The fetish object. The continuous restlessness of meaning. Unresolved tension through which the commodity is continually fetishized, de-fetishized and reproduced to look like the old; warts, scratches, scuffs and all. A reanimation that represents a highlighting of utopian longings dating from antiquity. For real history and social change that lies sleeping, dormant yet patient within the commodity form. The roots of change that are buried and embedded in the parade of an endless stream of new commodity fetishes…..
… a surprisingly common species — people, mostly women, who long for some connection, however tenuous, with the pianist, dead now nearly a quarter century, whom most experts agree was the finest musician Canada ever produced. They’re willing to pay top dollar for any piece of Gouldiana, says Mr. Gross.”A signed photo might go, easily, for $5,000 to $6,000,” he says. “Letters, depending on how interesting the content is, might range up to $3,000 to $5,000. Anything with Gould’s picture and signature would being around $750, at the low end.”…
…Material from many other pianists, such as Clara Haskill and Dinu Lipatti, is far more scarce. But Mr. Gould tops the list in terms of the market interest in the detritus of his life….But the signs of continuing fascination with Gould only begin with the high prices people are willing to pay for Gould memorabilia. A woman who was studying music in England had the main theme from Mr. Gould’s String Quartet tattooed on her back….Videos dealing with Mr. Gould’s music-making and life continue to be released. …No other pianist, not Rubinstein, not Horowitz, not Serkin, seems to attract this kind of ongoing fascination….Read More:http://www.canada.com/ottawacitizen/news/observer/story.html?id=865508c0-5a65-45d1-a26e-071d6f367146&p=2
The answer to the enigma falls into the realm of the social sciences.Of which there are no shortage of theories. The buzzword here is celebrity contagion, imitative magic or aura capture, and some ideas pinched from Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin on commodity fetish in an age of mechanical reproduction. One almost anthropological theory is that apparently irrational and incoherent yearnings, desires, for a relic is based on instincts essential to surviving disasters such as the Black Plague and other large scale calamities that have afflicted humankind. There is a belief that certain properties are contagious and act as a talisman in either a positive or pernicious way. Drawing on Claude Levi-Strauss, another idea is that magical and pagan ritual documented in so called primitive societies is mirrored in the quest for artifacts driving up their demand….
…Some collectors appear to rationalize their purchases as financial investments,assets, or as goods worth owning since they confer status or distinction and perhaps some cognitive and telepathic associations with someone they idolized. But, these are not the central and significant reasons that motivate the purchase of celebrity memorabilia.Its a bit like Churches claiming ownership of Jesus memorabilia: splinters from the cross, shroud of turin, the holy grail …
…No other classical musician of any description seems to have been taken so deeply into the heart of so many listeners, many of whom seem to regard the late pianist virtually as a spiritual mentor, a guru….”It’s the women who seem to fall over themselves about Gould,” says Bob Trenholm, a Gould enthusiast who works in l’Atelier Grigorian, one of Canada’s finest classical music stores, with perhaps the most extensive Gould shelves of any store in the country. …”There is nothing like this for any other classical musician. Maybe, on a smaller scale, for someone like the soprano Maria Callas. But really, the continued obsession with Gould is unique.” Read More:http://www.canada.com/ottawacitizen/news/observer/story.html?id=865508c0-5a65-45d1-a26e-071d6f367146&p=2
The search for celebrity objects, whether from James Dean, or Ted Bundy, or Goring or Mickey Mantle, reveals a motivation not geared by affection or profit but rather by more abstract and less tangible raeson related to contagious magic and semiotic significance. A feeling that even replicas can radiate their own aura- perhaps what Benjamin would term “weak messianism”- and thus transform them into fetish objects such as Warhol reproductions.
The most important factor appears to be the level of “celebrity contagion.” A
e study found that a sweater owned by a popular celebrity became more important to people if it had actually been worn by their idol. If the pullover had been cleaned it would less valuable to the fans, apparently because the celebrity’s essence had somehow been removed. It does explain the mania in Byron’s England where for example the tomb of Wordsworth was raided for momentos such as bones.
Bloom, Diesendruck and Newman found that in all three cases people were willing to pay less than their original value. Like the Perrier and wine examples, the history of the object mattered.
Why do we care so much about origins? To borrow some examples from Bloom; why was a tape measure owned by John F. Kennedy sold for $48,875? Why did Todd McFarlane pay $3 million dollars for Mark McGwire’s seventieth home run? Why do people save their first pair of shoes or favorite teddy bear?…
…Bloom’s idea is that we are all essentialists. That is, we pay special attention to the history of an object – where it has been, what it has touched, and who has touched it. As Bloom explains, we subscribe to “the notion that things have an underlying reality or true nature that one cannot observe directly and it is this hidden nature that really matters.” And, moreover, “the pleasure we get from many things and activities is based in part on what we see as their essences.”
Here’s the question that keeps me up at night: why are we essentialists?
I was fortunate enough to sit down with Professor Bloom last month and ask him this question. Below is an abridged transcript from our conversation.
McNerney: Is there an evolutionary advantage of being an essentialist?
Bloom: I think the case is most obviously made about other people. If I want to safely interact with you, I must be cautious of your history. For example, it is advantageous for me to know how you’ve treated me in the past, who your friends are, who you know and what you know. There is a long list of things that are invisible but are part of you, and they could be important for, say, my survival.
McNerney: So you could say that when we assess others we look at them physically, but we also examine their “resumes,” if you will.
Bloom: Exactly, that’s right. And the same is true with animals. You want to know more than just the physical – the history is important too. For example, is it dangerous? Does it tend to move quickly? Likewise for food, you want to know its history and what it has touched before you eat it.
McNerney: So evolution did not favor people who weren’t able to think as essentialists?
Bloom: Yes, think about what a disadvantage it would be if you only assess things as they are. Here’s the interesting part, you could argue that humans have taken it too far. We are so caught up in history that we collect irrelevant things. We care about the difference between an original and a forgery.
The attraction/repulsion dynamic:
Contagion has a biological basis and deep evolutionary roots in a universal human emotion: disgust. In their article “Dirt, Disgust, and Disease,” Valerie Curtis and Adam Biran explain:
In their exploration of Darwinian medicine, Nesse and Williams (1995) suggest that an instinctive disgust may motivate the avoidance of feces, vomit, and people who may be contagious, and that disgust is one of the mechanisms crafted by natural selection to help us keep our distance from contagion. Pinker (1998) proposes that disgust is “intuitive microbiology,” and that this explains our aversion to objects that have been in contact with disgusting substances: “Since germs are transmissible by contact, it is no surprise that something that touches a yucky substance is itself forever yucky.”
We believe that the line of argument proposed by Nesse and Williams and by Pinker, which explains disgust as an adaptation to the threat of disease, holds the key to the puzzle. Microbes and parasites have always provided a potent selective force driving the evolution of the defenses of higher organisms. Whether micro-parasites, such as viruses, bacteria, and protozoa, or macro-parasites, such as internal worms or external arthropods, these organisms play a role analogous to that of predators in driving adaptation in animal populations.
In the arms race between animals and their parasites, parasite attackers have evolved to exploit all the available ports of entry. Their hosts have evolved to protect these ports with all available defenses. In humans, the airways, the gut, the genitals, and the skin are the four main routes of entry for parasites seeking nourishment and reproductive opportunity.
Over the past decade, geneticists have discovered certain “hot spots” in the human genome — regions where there is evidence of intense and sustained selection pressure. Many of these hot spots code for immune response or regulate the immune system, which is something we would expect in a world filled with invisible pathogens. It is but a short symbolic step from intuitive microbiology (“Gross, don’t touch that!”) to metaphysical veneration (“Awesome, let me rub it!”).Read More:http://genealogyreligion.net/the-magic-of-contagion
Mr. Maloney, who is now head of the music library at the University of Minnesota, is currently writing a book that will offer the theory that Mr. Gould may have suffered from Asperger syndrome, a neurological disorder on the autism spectrum that he believes may account for certain apparent eccentricities that Mr. Gould had.
And he believes that Mr. Gould’s eccentricities are a good part of what made him fascinating.
“As brilliant a musician as he was, he was certainly seen as a most unusually eccentric and strange individual — and that combination, particularly to us Canadians with our repressed sense of self, made him exotic, which increased our interest.”
The Gouldian eccentricities famously included wearing an overcoat, hat, gloves and galoshes, even in summer.
But Mr. Maloney has no doubt that “sheer musical brilliance” explains most of Mr. Gould’s continuing appeal.
“His recordings, expecially the Bach, had an individualism and a brilliance that I don’t think anyone has ever surpassed. Even Angela Hewitt and Murray Perahia, fine though their work has been, are tame in comparison.” Read More:http://www.canada.com/ottawacitizen/news/observer/story.html?id=865508c0-5a65-45d1-a26e-071d6f367146&p=2