lonely. I’ve seen how much a work can change and come into a breathtaking liveliness just by giving it objects to converse with. That is the curator’s gift of course, but it happens in my studio all the time.

This concept of the power of thingness is constant present for me. Out of curiosity I went back through my previous posts, and there are so many that touch into this idea. Clearly this is a primal meme for me. The list of previous Slow Muse posts is included below if it is one of yours as well.

The Power of Things

The Power of Things


The Constellation of Things

Fetishists and Digitizers



Discourses and Artifacts

Painting, in the Larger Context


My post earlier this week referenced Sherry Turkle. Here is more about her from a review of her new book, Evocative Objects: Things We Think With. In this book she pursues more than the psychological/sociological implications of computers and life on line. She has extended the concept of the “evocative object” to computers as well as other objects.

A number of other scholars have explored the implicit power of things. Two examples are James Elkins’ The Object Stares Back and What Do Pictures Want?: The Lives and Loves of Images, by W. J. T. Mitchell. Then there is my own ongoing research into the highly evocative objects of my personal life. This is a very real domain for me and for most artists.

Here’s an excerpt from Penelope Green‘s review:

Objects and artifacts have long been Professor Turkle’s stock in trade. When she arrived at M.I.T. in the 1970s…Professor Turkle brought a humanist’s eye to the device that her new colleagues had become enamored of: the computer.

To her, it was an “evocative object,” a “companion to emotion, and a provocation to thought.” She looked beyond what the computer could do for us to what it might do to us, as individuals and as a society. As a sociologist of science, she spent years studying hacker culture, child programmers and gamers…Her new book uses a similar approach to illuminate more familiar objects. A vacuum cleaner, a closet, photographs, a linty pill in an old wallet — each is examined through varying lenses of anthropology, philosophy and psychoanalysis.

For instance, a datebook and that linty pill, an antidepressant no longer taken by its owner, together bring to life Michel Foucault’s and Roland Barthes’s ideas about a disciplinary society and how its members learn to discipline themselves. As indigestible as this premise sounds, the book is actually a very tasty read…Gifts and heirlooms hold particular power for social theorists like Professor Turkle. She writes about how a gift retains something of its giver and so becomes animate, and about gift-giving as an ancient form of social glue.