The Hell of Ownership: Beckford on Collecting

James Noggle

in The Temporality of Taste in Eighteenth-Century British Writing

Published in print February 2012 | ISBN: 9780199642434
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191738579 | DOI:
The Hell of Ownership: Beckford on Collecting

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This chapter offers a new view of the theory and practice of collecting by examining writings on the topic by William Beckford, author of Vathek and the pre-eminent collector of fine objects of his day. While collecting has usually been seen as a form of consumption, whereby the collector creates an ideal reflection of himself in the ordered and classified items he has chosen, I examine moments when Beckford portrays collecting as neither consumption nor (as a correlate) occulted production, but as exchange. The now of immediate taste aligns with the now of money and the market. In Vathek and other texts, collected items ceaselessly circulate, never fully embodying value or meaning but rather feverishly acquiring their significance by being bought and sold. Beckford’s writing on collecting affords insight into the fantasies of taste that would structure the drives and dissatisfactions fostered by the capitalist marketplace in the centuries to come.

Keywords: Taste; William Beckford; collecting; Vathek; exchange

Chapter.  12010 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)

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