"The Love of Objects"
“What kind of madness is it,” writes the American poet Maggie Nelson in her book Bluets, “to be in love with something constitutionally incapable of loving you back.”
But I think that if you love something long enough, even if it is an object, it will love you back at some point.
When I was a child I had a close relationship with a mountain. I used to go there after school in the afternoons. It consoled me. I have to admit I was very lonely and sad at that time. One could ask of course, Is the mountain an object? The mountain is a mountain. But my mountain is a mountain in the same way your blue cup is a blue cup. You love to drink coffee out of that cup every morning and you refuse to wash it. Your sister bought this cup for you in Morocco. It is very precious to me, you say.
Objects. Dinge. Choses. Our attitude towards them is very different. You cling to them. For me it has been easy to leave things behind. Objects could tell too much. When I left a place, a person, a country, I left behind the objects connected to it. Not you. When we moved, I forced you to throw things away. This has been hard for you. Months later you still say, I should have kept this.
Misplaced objects create chaos. I fear chaos. You thrive from it. You say it gives you a feeling of being alive. But I suspect that you need the additional weight. Your body is so light. In bed I see your back towards me, your neck, your ribs. Your body is the slim body of a boy’s. Whereas I have grown into a woman’s body. As much as I always liked to disappear, this body of mine keeps me on earth.
Your sister is as light as you are. I saw the two of you once through the windows of your parent’s house. I was in the garden. It was late evening. The two of you looked so beautiful together. Apollo and Artemis, I thought. The things connected to these gods are called “attributes.” What could my attributes be? It is not for me to know.
Lately my attitude towards things is changing. I am 37 now. I have started to enjoy feeling attached to things. I have started to enjoy dependency. I keep thinking of things I used to own. Things I left when moving. Things I gave away. Things I lost in a friend’s damp basement. Ten years ago a therapist asked me about the way I had decorated my room. Were there photos on the wall, seashells on the window sill, memories of some kind? No, I said, nothing like that. I don’t own much furniture. A mattress, but no bed. A desk that I found on the side of the road. A chair. Books, but no bookshelf. A laptop. Flowers in a glass (yellow tulips that I bought at the market). Beside the laptop, maybe a coffee cup, half-empty. I prefer to live in places with a view, I said. I prefer silences.
The therapist said something that you have repeated back to me years after. A sentence that has haunted me: Your loneliness is the price for your independence.
But maybe, if I had a place of my own, a house, I would have put up shelves and assembled all the things I ever owned in visible storage. I would have walked along the shelves every evening touching the smooth surface of a wooden matryoshka or turn the volume button of an antique radio.
In Rilke’s Malte, the mother enters his room at night with a lamp to say goodnight. Her presence returns every object in the room to its rightful place. “Don’t be afraid”, she says, “it’s me.”
Don’t be afraid.
My earliest nightmare has been the cushion dream. I am wrapped way too tight in a big blanket, around me a sea of cushions and more blankets. I have to fold them. Tidy them up. But it’s too much. It is just too much.
This must have been around the time my mother had started sleeping in the living room. Half a year later, she and I moved into the flat near the river. After school I spent the afternoons by myself. O to be alone in the maternal flat! O to be alone! It was blissful as much as it was lonely. It was a very small flat with very thin walls and my mother was very oblivious to the fact that I could hear everything that was going on in the living room, especially at night. She was oblivious to many things. When my father came to pick me up for a weekend visit he criticized my appearance: unwashed hair, uncut nails, shabby clothes. I hadn’t noticed. I wanted my father to like me, because I loved him very much.
But I had the mountain. When I was standing at the top I could see the river, the zoo with its animal noises and smells, even my school. These funny trees were growing there. I called them monkeybread trees – I don’t know why. I climbed the trees and sat among the branches. I was always in expectation of something big waiting for me. I knew: The mountain would take care of me. One day I found a bird’s nest in the leaves. It was made of pine needles, moss and birch bark. It was the most perfect little thing I ever saw.
That's what I would like my house to be made of, I thought.
O night without objects.
O mother without a light.
What about your mother? Did she enter your room with a light? Did you and your sister share a room?
I never asked.
In my memory I am a child in bed at night. Windows closed. Doors shut. No curtains. There is a cockle stove in the corner beside the door, heated in the early mornings by my mother. Inside my room, things are moving through the darkness. I give them new names: Boat. Moon. Spider. I am nine years old. I touch the cold stones of the cockle stove with my hands. What’s inside, I wonder.
About the author
Anne Klapperstück lives in Dublin. Originally from Halle, Germany, she studied at the German Institute for Literature in Leipzig and published short stories in German and Irish literary journals and anthologies.