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June 19, 2010

Important artifacts

I just finished reading Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry by Leanne Shapton, the devourable if gimmicky story in the form of auction catalogue. And thought I do think it must have been exhausting for Doolan and Morris to be so insufferably hip at all times (did these people never buy anything at The Gap? did they ever tire of the kitchsy salt-and-pepper shakers and vintage everythings?), I loved the book a lot, though in the same way I like peering through strangers’ windows, looking through people’s bookshelves, and perusing Facebook albums of people I’ve never met.

If Shapton’s intention is to tell a story through physical objects, however, it’s worth remarking upon that she doesn’t succeed. Sure, the story is told, but it’s words as usual that do the job– lists stuck into paperbacks, exchanges scrawled on theatre programs, letters unsent and otherwise, emails, and postcards. In essence, Important Artifacts is an epistolary novel, the artifacts themselves serving as espistle storage devices.

Without the epistles, the objects lack in resonance (though they do add a postmodern layer of veracity to the narrative in the same way the family pictures in The Stone Diaries turned that book into something much fuller than a novel). The objects don’t tell the whole story though, just as a view through a window doesn’t, or a bookshelf, or any infinite number of Facebook albums– but why are these things so compelling all the same?

I wonder if– outside of fictional realms– such fragments come closer to a kind of truth than anything else can? And I wonder how much of the pleasure lies in making the connections by ourselves.

3 thoughts on “Important artifacts”

  1. carin says:

    Yes, peering through windows! I love it. (I mean, in passing; I haven’t yet set up a lawn chair anyplace.) Great comparison to the feel of the book.

    The hipness aspect, the absence of normal things, I took to represent a kind of setup for [the relationship’s] failure from the start. It worked for me as a metaphor — the stuff is quirky and clever and looks good, but it’s missing a rubber spatula and scratched Teflon frying pan.

    Great question about the ‘why’ of being compelled by other’s people’s stuff. Is it some primal thing? If so I wonder how it was manifested when all we had were clubs and furry boots…

    1. Kerry says:

      Oh, yes! It was you who made me read this book in the first place. I couldn’t remember last night when I wrote this. And thank you for your point about the hipness– very astute. I think I had a jealousy reflex whenever anyone is cooler than I am (which is often), and it kicked in before I could examine what was going on. But her Cakewalk column though– I want that. Or at least some cake… Also, however would someone find that many vintage bathing suits? Anyway, I enjoyed the book a great deal.

  2. JK says:

    Great point about how the words are still essential, Kerry. I’m so glad you liked the book. This is one I was recently thinking that I need to actually buy a copy of because I think it would be a pleasure to casually peruse.

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