Monday, January 26, 2009


As any fule no, Diogenes, the 4th/5th century BC philosopher, lived in a tub and made much of his poverty in order to expose the hypocrisy and greed of contemporary Greek society. Although his home lacked comfort, it seems that he kept his tub neat and tidy and eschewed possessions (the picture below, by Gerome, portrays a very kempt abode, though I can't quite see the relevance of the philosophical dogs), so it seems rather contradictory for compulsive hoarding to be named after him.

But so it is - Diogenes Syndrome is the name given to that condition of hoarding objects which appear disposable and useless to everyone else, of filling one's home with plastic bags and newspapers and old buttons and badges and bank statements and the like. Edmund Trebus, the hero of the Life of Grime TV series, is one of the most famous sufferers (though far from suffering, he was defiant in his claims that what he chose to retain and throw away nobody's business but his own).

Anyway, I write all this by way of introduction to Wang An Ting, who we met the other day in Chengdu. Wang, the self-proclaimed Head of the Mao Tse-Tung's Medals Research Society in China (Preparatory), has turned his house full of Mao-related clutter into a museum. Here is part of his Mao badge collection (only a small part, mind - there were four or five more glass cabinets stuffed with red and silver badges).

Here are some pictures of the five biggies of Communism (Sino-Russo-German Communism anyway).

Here are some busts, sitting aloft some nice Socialist-Realist pictures of Mao on the Long March and surrounded by adoring children (Mao and Stalin were great hits with the under-tens).

Here are Mao and Zhou Enlai and some other chap looking like the cats that got the cream next to a Chinese plane, plus some (possibly Maoist) mugs and biscuit-tins.

Chinese Maoism is a bit like Argentine Peronism - an empty signifier, an ideology adaptable to any political aims or ends, a doctrine (a communism with a rural powerhouse) which has turned into its opposite (urban neoliberalism) without anyone batting an eyelid (in a stroke of genius, Deng was able to justify his reforms in the early 80s in Marxist terms, claiming that true socialism could only be reached by first taking capitalist steps). But there is a trace left over from old-style Maoism which is still alive and well in China, a kind of theology in a country without an official religion, which is invoked to create nationalist pride and quell dissent. That Wang's museum, a obsessive palace fit for an old Cultural Revolutionary, was five minutes down the road from Starbucks didn't seem strange at all.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting post. I found your site today through mention of Raumer's quote about Hegel you posted a few years ago.

Just a few facts that might help: the use of Diogenes to start it is not a very strong parallel. Diogenes is most known for having very few articles. One of the more famous stories is of him watching a child draw water from a stream with his hands, at which point Diogenes broke his cup on the ground realizing he had been out simplified by a child. His entire philosophy was the reject the collection or acceptance of anything that was not needed for bare necessity survival. Never would a Cynic collect anything that wasnt necessary.

Probably more interesting to you: the dogs are symbolic of the word Cynic (the school of philosophy attributed to Diogenes) which comes from the greek word kunikos which means doglike. The Cynics were forever connected in metaphor with dogs and doglike behavior. Much of this coming from stories of Diogenes being called a dog...and in response acting like one. The most famous example is when a rich man calls him a dog for scrounging around his table, so Diogenes pisses on his leg, saying that if he is a dog, he should act like one.

12:30 AM  

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