The Promise of Things by Ruth Quibell

What is it about things?  Why do we own the things that we do?  What do they mean to us, and why?  Ruth Quibell’s book invites readers to think about these (and other) questions.

The Promise of Things by Ruth Quibell

‘My view is that life with objects requires thought and reflection, and it is not a state we attain once and for all.’

How often do we think about our possessions?  I guess that we all think about what we own when (or if) it’s time to move, or perhaps when deciding whether there is enough space to add something new.  But we make our own connections with the things that we own, and one person’s treasure may look like rubbish to someone else.

In this book, Ruth Quibell writes of seven different items (in essay length chapters) and in the eighth chapter, entitled ‘Foucault’s Toolbox’ she shares what she describes as: ‘ the ‘idea bundles’ that have shaped, goaded, inspired and challenged me while writing The Promise of Things.

What are the seven different items?

Matisse’s Armchair

The Edwardian Wardrobe

The Ithaka Stone

The Pöang

The Velvet Jacket

Simone de Beauvoir’s Bicycle

The Singer Sewing Machine

The Empty Drawer

Each of these essays looks at different aspects of possession.  Utility may be important (aspects of The Edwardian Wardrobe, Simone de Beauvoir’s Bicycle, The Singer Sewing Machine).  Or perhaps it’s the function of meeting a specific need (The Pöang).  Or the promise of happiness through distraction (Matisse’s Armchair).  In The Ithaka Stone it’s a connection with a physical object, a reminder of a holiday during a period of illness.  The Velvet Jacket is about owning something longed for, a possession that is (the possessor hopes) life-changing.  The Singer Sewing Machine is partly about the perceived intrinsic value of homemade items.  But it’s also about the means of creating and the promise of creativity. The Empty Drawer is about passing possessions on (when the time is right) and reminded me of my own grandmother and, more recently, an ageing friend divesting herself of craft materials she can no longer use.

Each of these essays had significance for me.  Different items, different histories, different connections.  And it has made me think about my own possessions in a different way.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith