There is something reassuring and universal about collecting. Like some evolutionary throwback to hording food as provisions for the long winter months, we like to store things for a future date, particularly when buying a sizable quantity of items gains a discount. Then there is also collecting as a hobby, a pastime in which many people (perhaps us all, to some extent?) indulge. Whether it’s tickets to movies or concerts, editions of a favored author, or something less prosaic such as matchboxes or dolls, amateur collectors are united by a sense of being unfulfilled -for the moment a collection is complete also marks the end of the quest- and with the desire to learn more about their chosen object of desire, often acquiring knowledge which makes them specialists. The subject is of particular personal and professional interest to me. Personally, because I collect cufflinks though I only collect the entire works of two designers from the 1960s and 1970s in Quebec, Guy Vidal and Robert Larin, with 35 pairs by Vidal and 33 by Larin to date. Professionally the topic fascinates me because I am working on eccentrics and eccentricity and manic collecting, particularly of bizarre and curious objects, is often an indicator of a quirky personality; in other words, a hallmark of an eccentric.
There is something deeply satisfying about making a list and ordering our thoughts onto paper (or, more than likely, a screen), a trait which is very much linked to collecting itself, a kind of tentative first step in the direction of possession. At the same time, lists are not only revealing of their creators, potentially looking deep into their psyches, but also can be incredibly funny. Molière certainly appreciated this. Le Malade imaginaire, his final play was performed in 1673 and concerns Argan, a flagrant hypochondriac who evokes mirth and also contempt because of his thwarted attempts to tyrannize his family, particularly his daughter whom he tries to marry off to an unlovable doctor in order to have free round-the-clock medical advice within his very household. The play opens with a soliloquy, a device which heightens the tragic element in a tragedy and the comic element in a comedy. Argan is filling a ledger and counting out his expenses relating to medical potions, cures, and enemas. He might think that he’s at death’s door and his body might have endured countless bleedings and anal purges, but Argan still takes care to settle his accounts. I’m teaching the play at the moment and this curious scene sets the scene for the central character’s utter risibility, seen on stage in the delightful 1676 engraving, above, by Jean Le Pautre.
The play has also bequeathed one of the most queer pieces of theatrical relics in the world, the chair in which the playwright played the central role, a necessity as well as a prop since Molière was dying. On 17 February 1673, he would have an attack, most likely a stroke, on stage during a performance. He had made almost to the very end. French lore has it that he died on the stage itself, a factoid which surfaces quite regularly, but he made it home to die, with two priests refusing to come out to administer the Last Rites (because of his perceived hostility to the Church) and expiring before a more obliging third one arrived. Still, let it not be said that the Catholic Church is slow to forgive for, in 1922, on the tercentenary of the writer’s death, a public requiem Mass was finally allowed, some 248 years later, though the archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Dubois, did not permit it to be celebrated in Notre-Dame on the spurious grounds that it wasn’t a convenient building and pleaded a prior engagement on the day itself, as set out by Henry Phillips, “Molière and Tartuffe: Recrimination and Reconciliation,” French Review 62 (1989), 749-63, available online here. Professor Phillips was the external examiner of my PhD dissertation in 2002. The chair is preserved as a precious secular relic and is located in the hallowed precincts of the Comédie-française theater, founded by the remnants of the artist’s original troupe and largely famous now for eviscerating his plays of any humor or energy. It’s kept in a glass case down an unprepossessing corridor on the first floor. In 2010, it was given an outing and exhibited outside the theater, above, in a welcome yet surreal decision. There is something deliciously French about the reverence paid to a battered, over-sized chair and what -and who- it represents.
Today’s cufflinks are part of my collection by the Quebec designer, Guy Vidal, who was active in the 1960s and 1970s. They are made out of his special pewter-silver alloy and this pair features several components fused together. It is an audacious pair, boldly beautiful. As I continue to work my way through my list of his cufflink creations with around a dozen pairs needed to complete my set, the mania for this list is a reminder of the limited time we have allotted here and of the need to create a legacy, in whatever form it may be.