Collecting: An Unruly Passion: Psychological Perspectives

To collect is to create a meaningful set of objects. The meaning resides in the way the pieces in the collection call attention to one another. By understanding the dialogue between members of a collection, we discover what the collector wants to show us about the objects and the world. Perhaps for this reason, it is often said that a collection is the reflection of the taste of its creator. Indeed, a collection is the collector’s convictions rendered concrete in inter-related acts of acquisition. When the collection is displayed, these convictions are intersubjectively accessible, hence, open to appreciation and criticism.

. . . . [C]ollecting is essentially a compensation for prior disappointment and an illusory comfort in the face of an uncertain future. Collecting serves this role particularly well, it seems, because its repetitive structure allows the individual to repeat the tension-reducing act of acquisition when the satisfaction induced by the previous act fades. The meaning of the process of collecting resides in the “momentary undoing of frustrating neediness but is felt as an experience of omnipotence. Like hunger, which must be sated, the obtainment of one more object does not bring an end to the longing. Instead, it is the recurrence of the experience that explains the collector’s mental attitude. The compelling concern to go in search, to discover, to add to one’s store, or holding, or harem, is not generated by conscious planning. Rather, every new addition, whether found, given, bought, discovered, or even stolen, bears the stamp of promise and magical compensation” (p. 13). In a similar vein, Muensterberger locates the origins of the urge to collect in the child’s reliance upon objects as “symbolic substitutes” for the parent. The acquisitive bent of the collector is derivative of the “grasping and clinging” of the infant.

Werner Muensterberger – Book Review: Collecting: An Unruly Passion: Psychological Perspectives – Philosophy and Literature 20:2.

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