Pseuds Corner  

In the satirical magazine Private Eye there is a column called ‘Pseuds Corner' which pokes fun at pretentiousness in the arts and the media. There have been such gems as Sir Paul McCartney's poem -


Sadness isn't sadness;

It's happiness
in a black jacket

Death isn't death;

It's life
that's jumped off a tall cliff

Tears are not tears;
They're balls of laughter
dipped in salt.

However, the one which took my eye was from Guardian feature writer Laura Barton a few years ago, who wrote -

"We (women) are just as obsessed and infatuated as men. We love music just as hard. It's just that we don't exhibit that obsession, that love, through an alphabetised record collection. You want to know how I store my records? I put the ones next to each other that I think would be friends. I suppose that you could call that emotional; I call it womanly."

I guess that you could say that it's unlikely that the Arctic Monkeys would have much in common with Bach, although I would imagine that Schoenberg and Shostakovich would have quite a lot to talk over. Obviously though this idea has much wider application. And, as such, it calls into question the liberty of our woman librarians who, despite I believe being in the majority must, one assumes, have been forced by their male colleagues into filing books in alphabetical order rather than placing together books which would feel comfortable with each other.

One could for instance imagine the works of Molière and Shakespeare having discussions late into the night about the difficulty of using verse in plays or, maybe, the books commenting on gritty contemporary life written by Emile Zola and Charles Dickens discussing whether publication in weekly episodes was the way forward to maximise profits. Religious books would certainly need to be classified by religion, but also by the sect they represented, otherwise there would be war on the shelves, with books attempting to burn others of contrary view. Works by narcissistic academics, who had been sworn enemies for years, would need to be kept forcibly apart to preserve the peace and tranquillity of the library. The Mills and Boon books, however, would go away together in pairs for romantic week-ends and then would come back, some still together, perhaps with their newly-born short stories, and others who will never speak to each other again. Ever! And so the shelves would need to be completely re-organised every week.

This same idea could equally apply to many other things in life. Why do we have houses numbered in strict sequence? Why not group numbers according to the colour of the woodwork or whether the windows have been replaced with double-glazed units? Now, I appreciate that we men have the reputation of being obsessed by lists much more than women. After all, there are very few women who engage in train-spotting, and how many are able to recite all the winners of the FA Cup for the last 40 year? Or indeed would want to? But there are also many men for whom such activities are not central to their lives. And there are just a few women who are obsessed by other things, such as their handbags or the lives of the stars.

Of course, the whole question of storing things is now under attack. Marie Kondo, the Japanese author and advocate of minimalism has a Netflix series which is called ‘Tidying Up’. She wishes us to remove the clutter from our lives, saying that there are numerous benefits to be derived from doing this. Apparently there are psychological advantages – we become more contented and less prone to depression, although I’m not quite sure where where the evidence is for this. I assume, however, that if we take her advice we can all downsize and so put some money in the bank as well. She suggests deciding within 30 seconds whether or not we truly love the item in question. If we do, then we should keep it but if not it should be binned. A bit extreme? What would happen if the first object that I wanted to put in the bin was the bin itself? After all, I’m not a great lover of bins.

I suppose though that she is talking about such things as trinkets, clothes and shoes, the ephemera of life.
Even here, though, it seems to me that there is a problem. I have no particular love for my socks or indeed my shirts, but they are necessary if I wish to go out in the British climate. What should I do? In fact, though, Miss Kondo does not seem to have persuaded many people actually to throw things out. Ironically, what she has achieved instead is an increase in tidiness, but only through inadvertently persuading us to purchase and use more things - the sale of storage boxes was up by 47% and baskets by 24% last month and demand for stackable shoe racks has risen by more than 500%.

What has been rather more controversial is her demand that we limit ourselves to 30 books – this on the basis that we don’t need or read more than this number. I have to confess that I don’t read time and again all of the books I have, but, just like the Guardian writer quoted and her CDs, I have an emotional attachment to them. It would certainly take more than 30 seconds to decide whether or not I loved them or could bin them. I have, of course tried Kindle, but like many others, I do not think that it has the same feel or indeed convenience. Not being able actually to see the last page is for some reason something which I find problematic.  I suppose that I need the end actually to be in sight. Whatever the reason, the result is that the sale of books has in fact gone back up and the number of downloads has decreased.

Something similar has happened with vinyl discs and even cassette tapes, but to a much lesser extent . The reality, however, is that, these days, I no longer need to concern myself about the order of my CD collection. It is becoming less and less important as more advanced technology takes over - everything now can be on your phone or tablet. And that is good for both men and women of whatever persuasion. For although it can list the music in alphabetical order, pieces can equally easily be grouped together in any other way - so that, for instance, they can feel good about each other. Or, there is always the shuffle option - where pieces are played completely at random – ideal for those anarchists who wish to lose all order from their lives.

Paul Buckingham

February 2019

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