Tag Archives: Cath Kidston

In Defence of Obsession


c-butts-detail

Two men present at the gates of Heaven.

The first tells God he’s in a relationship; has a stable job; plays sport twice a week; sees friends; does some cultural stuff; quaffs a few beers (max) at the week-ends.

The second says he is obsessed by a woman with whom he can’t have a relationship, spending hours at a time lying on a bed where he once slept with her, usually in an alcoholic fog, rolling a ruler she has touched around his mouth, to the detriment of his business.

Assuming he’s not doing one of his hmm-it’s-not-what-you’d-expect-parable-things, we think we know who God’s going to wave through, don’t we?

It’s going to be the well-balanced, healthy-living chap with the wide social circle and the almost-finished inspirational TED talk on his side table, isn’t it? It’s not going to be the lone wolf weirdo fetish guy.

This is the belief called into question by Orhan Pamuk’s engrossing novel, The Museum of Innocence, which scrutinizes the all-consuming love of guy 2, Kemal Basmaci, 30, for a shopgirl-turned-thwarted-actress, Füsun Keskin. He steals her 18 yr old virginity lightheartedly while engaged to an aristocratic beauty, only to lose himself heavily in her thrall, alone, for the rest of his 32 years.

The neat device of the story is that Kemal creates a museum of  Füsun-infused artefacts- her hair barettes, photographs, coffee cups, 4,213 cigarette stubs- that exists in the real world, at Firuzağa, Dalgıç Sk. No:2, Beyoğlu, Istanbul.

Not simply a personal collection, it is also a chronicle of political, economic, and social life in the city in and around the 1970s. (A selection of it visited Somerset House quite recently, too.)

Interwoven in the tale are themes of romantic love, familial love, companionship, recollection, personal narrative, status, suffering, and success.

But it is the value/ affliction of obsession that lingers most powerfully, as Kemal exhorts his ghost writer (Pamuk) to close this 728 page opus with one prevailing message: ‘Let everyone know, I lived a very happy life’, leaving us as readers to decide whether we would agree with him.

Is this the story of a delusional saddo, rendered beautiful by interpretation? Or, does it relate a valid and true-hearted (if unconventional) experience?

Can obsession be worthy?

Obsession is a preoccupation: if you’re in medicinal research, this is a good thing; if you’re chasing Eckhart Tolle’s wild goose of receptive consciousness, it isn’t.

We allow for romantic love as long as there are two people involved, and it is bookmarked within a reasonable time-frame; that’s OK, we think: you focus on me, and I focus on you until we’re both familiar with the view, and can start talking bin-liners.

When one person alone takes the plunge, it feels limiting, or (worse) futile. All that intense channeling, to the exclusion of all else, carries with it the implication that ‘all else’ might offer an opportunity for reciprocation that will, necessarily, be missed.

But, is it such a crisis to be in primary relationship with oneself, or with one’s passions?

Given that we all react to how we feel about things rather than the things themselves, anyway, isn’t there an honesty in indulging wholeheartedly with that communion itself? (Woody Allen’s Annie Hall masturbation quip springs to mind: ‘It’s sex with someone that I love.’)

In collecting items attached to his beloved, Kemal finds a creative expression for his obsession- indeed, the creativity becomes one with it.

He manifests memories, and makes emotions material. He curates his love artfully, processing his urges aesthetically. This means of therapy in coping with his estrangement from Füsun may prevent him from finding a cure; but, if he were to find one, where is the evidence to suggest another ‘illness’ wouldn’t simply take its place?

In fetishizing, anatomizing, projecting, and fantasizing over his amour, he gains more satisfaction, arguably, than he would from interacting with her human imperfection and unpredictability. The sacrifice, certainly, is that he fails to grow from the learning that only input from another can invite. He turns in on himself, becoming as much obsessed with himself obsessing as on his object of desire. But, in another sense, he has conquered the quest to conquer: he ‘owns’ her already.

If it seems tragic Kemal cannot enact his dreams, we might turn to his friends in Turkish society to ask how their ‘real life’ fulfillment compares. In their empty visits to brothels, and false notions of traditionalism and status, their self-realisation holds little by way of contrasting appeal; the novel’s parting snapshot of wronged ex Sibel’s rabidly functioning marriage, replete with two beautiful rugrat daughters, is surely enough to send even the skeptic racing to fondle Füsun’s cheese grater.

Ostracized from this outwardly respectable crew, Kemal finds a meeting of minds in the rubbish dens and hoardings of his fellow obsessives. Restless, and stripped of his reputation, he has, nevertheless, found a way of ordering and memorializing his proclivities in a way that speaks uniquely to him, and speaks to him uniquely.

Though driven by his desire to be in true relationship with Füsun, Kemal experiences as many blissful moments reflecting on his concept of her as he does moments of acute pain at her flesh-and-blood hands.

I think this is the dark reason obsession deserves a screwy break in the midst of its insularity: it allows for the exercise of control over intent; it gives imagination license to do its best thing: run wild in service to our joy.

It becomes a fiercer, bolder attempt to sustain happiness no more absurd than any others we undertake.

And, if we seek a sign from our beloved that we’re not alone in suffering for our desires (hoping at least to connect in our misery), obsession short-circuits this neediness by declining to reach out in the first place.

Just as a fire results from the intense boring of the sun onto dry matter in the right conditions, so obsession powers an emotional energy to life by brute will. It eschews temperance and abstinence and apathy, knocking aside the faint of heart, to put a stake in the ground.

It’s a cousin of addiction, of ecstasy, of ill-advised box set marathons.

It’s not a Cath Kidston pinnie, or a member of the gang, or a good idea.

It’s an outsider with a strong point of view that doesn’t give a flying fuck for opinion. (Yet, it will eat you up with your own saliva, too.)

Like many habits that thrill and vivify, obsession is wanting in virtue.

But, for as long as we are slaves to our cravings, it may be just another pleasurable road to hell.

*

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Cosy

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I’m in love

with an object

and I’m done for

’cause it’s not done

to lust and pine

for what’s not Divine

To put on a pedestal

what’s socially risible

historically hysterical

what’s hairy

but scarily

polite

Whose knit one purl one

hurries the sisterhood

back to the scullery

the flowers to flow

through Cath Kidston’s

wet dreams

To adore

an angoran idol

that warms with whimsy

the Lady Grey

the catty ladies’ gossip

chills

To journey

from the urbane

into the brain

of a Bronte

the soft scone-filled belly

of Beatrix Potter

It was a gift (this humbly-hued honey)

not required

but desired

large-scale perfection

shrunk to poke

the cynic’s ribs

I’m done for

me

but not done yet

with my cosy

tiny teapot

pet

*

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I mean really, Part II: it’s War

Loyal Follower,

May I remind you of my recent pursed lip response to Bruno’s reading homework, Captain Underpants and the Big Bad Battle of the Bionic Booger Boy, after which he came home with dishwater material for a few weeks- still, dishwater composed of real-ish words.

Imagine the self-righteous excitement the subsequent appearance of Stink stirred in my somnambulant loins.

I had won the first battle, but this! What else but a declaration of WAR?!

I imagined that having dedicated lonely nights to finding the dullest books ever committed to paper (in order to drive home the point that cartoon profanity stories are fun and engaging) the teacher had decided enough was enough and Bang! she’d take out that chip on my shoulder.

In fact, Bruno had chosen it because he thought it looked fun and engaging.

For the second time, I scribbled a note:

Hello, Bruno’s Mum again. This book is American and full of slang. Do you have any English books, please? Th-u. Smiley face.

(The last two bits of my message were supposed to communicate subliminally that Look, I use text language and cartoon imagery and I’m an uptight prig- what’s going to become of my offspring if he isn’t even made to learn uptightness and priggery? He’ll become a career language criminal, that’s what!)

Whereupon, the prodigal son brought home another pet story and order was restored until…

Mr Gum was out on the table and I was back to patiently explaining that ‘strangery’ rhymes with ‘mange’ and not ‘fang’ and it’s not even a bloody word in the firstery place.

Whilst perhaps not quite as conspicuously odious as the other offenders, this one had the following on its cover (and I barely paraphrase): ‘So this book’s about Mr.Gum, right? And he does this, yeah? And he’s SO no doing that. So it’s dead fab, got it? Ok, see ya!’

Inside, it had Zoe Ball dumbing down to praise its contents along the lines of, ‘This wordy turd is a well wicked read.’

Next day, traumatised child tells the teacher Fascist Mum’s gone off on one again and this reply materialises in the homework book, penned in tight little writing.

Dear Mrs Stout,

We will change Bruno’s book to a more traditional one but it might be helpful if he encounters slang because we discuss non-traditional uses of language as it appears in SATS papers- as do speech bubbles (in more comic forms of literature).

Miss Wotsit

The upshot is, I’m going to run with the wolves.

I’m going to start crunching scary statistics on the percentage of primary school children who don’t speak English as their first language because I no longer have to worry that it’s the teachers who are making my child a dunce:

Hey, Miss Wotsit- whassssuuuuuuuuuupppp?

So, groovy, yeah, I’m totes on board with the whole alternative English learning thing.

I can see I’ve been cramping your style something chronic with all my traditional crap, running bonkers through the library like Cath Kidston in a bonnet- it’s SICK!

I thought 6 years old might encounter slang helpfully in the playground but it’s great the National Curriculum wants them to actually sit down* and study it.

It means I can stop boxing B’s ears judiciously for spelling ‘fart’ with a ‘ph’. (I’ve put that chunk of language in a speech bubble- whaddoyasay? I mean, it’s just no FUN without one, right?)

Where the hell’s he going in life without getting the basics down, right, yeah? Certainly to a no-good, shit, arsebag, pimplefink secondary school- I can tell you that for starteries.

In fact, why stop at comics and American slang? Have some fun, woman! How ’bout some porn? A couple of BNP pamphlets? A bit of Jeffrey Archer?

Pirate adventures are for sissies!

I’m warming to the wise-cracking kids dissing each other and their parents in all your Stink, Bum, Shit stories- it’s cool.

Plus, unless a joke’s based around an audible bodily function, I’m sorry but it’s JUST NOT FUNNY.

So keep at it, Sister, and Respect.

Yours sarcastically (a non-traditional, highly enjoyable use of language)

Mistress Underpants and the Great Big Oleaginous, Scatological English National Curriculum Bonnet Bee xx

*that’s a split infinitive. I said a split infinitive. It’s when you… oh, forget it. It’s all a bunch of bollocks, innit?

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