Visible and Invisible Assemblages

  1. According to Pomian, a collection entails a “set of natural objects, kept temporarily or permanently out of the economic circuit, afforded special protection in enclosed places adapted specifically for that purpose and put on display.” Objects in a collection are often exhibited, leading their practical value to be diminished and their exchange or personal value to be heightened. The exchange and personal value of objects in a collection are helpful in describing the relationship between the visible and the invisible and Pomian’s definition of a collection. The objects serve as a conduit between the visible and invisible worlds; this involvement in an exchange process relates the items and gives them similarity. A perfect example of this are historical paintings. These paintings are tangible objects that depict scenes of the past, or the invisible world. However, their portrayal of the invisible world enables a channel of communication between the invisible and visible by showing present-day viewers a scene of the distant past and connecting them to the painting. The relationship between the visible and invisible increases the exchange and personal values of the painting, which means the object is suitable for being part of a collection, according to Pomian.
  2. A Wunderkammer, as told by Eco, was a cabinet that sought to “systematically collect all the things that ought to be known,” whether it be bizarre and obscure items or plain yet instructory objects. These impressive collections of items can be used to symbolize the dream of science, which aims to understand everything in the world and their basic processes. The Wunderkammer can be seen as a representation of the human potential to amass knowledge about the natural and artificial world and use it to our benefit. The items were once considered to possess magical qualities unknown to human understanding, but through collection and observation they are comprehensible by humans. 
  3. One distinction between Pomian’s collection and Eco’s Wunderkammer is the usefulness of the objects. According to Pomian, a collection consists of “precious objects’ ‘ that have “no practical or usage value” meaning their sole purpose is to be put on display and enamored as part of the collection. The sole aim of a collection is to be rendered presentable and admirable; therefore, once items become part of a collection, they become ineffective. On the contrary, items in the Wunderkammer can include “musical and mathematical instruments, experimental projects on perpetual motion,” items which can be studied and learned from in order to gain practical knowledge. The Wunderkammer possesses objects which have practical value, in comparison to those in Pomain’s collection which become useless. In fact, the goal of the magical cabinet was to amass objects that signify scientific knowledge and the ability to learn about the things around us. 

Reading Pomian’s description of what he believes constitutes a collection, I wonder how accurate/universal his criteria are. For example, someone can have a car collection but those cars can still be of practical use if they drive them regularly. According to Pomian this is not a collection…or is it?

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