Get a box, Polylogue

An unrepentant scanvenger, Schwitters would return from his excursions with pockets and bags crammed with paper litter and other varieties of refuse. Once in the studio, these lose their status as waste and become the raw material of art. Now it is that the typical collecting activities of searching, gathering and ordering give rise to bricolages or new artistic amalgamations.

Roger Cardinal

“Collecting and Collage-making: The Case of Kurt Schwitters.” 1994


Those masterful images because complete

Grew in pure mind, but out of what began?

A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,

Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,

Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut

Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder"s gone,

I must lie down where all the ladders start,

In the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart.”

—W.B. Yeats

The Circus Animals’ Desertion”


The poet’s mind is in fact a receptacle for seizing and storing up numberless feelings, phrases, images, which remain there until all the particles can unite to form a new compound are present together.”

T.S. Eliot
“Tradition and the Individual Talent,” 1919


“Secretly I believed that the country to which [my painter friend] André, through his work, had given me access, was magnificent. I was learning the importance of composition, mass and materials, above all. I had seen him in the streets or in the fields pick up bits of wood, paper, or metal, pebbles, cherry stones, string, corks, closely guarding such scraps which for me were merely garbage. He used them to decorate his studio or incorporated them into paintings. Barbara, his wife, would cry out in admiration when he brought in his finds. She was a Slav, and rolled her r’s: ‘André how beautiful!’ She would call in her children to admire them too. Under my very eyes the trash would turn into treasure. It was treasure. But when I had left their home it turned back into trash. On my own I was not capable of abandoning ‘good taste’ or conformity which set the tone for people of my background.”

— Maria Cardinal
The Words to Say It, 1975


“Certain objects, like psychic ‘keys,’ open doors to unconsciously intense — and rich — experience in which we articulate the self that we are through the elaborating character of our response. This selection constitutes the jouissance of the true self, a bliss released through the finding of specific objects that free idiom to its articulation. As I see it, such releasings are the erotics of being: these object both serve the instinctual need for representation and provide the subject with the pleasures of the object’s actuality.…

Those objects and experiences, keys to the releasing of our idiom, free us to experience the depth of our being and of the interplay between the movement of our idiom, driven by the force of our instincts, and the unconscious system of care provided by our mother and father. We are forever finding objects that disperse the objectifying self into elaborating subjectivities, where the many ‘parts of the self’ momentarily express discrete sexual urges, ideas, momories, and feelings in unconscious actions, before condensing into a transcendental dialectic, occasioned by a force of dissemination that moves us to places beyond thinking.…

A day is a space for the potential articulation of my idiom. Do I select objects that disseminate my idiom or not? For example, do ipick up a nove with I don’t like b;ut think I should read — but through which I shall not come into my being — or do I select a novel which I like, into which I can fall, losing myself to multiple experiences of self and other? Do I have a sense of this difference of choice? What if I don’t? What if I do not intuitively know which object serves me? If I don’t know then my day is likely to be a fraught or empty occasion. Neuroitic conflict eradicates, at least for a time, potential objects.… Or I may choose an object because it is meant to resolve a state of anxiety or to recontact a split-off part of myself housed there. In other words, pathology of mind biases the subject toward the sleection of objects that are congruent with unconscious illness.…

The ego chooses not only what aspect of an object to use but also what subjective mode to employ in the use.…

We can learn much about about any person’s self experienceing by obseriving his selection of objects, not only because object choice is lexical and therefore features in the speech of character syntax, but also because it may suggest a variation in the intensity of psychic experience that each person chooses. If we live an active life, then we will create a subjectified material world of psychic significance that both contains evocative units of prior work and offers us new objects that bring our idiom into being by playing us into our reality.”

— Christopher Bollas

On Being a Character: Psychoanalysis and Self Experience, 1992


By some obscure train of thought, it made me think back to when we were very small—no more than four or five years old. Fanshawe’s parents had bought some new appliance, a television perhaps, and for several months Fanshawe kept the cardboard box in his room. He had always been generous in sharing his toys, but this box was off limits to me, and he never let me go in it. It was his secret place, he told me, and when he sat inside and closed it up around him, he could go wherever he wanted to go, could be wherever he wanted to be. But if another person ever entered his box, then its magic would be lost for good. I believed this story and did not press him for a turn, although it nearly broke my heart. We would be playing in his room, quietly setting hp soldiers or drawing pictures, and then, out of the blue, Fanshawe would announce tht he was going into his box. I would try to go on with what I had been doing, but it was never any use. Nothing interested me so much as what was happening to Fanshawe inside the box, and I would spend those minutes desperately trying to imagine the adventures he was having. But I never learned what they were, since it was also against the rules for Fanshawe to talk about them after he climbed out.”

— Paul Auster

The Locked Room, 1986
The New York Trilogy, 1990 (p. 259)


“It is not just pleasure or relaxation that Temple gets from the [holding/hugging] machine but, she maintains, a feeling for others. As she lies in the machine, she says, her thoughts often turn to her mother, her favorite aunt, her teachers. She feels their love for her, and hers for them. She feels that the machine opens a door into an otherwise closed emotional world and allows her, almost teaches her, to feel empathy for others.

After twenty minutes or so, she emerged, visibly calmer, emotionally less rigid (she says a cat can easily sense the difference in her at these times), and asked me if I would care to try the machine.”

—Oliver Sacks
“An Anthropolgist on Mars,” 1994,
The New Yorker,
  Dec. 27, 1993/Jan. 3 1994, (p. 114)


“…the symbolic actualization of the holding environment occurs in every patient; it is this that permits the patient to entrust himself to the analytic process—to free associate—and to allow the unfolding of the transference neurosis.”

— A.H. Modell

"Interpretation and Symbolic Actualizations of Developmental Arrests," Psychoanalysis in a New Context, 1984


“Without those accumulating photographs my past would have vanished, year after year. Instead, it accumulated, loose in a set of shoeboxes, in no order, and because of its randomness ever fresh, ever stunning: shuffled windows into a sunlit abyss.”

— John Updike

Self-Consciousness: Memoirs, 1989


“In giving silent presence to vanished generations and in diffusing this presence throughout the whole culture, photogaphy has played a part in bringing the problem of personal identity to the centre of cultural concern. The awareness that we must create ourselves and find our own belonging was once the privilege of an educated elite and is now a generalized cultural condition. For in helping to constitute identity in time, photography also poses the problem of the freedom of the self to make its own present. To look at an old photograph and to discover that one has inherited the shape of one’s eyes, to hear from one’s parents that one has also inherited a temperment, is both to feel a new location in time but also a dawning sense of imprisonment. The passion for roots " the mass pastime of family history " represses the sense of suffocation that family photographs can engender. That is one reason why the old photographs get consigned to the old shoe box at the bottom of the drawer. We need them but we do not want to be claimed by them. Because they bring us face to face with an inheritance that cannot be altered, photographs pose the problem of freedom: they seem to set the limits within which the self can be created.

The photographs in a family album bring us closer to the past and yet their acute physical tactility reminds us of all the distance that still remains uncrossed.”

Michael Ignatieff
The Russian Album, 1987


“At the museum entrance, a man asked me if I’d like to check my bag. I said no. I never checked my bag. I needed my things too much.”

— Mona Simpson
The Lost Father, 1992


“But the voyage isn’t over. And at the end of my allotted time I will appear at another gate. And I will have a cheap American suitcase in my hand. And I will hear: ‘What have you brought with you?’

‘Here,’ I’ll say. ‘Take a look.’

And I’ll also say, ‘There’s a reason that every book, even one that isn’t very serious, is shaped like a suitcase’.

Sergei Dovlatov
The Suitcase, 1986/1990


"How about trying the opposite approach for a change: Instead of carrying the discards of daily behavior to the exhibition rooms of art, how about looking for art around us and within us?

Artists have become alarmed about art having to subsist in a diving bell. They are expected to breathe art in their studios, and their public has tried to do the same in the museums. But outside the studio and the museum there is no art. The state of affairs cannot continue because art has never grown from anything but the poetical overtones of all daily living.

What is needed is a revival of that pervasive symbolism so common in unimpaired cultures. Not long ago in Grand Central Station I noticed an elderly woman lugging a suitcase. "Heavy, isn"t it?" I said. And she, with an Old World accent, "The whole of life is heavy!""

Rudolf Arnheim
“This is Conceptual Art,”
The New York Times,
July 13, 1974


To make a start,
out of particulars
and make them general, rolling
up the sum by defective means

W.C. Williams
Patterson,  Book I, 1946


“Feelings have definite forms, which become progressively articulated. Their development is effected through their ‘interplay with the other aspects of experience’: but the nature of that interplay is not specified. Yet is is here, I think, that cogency for the whole thesis must be sought. What character of feeling is "an index of the mind"s grasp of its object," and by what tokens is it so? If feeling has articulate forms, what are they like? For what they are like determines by what symbolism we might understand them. Everybody knows that language is a very poor medium for expressing our emotional nature. It merely names certain vaguely and crudely conceived states, but fails miserably in any attempt to convey the ever-moving patterns, the ambivalences and intricatices of inner experience, the interplay of feelings with thoughts and impressions, memories and echoes of memories, transient fantasy, or its mere runic traces, all turned into nameless, emotional stuff. If we say that we understand someone else"s feeling in a certain matter, we mean that we understand why he should be sad or happy, excited or indifferent, in a general way; that we can see due cause for his attitude. We do not mean that we have insight into the actual flow and balance of his feelings, into that ‘character’ which ‘may be taken as an index of the mind’s grasp of its object.’ Language is quite inadequate to articulate such a conception. Probably we would not impart our actual, inmost feelings even if they could be spoken. We rarely speak in detail of entirely personal things.”

— Susanne Langer
Philosophy in a New Key,
  1942/71, pp.100-10

“Say it, no ideas but in things.

W.C. Williams
Patterson,  Book I, 1946


“‘No ideas but in things,’ said William Carlos Williams, and though he was speaking of poetry it is true of fiction, too. Fiction’s power to sway us comes about not through directed meditations and conclusions but thrrough depicted realities to which meaning clings, and which transfer this meaning, unmediated and otherwise inexpressible, to our consciousness, dust to dust.”

—John Updike
“Vagueness on Wheels, Dust on a Skirt,”
The New Yorker,
Sept. 2, 1991


“Worst regret: that I was not given a chance to see [my father] after he died. Ignorantly, I had assumed the coffin would be open during the funeral service, and then, when it wasn’t, it was too late to do anything about it.

Never to have seen him dead deprives me of an anguish I would have welcomed. It is not that his death has been made any less real, but now, each time I want to see it, each time I want to touch its reality, I must engage in an act of imagination. There is nothing to remember. Nothing but a kind of emptiness.

Paul Auster
The Invention of Solitude,


“There are things worth more than money, all money, valueless things. The box. I thought of it with its secrets. To sit on the floor in my old clothes and have its contents spread out between my legs, wuld be almost more than meeting my father.”

—Mona Simpson
The Lost Father, 1992 (p. 242)


"Many wonder how I could find my own language of expression so fast, but this is really the language I have carried with me all my life. The camera only became the tool which opened the box and let it all out."

—T. Lindström
Interview in Dagens Nyheter TV,   February 14, 1988


"If I could do it, I'd do no writing at all here. It would be photographs; the rest would be fragments of cloth, bits of cotton, lumps of earth, records of speech, pieces of wood and iron, phials of odors,plates of food and of excrement.  Booksellers would consider it quite a novelty; critics would murmur, yes, but is it art; and I could trust a majority of you to use it as you would a parlor game. A piece of the body torn out by the roots might be more to the point."

—James Agee
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, 1946


"I must work from the formlessness of my own life, speak in my own voice, however faltering and unsure" What I seek is not to be found in my past, is not to be found at all but achieved, if at all, from the debris and clutter of a flawed and limping life. I admonish myself: Give up this longing for a past of brave adventure from which to work. Heroic experience is hearsay, is not your own. Don"t just stand there in lamentation before the hunk heap of memory, the fears and evasions, the missed opportunities, the cautious advcances. Wade in. Pick up the pieces. Don"t expect to find anything of value. This is ore, not metal. Expect only to come upon sometyhing—slingshot, love letter, rusted foil, ancient condom, broken knight from a chess set—from which with effort and courage something of beauty might be made."

—Alan Wheelis
On Not Knowing How to Live, 1975


“It’s another form of autobiography, the unballing of paperwads. Nothing in the universe is ever lost.”

—Clark Blaise
I Had a Father:
A Post-Modern Autobiography,
1993, p. 122


“Do not allow public issues as they are officially formulated, or troubles as they are privately felt, to determine the problems you take up for study." Know that many personal troubles cannot be solved merely as troubles, but must be understood in terms of public issues " and in terms of the problems of history-making. Know that the human meaning of public issues must be revealed by relating them to personal troubles " and to the problems of individual life. Know that the problems of social science, when adwquately formulated, must include both troubles and issues, both biography and history, and the range of their intricate relations. Within that range the life of the individual and the making of societies occur; and within that range the sociological imagination has its chance to make a difference in the quality of human life in our time."

—C.Wright Mills
"On Intellectual Craftsmanship,"
The Sociological Imagination, 1959


"A  good deal of my own junk and rubbish—and I discover that this is true for other people as well—falls under the general heading of mementos or souvenirs: college term papers, postcards, brochures and leaflets from trips, old conference programs, photographs and clippings, old letters. "There is, at least, a feeling that if we throw out this junk we are being disrespectful to the past it memorializes… for what constitutes the past as notable and significant are the markers that mark it as the original."

—Jonathan Culler
"Rubbish Theory," 1988


“If ‘logic’ derives from logos, it derives, even more radically from legein. The latter, claims Heidegger, does not signify a discursive, sequential saying, but an ingathering, a harvesting, a collecting and re-collecting (re-membering) of the dispersed vestiges of Being.”

—George Steiner

Heidegger, 1978


“A life develops in spirals; it passes again and again by the same points but at different levels of integration and complexity.”

—Jean-Paul Sartre
"The Progressive-Regressive Method,"
Search for a Method
, 1960 / 63


"After my father died, I discovered a trunk that had once belonged to his mother in the cellar of his house. It was locked, and I decided to force it open with a hammer and screwdriver, thinking it might contain some buried secret, some long lost treasure. As the hasp fell down and I raised the lid, there it was, all over again—that smell, wafting up towards me, immediate, palpable, as if it had been my grandmother herself. I felt as though I had just opened her coffin."

—Paul Auster

The Invention of Solitude, 1982


"[Images] and they only, originally made us aware of the wholeness and over-all form of entities, acts and facts in the world; and little though we may know it, only an image can hold us to a conception of a total phenomenon, against which we can measure the adequacy of the scientific terms wherewith we describe it. We are actually suffering today from the lack of suitable images of the phenomena that are currently receivieng our most ardent scientific attention""

—Susanne Langer

Mind: An Essay on Human Feeling, Vol. 1, 1967, pp. xviii, xix


"I know my childhood was one-of-a-kind, not at all for its fecklessness " on this restless, errant continent I set not records " but for its lack of coherence. I was a rat in the maze, getting shocked, getting sweets, dark/light, cold/hot, prodded/cuddled, making my way to some eventual light, but no one was taking notes. The researcher had fallen asleep. My life has been pointless, one long search for meaning, which in a life means identity. Sometimes I feel the technicians had forgotten to exterminate me when  the experiment was over; I was released back to the general rat population and allowed to contaminate as many people as I could. Whatever lesson my life might impart to others, unless I write about it and can do justice to it, has been lost. Whatever I might have learned is still locked away. I haven"t strayed from the shape and contents of my life because I’m still trying to discover what I left behind."

—Clark Blaise
I Had a Father: A Post-Modern Autobiography, 1993


“Riding in a cart, he looked back to retain as much as possible.
Which means he knew what was needed for some ultimate moment
When he would compose from fragments a world perfect at last.”

— Czeslaw Milosz

The Witness of Poetry, 1983


“The novelist Donald Barthelme"s statement that ‘Fragments are the only form I trust’ has ramifications far beyond the literary. However severe the problems posed by such a principle for social and especially political revolution, we deceive ourselves unless we learn to focus upon these shifting forms—to recognize new styles of life and new relations to institutions and to ideas. Indeed, we require a little revolutionizing of our psychological assumptions, so that both the young and the old can be understood, not as bound by static behavioral categories, but as in continuous historical motion.”

—Robert Jay Lifton
History and Human Survival: Essays on the Young and the Old, Survivors and the Dead, Peace and War, and on Contemporary Psychohistory, 1970


“You are familiar with all that was written about the ‘true outline’ of [Pascal"s] Pensés, until a structuralist analyst showed not only that the fragmment as a literary form was necessary to Pascal but that " and this is far more important " he used it intentionally and that it was a Cartesian perspective that had prevented considering fragments as ends in themselves." For Pascal"s message is that Man is great in that he searches for absolute values but small in that, without ever ceasing to search, he knows that he can never approach these values. The only form to express this content is one which does not prove the contrary: which doesn"t show either a man who has abandoned the search or one who has approached the goal. The fragment is such a form.”

—Lucien Goldman
"Structure: Human Reality and Methodologicial Concept," 1972


“…beside the easy will to discover and value objects and bits and things because of some more than ordinary pull on us, there is the stronger will to hold on to them, to give them safety in one"s keeping " to save them out of one time and into others" [At] some stage, I find myself looking at one object or at a group of particular objects which hold my attention in such ways as tend to heighten a mood of anticipation in me. I turn these objects in my hands.”

—Donald Weismann

"The Collage as Model," 1969


"There are a few further points which we ought to note. In the first place, we must remember that we live our childhood as our future. Our childhood determines gestures and roles in the perspective of what is to come. This is not a question of the mechanical reappearance of montages"

[The] gestures and roles are inseparable from the project which transforms them" For this reason a life develops in spirals; it passes again and again by the same points but at different levels of integration and complexity."

—Jean-Paul Sartre
"The Progressive-Regressive Method,"
Search for a Method
, 1960/63


"According to his background a patient will describe various objects as containers, such as his mind, the unconscious, the nation; others as contained. such as his money, his ideas. The objects are many but the relationships are not."

— W.R. Bion

"Container and Contained Transformed,"
Attention and Interpretation,
1970 / 84


""the two major approaches [to consciousness as a subject of inquiry], the explanatory-psychological and the phenomeno-logical, go their separate ways, contributing nothing to each other.

—Walker Percy

"Symbol, Consciousness, and Intersubjectivity,"
The Message in the Bottle: How Queer Man Is, How Queer Language Is, and What One Has to Do with the Other,


“Clearly, a structure of realilty with neither subjects nor objects provides only one possible link—action—between what will later become differentiated into a subject and objects.

In other words, the parallel development of interiorization and exteriorization, active since birth, underlies this paradoxical accord between thought, which at last frees itself from physical action and the universe, which contains this latter and yet suppasses it in all respects.”

Jean Piaget
The Principles of Genetic Epistemology, 1970 / 1972


“While projection is always in Lacan’s conception the displacement of an image from the "inside" to the "outside," that is, a displacement of any one given object with respect to the ego, introjection is not simply the symmetrical displacement of an object from the outside to the inside, but a movement from the outside to the inside of an object"s name, that is, the assumption by the ego of a relation between a named object and a system of named objects. Introjection, says Lacan, is always a linguistic introjection, in that it is always the introjection of a relation.

This is why projection is ‘imaginary,’ dual (‘here’ equals ‘there,’ ‘inside’ equals ‘outside’), whereas introjection is ‘symbolic,’ triangular (the relation between ‘inside,’ ‘outside,’ and ‘myself’).”
—S. Felman

Jacques Lacan and the Adventure of Insight, 1987


“For Lacan, the Oedipus complex is not a signified but a signifier, not a meaning but a structure. What Freud discovered in the Oedipus myth is not an answer but the structure of a question, not any given knowledge but a structuring position of the analyst’s own ignorance of the patient"s unconscious.”

—S. Felman
Jacques Lacan and the Adventure of Insight, 1987