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Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
responses, apologies. I hold posts to 300 words* having found less is better than more.
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Friday, 24 May 2013

Hoping to contain the world

My recent nostalgia (Such stuff as dreams...) caused Tom to respond elliptically, "I like sets; sets of all kinds."

I say elliptically since I hadn't knowingly touched on sets. But that didn't matter. Floodgates opened.

Parts of me yearn for what sets represent: comfort, a sense of completeness. Cigarette cards first but then things got complex. An incomplete set can bring the reverse of comfort: a disturbance, a sense of unease.

Proust's original UK publisher, Chatto and Windus, offered A La Recherche in a ten-volume sequence. We were horribly poor and VR bought me the first volume inscribed "This could be the start of something big..." Quickly C&W ditched this sequence and launched another, let's say in eight volumes. My gift became an orphan and my feelings were hard to handle: a combination of being manipulated, discarded, out on a limb. A set victim.

When Penguin published a three-volume set, I bought all three immediately at £45 which I could ill afford. I was protected and the comfort returned.

But sets as sets can have a malign effect. Still poor I bought CDs as I discovered new musical works. Thus I learned works individually. When I could afford sets I bought them and discovered a danger. I have - and love - the complete Shostakovich quartets: five CDs covering 15 pieces. Yet even now they are not clear in my mind as separate works. I tend to listen to whole discs: thus running, say, the twelfth, the thirteenth and the fourteenth together. These magnificent quartets are a jumble. More discipline, of course. But heck it's music, not potty training.

Don't get me wrong, though. Like Tom I like sets. They calm me down, imply I've got things under control. Being open about delusions is a sign of adulthood.


  1. Robbie: Too true! I don't know the Shostakovitch Quartets, but I have a similar problem with such works as Handel's Concerti Grossi and others.

  2. I am a set victim when it comes to my treasure of 'last personal letter received from persons that have written to me since I came to Canada in 1956.
    I don't have them all but I have the important ones such as letters from family, some teachers, my favorite priest and good friends. I hope that the handwriten ones I receive now will never be part of this set of mine. They are letters from German young adults that have done volunteer work here in recent years. I have told them how good it feels to find a letter in the mailbox down the hall.

  3. Stamps were the worst part of sets for me. One was always missing out of reach, frustrating. My first set of books was ten green Penguins by Agatha Cristie. Highly intellectual stuff for a 12 year old. I wish I still had them to get sentimental about though not to read. Bertrand Russell has something very abstruse to say about sets which I never began to understand.

  4. Dishes. Terrible affliction. When we moved from Vermont I got rid of two sets but kept several, and now two more await me at my parents' house, which I'll be hard-pressed to refuse. Forklifts, though -- they are quite alluring, and I'm not even going to show my husband.

  5. A complete set makes me itchy. I derive no comfort from completing a set. Rather, I cherish incomplete sets ... my thinking is that there is something yet to find, so I don't go looking. I wait for it to find me.

  6. All: I wasn't sure who would respond to this one, and in what manner. Only that there would be a certain amount of mental unhealthiness. Lo, so it has proved.

    I mentioned cigarette cards even though they were beginning to disappear during my immediate post-war youth. And for the first time I see their unexpressed rationale. Might a child, desperate to complete a set of, say, Australian test cricket players have taken up smoking - then or later in life - to achieve this? Quite shocking.

    Tom: In fact there is another musical case to be made against CD sets. No string quartet, soloist orchestra or singer has ever produced a definitive version of a given collection of works and it was lazy of me to imagine that I'd ended up with an unimprovable group with my Shostakoviches.

    Ellena: You have opened up another aspect of sets. A pre-ordained group isn't necessary to begin with. By accumulating these letters, and treasuring them, you were on the way to creating a set which would either be (a) incomplete, or (b) complete according to whatever criterion you came up with. This is a happier, less obsessive, state of mind to be in.

    The possibility of a proper letter still remains a powerful force, and a factor in our personal identity. That's why junk mail is so terribly disappointing - raising and dashing hope simultaneously.

    Joe: The unread or unused items in a set are symptomatic of the fact that readability/usefulness are unimportant. It is the chase that matters. Ironically the chase and its (rare) achievement both create equally unsatisfactory states of mind.

    Beth: May I speculate: it is not the plates that you cannot discard but their settishness. As to forklifts that allure would quickly turn to terrible unease were I to send you one of my models, allowing you to finger the die-cast details. You would want more. Having your best interests at heart I shall not do this.

    RW (zS): A classic case, ready for the couch. There's no real pleasure in the pursuit and even less at the end. You may say you cherish incomplete sets but any competent psychiatrist would see this as a self-evident transfer mechanism and that you are, therefore, as a mad as a hatter. (I joke, of course.)

  7. Is that a John Deere?! Do you have more than the one piece?

    I have masses of things, but I'm not certain they constitute sets - perhaps more like hoards, which is decidely unhealthy.

  8. Uh...I just found your previous post. That's a very nice collection of tractors and other farming machinery you have, there, Robbie.

    Does Zach get to play with them?

    (A sudden feeling of chagrin fell over me as it occurred that you might already have answered that question from someone else. I'm in the house for a tea and pee break from struggling to repair my lawn mower. I just glanced at the picture with that post but didn't read it...because my hayfield that use to be my lawn is growing even as I type.)

  9. The Crow: Sorry, I've been drawn away to the Hay Festival and was unable to do anything for your increasing confusion. I may be too late but here are some answers.

    Yes it is a John Deere. Do I have more than one piece? This baffles me as much as what I wrote baffled you.

    Hoarding? Not the same. It doesn't involve the growing sense of madness engendered by an incomplete set.

    Found my previous post. Yeah, but you didn't read it, or even look closely at the pic. Those are industrial forklifts.

    Zach? Read the final para of previous post. Sorry about you being absorbed by mowing; ensnared by such matters I had the front lawn bricked over

    Your comment on previous post. Be kind to me Crow. You seem to resent the fact that I am governed by time. If I write two posts on consecutive days one will have to come before the other. I'd compensate for your time warp if I could but you're clearly in the grip of realising that grass grows. I cannot dispute this.

  10. My comments at both posts have to do with my embarrassment that I didn't take the time to read them through, which - if I had - would have prevented me from making such foolish comments.

    At least, I hope so.

    Bricking over the lawn would certainly end the battles for me, too.

    Thank you for your kindly response to my inane comments.