Rob Walker and I are amateur students of the “cathexis” via which significance accrues to inanimate objects, particularly ones that aren’t as obviously meaningful as, say, heirlooms, travel souvenirs, or objets d’art. Rob’s “Consumed” column in the New York Times Magazine attempts to figure out why consumers respond the way they to do particular products, from consumer items to TV shows; while a book that I coedited, “Taking Things Seriously,” asked 75 writers, artists, and other creative types to describe the surprising significance of unlikely-looking objects found in their homes, offices, and studios.
Agreeing that narrative — stories — is the vehicle through which insignificant objects become significant, Rob and I decided we’d run a test. We’d ask authors to tell stories about worthless objects that Rob and I had purchased at thrift stores and yard sales for a couple of bucks at most. Would said objects then become significant? If so, how to measure such a transformation? Rob’s brilliant/funny solution: Put the objects on eBay, using the authors’ stories as the Item Description (while making it clear that the story was fictional), then see if the objects sell for more than we paid for ’em. We’d pass along all proceeds from the eBay sales to the authors; and we’d send the item and also the story to the winning bidders.
So this spring we contacted 35 authors, some of whom we knew and admired, and others whom we just admired. The response has been very gratifying, indeed. Posted today: Great object-oriented stories by Lydia Millet, Matthew Battles, Annie Nocenti, Lucinda Rosenfeld, and Luc Sante. Coming soon: More objects, and stories by Stewart O’Nan, Matthew Sharpe, Cintra Wilson, Ben Greenman, Michelle Tea, Kurt Andersen, Rebecca Wolff, Mark Frauenfelder, and Bruce Sterling, among other talents. Eventually we hope to publish 75, or maybe 100, stories about these ex-insignificant objects.
I won’t keep sending emails, but we will post one or more new objects/stories to the website every weekday. So stay tuned! Please read the stories, leave comments, bid on objects (cheap!), and most importantly, please help me SPREAD THE WORD.