I’m in the process of moving house as I write this. It elicits memories of all the times I have moved before. Packing my belongings, these things that I have amassed so far, been given, collected, I suppose. I’ll take them with me. ‘I hate packing’, remarks Ahmed, ‘collecting myself up, pulling myself apart. Stripping the body of the house: the walls, the floors, the shelves.’ (2006, p.10). When I was a child, as we left each house my mum and I would pause for a moment to take in each empty room, to say our goodbyes, and then pull the door to, behind us.
THE TRANSITIONAL OBJECT
Leaving the new flat to take bottles to the bottle bank. There’s a small donkey that has been left on the wall outside; a child’s toy. It’s sodden from being left out in the rain. I can’t decide if it really does look sad, or if it is me who is sad. In Playing and Reality, Winnicott describes his hypothesis of the first ‘not-me’ object of infancy; ‘the newborn infant often begins with fist-in-mouth activities, and leads eventually on to an attachment to a teddy, a doll or soft toy, or to a hard toy.’ (2005, p.2). He calls this the ‘transitional object’. His focus is not so much on the object itself, but on the first possession; on the intermediate area of experiencing ‘between the subjective and that which is objectively perceived.’ (2005, p.4).
Winnicott explains: ‘It is not the object, of course, that is transitional. The object represents the infant’s transition from a state of being merged with the mother to a state of being in relation to the mother as something outside and separate.’ (2005, pp.19-20).
I presumed the small sodden donkey had been dropped accidentally by a young child, and someone else, finding it later, placed it upon the wall to be found again in an act of care. In this way, the object was full of the sensation of loss and melancholy.
I grew up near to the sea, and one summer when I was around sixteen I lost my necklace on the beach. I’d taken it off to go in the water, and placed it in a small pocket of a bag. Much later after I’d left the beach, I found that it was no longer in the pocket. On the necklace, I wore a silver pendant that my Grandma and Grandad had bought for me before my Grandad died, and it had come to mean a great deal to me. I was distraught at losing the necklace. The next morning, I went to the beach at around 6am, and I trawled the area where I had been the day before. I walked the beach with the litter pickers and the early risers, asking if anyone had found a necklace. Just as I was about to give up, I caught a glimpse of something glistening between the pebbles, and against the odds of the tide, it was my necklace. I felt delirious with the sensation of relief at finding it, my limbs slackened with a theatrical release of euphoria. Davey says, ‘I have relief when I find something, but it’s a shallow, superficial relief. I know this ritual is a rehearsal for all the inevitable, bigger losses. I think, if I can only find X, then I am holding back the floodwaters, I am in control.’ (2020, p.17). The low morning sun caught the surface of the silver pendant at such an exact angle that as I moved towards it the light changed, and so the necklace disappeared, as I approached it further, the sun caught the surface again, like the play of absence and presence in the game of peekaboo with a young child. As Davey puts it, staving off the anxiety of the mother’s absence (2020, p.17).
In the cupboard, I keep the hoover and the ladder. There are also things stored in boxes I don’t often need, and among these is a purple box. It’s full of special things: ticket stubs, cards from special people or special occasions. Some old photographs and little notes. I enjoy opening the box itself which was originally the box to a lovely gift I was given one Christmas. I enjoy opening the box because I can relive that lost moment of when I first opened it. It’s not so much about the gift that was inside, but the time it memorialises. Stewart says souvenirs are always incomplete, that the object is ‘metonymic to the scene of its original appropriation in the sense that it is a sample.’ The purple box is ‘a metonymic reference existing between object/part and object/whole’. The box functions not so much as object to object, but beyond that, as object to event/experience. Through this box, I have a connection to that particular time; I can access and recall it vividly. It is in this manner that Stewart claims: ‘the souvenir must remain impoverished and partial so that it can be supplemented by a narrative discourse, a narrative discourse which articulates the play of desire.’ (1993, p.136).
I have developed an aversion to the new red kettle. I feel a small nugget of resentment inside when I go to make a cup of tea. When we were buying the kettle, he said he actually liked the red one better than the silver one. Then a few days later he left. It’s a question of orientation when Ahmed says; ‘it is not just that consciousness is directed toward objects, but also that I take different directions toward objects: I might like them, admire them, hate them, and so on. In perceiving them in this way or that, I also take a position upon them, which in turn gives me a position.’ (2006, pp.27-28, original emphasis).
Lydia Davies is the second recipient of the John Calcutt Prize for Critical Writing presented annually by The Glasgow School of Art in collaboration with MAP Magazine. An artist living in Glasgow, she works across writing, voice, sound, and moving image. www.lydiadavies.co.uk
For parts 2 & 3 of this selection see entries below.