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Book | Yearbook

The urge to collect

Where does the urge to collect come from? What are the explicit or underlying reasons for gathering large amount of objects?

Holly O'Farrel and Pieter ter Keurs (eds)
15 November 2023

In collecting, particularly in compulsive collecting there is a strong fusion between object and collector, the object and the subject. The attraction between what is collected and the collector is a key issue here, and this attraction is to a large extent what the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer would call an irrational force.1 Indeed, many collectors cannot verbalize why they collect, often very fanatically. People often can’t reason why they want certain objects in their vicinity and why they want to touch them. In specialized literature on collecting it is apparent that the phenomenon is very complex, but some common characteristics can be identified. The German psychoanalyst Peter Subkowski wrote:

'There is always a close and mostly unconscious relationship between the concrete object of collection and an individual’s life history.'

The French philosopher and sociologist Jean Baudrillard described collecting as a:

'ultimate neurotic defence against the reality of the fear-inspiring passage of
time, ending in one’s inevitable death.'

The urge to collect | Yearbook 2022 Museums, Collections and Society

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