Posted on 2017/10/24 by

The Function of Rubbish: The Richler Room Appraisal and the Structural Elements of Aura Production

Mark A. Meadow’s article, Relocation and Revaluation in university collections, or Rubbish Theory revisited deals with an objects potential to take on simultaneous shifting values and uses in a collections context. Specifically in regards to objects which move from the active field to the collection.

“Finally, having reached a point of obsolescence, microscopes and similar instruments are relegated to the status either of sentimental or institutional memory—the ones in the display cases—or as rubbish, albeit rubbish that is not discarded.” (Meadow 5)

In the case of microscopes, the shift from laboratory research to nostalgia object or teaching tool, results in a drastic decrease in that objects market value. (Meadow 6) In the case of the Richler Room we are engaging with objects which no longer act as a private, fluid resource for a living apparatus, but rather an appendage of an estate manifesting as a static (re)rendering of a nostalgic moment for semipublic academic consumption. Can we avoid relegating objects to the status of ‘rubbish that is not discarded’?

Box 43

Author libraries and literary studies don’t entirely share the same priorities or customs as the sciences, therefore these categories of function and value operate differently. For example, many of the texts and objects in the library have most likely seen an increase in market value since the establishment of the library, potentially because of the importance placed on nostalgia in relation to the all-important role of the author-function within the discipline.

When we consider the collection in terms of function/value in the university context, we begin to understand the room in its current iteration: the desk, the typewriter, the shot glass, the etchings, and pithy political buttons, all heralding a bygone Montreal. What’s more these curated objects seem to cultivate a frozen moment in the history of literary production, a period when creative practice required tactile trappings. And so, the production of aura. Nostalgia, the correlation between the milieu and the author function. The illusion of access is so established, one feels uncertain if one is allowed to sit in the famous chair, as if they would be tampering with a portal.

The collection literally radiates from this point, effectively diffusing the simultaneous warmth and distance of atmosphere and prestige. Though our movement through the room feels prescribed to a degree, there are apparent loose ends or fractures, moments which indicate that the ideological work at play is in fact constructed, not homogenous or fixed.

“How does the system I am working within encourage me to value and classify objects? What forms of knowledge does the system privilege and what else should be said about this object?” (Krmpotich 116)

In her exploration of Collections Teaching Management, Cara Krmpotich highlights the importance of examining the objects, texts, and organizational aspects of the collection which resist the dominant narrative and exist as outliers or red herrings, sometimes generating their own implicit narratives. Our urge to (re)generate aura, narrative, or cultural meaning from a jumble of things speaks to the premise of the library-collection. But by this urge we may be neglecting important objects or patterns which may broaden our understanding of Richler, Montreal, the publishing industry, collections practices, our field in general, etc. We see this clearly if we begin to examine the contents of the filing cabinets.

The Mordecai Richler Library Evaluation is an 8 1/2” by 11” spiral bound document drawn up for insurance purposes. “Monetary values of the collection were a requirement during the acquisition process and were generated by an assessment made by an antiquarian book expert, namely, Adrian King-Edwards, the owner of The Word bookstore.” (Jason Camlot, email exchange) The appraisal is the only physical index present in the library, and at first glance it is a welcome guide. As a guide though, it is still inscribed with the ideological determinism present in the room’s layout. Its organizing principals, however, may help to illuminate aspects of the structuring framework which may otherwise be so naturalized as to escape our attention. In the margins of each spread sheet there are numbers delineating value. The values ascribed (or, additionally, the values which are missing from the report) inevitably effect our reading of the objects at hand. As a curator, student, or researcher it is clear what directions we are being ushered in, how we are supposed to make sense of these objects and subsequently how we should organize, handle, and conceive of them in relation to each other.

Most of the objects seen displayed in room 655 are catalogued in Box 43, so as one can see there are many ‘hard-hitting’ nostalgic pieces here—Richler’s passport, tobacco tin, etc.

Richer’s library in Magog was packed up by his family, and the subsequent organization of the boxes of non-book objects is meant to approximate this initial ordering. The spreadsheets, with their hodgepodge of high-value nostalgia and author-related material alongside apparently ‘lower’ milieu (such as maps, scraps or unused pads of paper, invocies, and newspaper clippings) seem to hint at implicit narratives, hidden in this juxtaposition which was dictated by the authentic origin point of the estate. The presence of maps which have been deemed financially meaningless seem to buoy up, contextualize, or bring to life the higher-value items, the typescripts for essays, the samples of handwriting.

It is easy to break down the role aura and nostalgia play here. For example, the “VAT 69 scotch whiskey glass with paper clips and pen from the desk of Mordecai Richler” is valued here at $50.00 CAD, whereas a quick eBay search will locate multiple identical glasses, priced from $4.99—$12.99 CAD.


The difference, we are meant to suppose, is made up by its proximity to Richler and its associations with the construction of him as a masculine, author-subject. The same exercise can be applied to countless objects in the collection. That we are dealing with the imprecise business of aura and estate is part and parcel of the author-library project.

Another aspect of the appraisals influence can be found in instances where value is seemingly pointedly not ascribed. The absences have their own generative potential. In the case of the maps in Box 43, we understand that we are meant to flip through them on our way to more important objects, and for most of these like instances it is easy to suspend belief and plug into the system of value at play. At other times it seems random, or the logic feels difficult to follow. Some bundles of miscallneous papers, envelopes, pads, and receipts are worth more than others. What meanings are naturalized by this system? How do the texts and objects fall in sequence and what effects does this produce?

Boxes 76 and 82 appraisal sheet


The appraisal consistently values instances where Richler’s physical handwriting appears, but his typescript is not afforded the same prestige unless clearly sanctioned as relevant. Material broken into eight categories concerning an unpublished book project on the “Marten Hartwell crash” is valued at 1,800.00 CAD (Box 76). Miscellaneous typescript on the other hand is consistently valued very low, if valued at all (see Box 43).

Some miscellaneous ‘low value’ objects

Objects like the torn page of a poem, the single line of typescript, the scads and scads of newspaper columns clipped and glued by hand, the errant bookmark which states in papyrus font: ‘I am master of the moments of my life,’ it has been decided that these do not contribute to the man, the myth, the legend, the estate of Mordecai Richler. But the affect these objects produce can act as an access point, for the beginning of an understanding of a fuller picture of whoever once worked inside this library.


Works Cited

Camlot, Dr. Jason. Email correspondence. 14 Oct. 2017.

Krmpotich, Cara. “Teaching Collections Management Anthropologically.” Museum Anthropology 38.2 (2015): 116.

Meadow, M. (2010). “Relocation and Revaluation in University Collections, or Rubbish Theory Revisited.” UMAC Journal, 3-10.

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