Objects of Our Desire

Exploring Our Intimate Connections with the Things Around Us

Publisher: Crown
What makes something sexy? Why are some things regarded as sacred and others profane? Why do mourners face such difficulty in parting with their beloved’s possessions? Why do we often feel distraught when we lose something, even when the object has little real value?

We spend our lives in a meaningful dialogue with things around us. Sometimes the conversation is loud, as in a collector’s passion for coins or art. More often, the exchange is subtle and muted, even imperceptible. We are surrounded by things, and they affect our emotions and impact our thoughts. The arrival of a dozen flowers from a lover or a letter from a grandchild makes our day; an old photo album or an afghan knitted by a favorite aunt offers comfort when we are troubled.

From exploring what makes something “beautiful” to why we place such value on antiques and artifacts from the past, Objects of Our Desire offers insights, both deep and delightful, into the ways we invest things with meaning and the powerful roles they play in our lives.

Notice the inviting contours of that sofa, the glint of a knife’s edge, the sparkle of a diamond ring. Feel the softness of the pashmina around that woman’s milky shoulders. Look at the majesty of a large jet plane. Take in the somberness of a gravestone. Put on an old pair of shoes. Clutch a warm mug of freshly brewed coffee. Sit on a rocking chair. Feel the sumptuous leather seats of a new car.

We are surrounded by things. We are involved with them, indebted to them. We speak to things and things speak to us. To say that we are interdependent is banal. Let us be courageous. Let us admit it: we are lovers.
—From Objects of Our Desire

From the Hardcover edition.


Acquiring and Using Things

Look around. What do you see?

Lamps, tables, chairs, flower vases, paintings, pillows, newspapers, magazines, books? Or, if you happen to be in your kitchen, perhaps your eyes move from the refrigerator to the stove and from the microwave to the dishwasher and finally to...
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"In this book, dedicated to his mother's gramophone, psychoanalyst and poet Akhtar (Jefferson Medical Coll.; Immigration and Identity ) takes readers on a quirky tour of the ordinary objects that populate our lives. From dolls to dentures to dead bodies, any object can be significant to its owner's physical and emotional well-being and provide insight into a personality. Akhtar starts by exploring the way that people acquire or collect objects and concludes with the way they lose them or give them up. In between, he discusses what makes an item nostalgic, sacred, sexy, hybrid, or fake. He considers various nuances-for instance, the correlation between sacred objects and beauty-in each category. Because he bases his assertions on a mixture of studies, personal anecdotes, and examples from history, literature, science, religion, art, and popular culture, readers may disagree at times. Nevertheless, they can still ponder Akhtar's psychosocial interpretations of our relationship with the objects around us. His skillful layering of stories also makes for an engaging, recreational read."
—Library Journal

Let others collect stamps or matchbook covers. Akhtar will collect collectors. Laying out his specimens with great care, this distinguished psychiatrist probes the diverse reasons one woman collects Dalmatians, one man collects fruit stickers, and one couple collects turtles. In this foray into the psychology of acquisition, Akhtar helps us understand how humans assuage their nostalgia, pacify a craving for the beautiful, or stimulate the libido by acquiring things. He shows how some acts of acquisition help bind communities together in share appreciation, while others–such as those involving pornographers–threaten our sense of mutual respect. And although the hybrid objects born of cultural change can embody maturity and understanding, they can provoke insecure fundamentalists to rage and violence. And among the world’s displaced refugees, Akhtar diagnoses a pain caused not as much by confrontation with unfamiliar objects as by loss of cherished ones. —Booklist

From the Hardcover edition.