Notwithstanding its gross simplifications and misguided paranoia, Ian Svenonius’ Jacobin blog post “All Power to the Pack Rats” merits a quick read by those interested in the invention of the hoarder because it understands contemporary hoarding discourse in relation to digital technologies.
[This relation has long been a refrain on If I Were a Hoarder: I am convinced that the outpouring of hoarding discourse since around 2008, which includes novels, memoirs, network television series, documentaries, installation art, and the inclusion of “Hoarding Disorder” in the DSM-V, has has everything to do with digital technologies. I believe that the interest in people who accumulate material possessions is symptomatic of larger anxieties about the immateriality of much of what we experience and consume in the age of digital technologies….]
Anyway, Svenonius doesn’t put it quite like that: he offers up a paranoid fantasy that equates modern minimalism with Apple, and Apple with authoritarianism. Attributing intentionality to cultural phenomena, he makes the contemporary invention of the hoarder the work of a terrifying power controlled by Apple and the ‘cyber lords,’ ‘anti-stuff crowd,’ ‘cyber-elite,’ ‘computer lords,’ ‘computer overlords,’ ‘internet lords,’ and ‘digital super-despots’ who would have us send our books, magazines and records to the landfill along with, eventually, our severed limbs. He asks: “How long before we’re convinced that hands, arms, legs, and appendages are just bothersome?”
For more reasoned defense of hoarding, I’d recommend William Davies King’s “In Defense of Hoarding" published on PopMatters four years ago.
Of course, I’d also recommend my own writing here, both about my father’s hoarding and about Jill, the Pumpkin Lady from Hoarders.
Obliquely related to the sleek minimalism with which Svenonius takes issue is a recent article in the Tampa Bay Times about people who live in staged homes, meticulously effacing all traces of their presence: “Human Props Live in Luxury Homes but Live like Ghosts.” Recall Walter Benjamin’s note in The Arcades Project: “To dwell means to leave traces.”
Such spectral inhabitants may also be the “type and genius of deep crime”: like Poe’s man of the crowd, “[sie lassen] sich nicht lesen.” Perhaps these two forms of illegibility, of eluding individuation, (that of never being never alone, and that of leaving no material traces), are not anomalous iterations but rather indications of a larger cultural shift between Poe’s 1840 and the Tampa Bay Times’ 2014? Perhaps. And though such a question may involve a gross simplification not unlike those that litter “All Power to the Pack Rats,” it is nonetheless interesting to think about.