March 29, 2011

On Possession; or, ceci n’est pas une pipe

‘Have you got anything to smoke?’ Frédéric went on.
Dessardier felt his clothes, then took out of the depths of his pocket the debris of a pipe, a splendid meerschaum pipe, with an ebony stem, a silver lid, and an amber mouthpiece.
For three years he had been working on this pipe to make it a masterpiece. He had taken care to keep the bowl constantly encased in a chamois leather sheath, to smoke the pipe as slowly as possible, never putting it down on a marble surface, and to hang it up every night beside his bed. Now he shook the broken pieces in his hand, the nails of which were bleeding; and, with his chin sunk on his chest and his eyes staring, he gazed at these ruins of his happiness with a look of ineffable melancholy. (Gustave Flaubert, Sentimental Education, 1869).
We are given to think of sentiment, and to put it in its place. Manly men are not sentimental. We do not fawn over objects for their own sake, and we do not reduce things to banal aesthetics. We are interested in beauty, yes; cuteness, no. We are interested in ritual, yes; possession for its own sake, no. These divisions may at times be finer than we should like, but we shall adhere to them nonetheless.

Dessardier does not lament the loss of a pipe because it is precious, or even because it is precious to him. He laments the loss of the meaningful ritual that the pipe embodies. Indeed, this is not merely a pipe: it is the store of hours that structure a life; the joyful occupation that balances other arduous and necessary occupations. There will be other pipes, but in the wreckage of this one are times lost.

We may apply this principle to most of the material possessions of the manly man, for he knows that the best a man can get is not a plastic razor, but rather that which incorporates experience, good habit, ritual and a weight of meaning. He knows that to own a thing of quality is to reflect on quality. An understanding of what is good, what it is that lasts, is to strive to be good, and to last. When a man harps on his possessions, or on that which he aspires to possess, we may form a sound judgment about the man. That which he cherishes, or desires, tells you of his depth, or its lack. To buy a thing only because a thing is en vogue, or because it is expensive, is to manifest shallowness to a world that consumes conspicuousness, but nevertheless cares not for it.

We must cherish our possessions and understand why. Chances are, if we do this, we shall require a lot less and value what we have a lot more.


  1. If you are right, doctor, you would be the death of commercial republics...

  2. Not really. I wouldn't expect this of everyone, just as I wouldn't expect manliness of all men. And for those who think I am right, they will still have to buy things. They will just make better informed decisions.

  3. It is probably a sign of wisdom not to expect too much. Still and all, if such an opinion were to gain influence, it would destroy the basis of prosperity in those influenced.

  4. Better less is better. More stuff is just stuff. He with the most toys still dies.
    I like well manufactured, I will have it in 30 years goods. Less, and better can pertain to all the components of one's existence; mates, food, drink, holidays, bed linens.
    Tabber's post today is of a similar direction.
    p.s. I have misplaced my own aged pipe!


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