Shopping for Change: Transformational Objects

ImageOne of the first essays I ever published was a piece called "The Search for Sacred Accessories". The editors at Mode Magazine sadly did not get how clever the title was and they changed the name of the piece to "Practical Magic", which was a pretty lame title if you ask me. My essay was about an experience in which I found of pair of feathered gloves that I felt convinced would transform me into the person I had always wanted to be. I would, I believed,  with the purchase of these Holly-Go-Lightly gloves become my ideal self. Alas, I did not. What in fact happened is that I wore the gloves to a party and when I reached for an appetizer the ostrich feathers caught on fire and they went up in smoke as did my dreams of their being the vehicle to a more perfect manifestation of myself. Even though the feathered gloves did not allow me to live up to my full potential, I have continued to seek ordinary items that promised to transform me. There have been shoes, dresses, and handbags that all, in their pre-purchase state, promised a new and improved me. However once I purchased the said item, I found that I had a sort of anti-Midsas touch and turned the numinous object into an ordinary one that left me exactly as I was before and turned the object into something much more ordinary than I imagined it to be.

Christopher Bollas, the psychoanalyst and author, would describe what I was doing as an attempt to create a "transformational object". A "transformational object" gived us the potential for a "transformational experience". According to Bollas the mother creates for their babies a "transformational process".  Mothers change the internal and external environment to meet the infant’s needs, but babies do not know that a separate person is performing these functions and so they experience the transformation as a process and not coming from a person. Bollas explains: "We see how hope invested in various objects ( a new job, a move to another country, a vacation, a change of relationship) may both represent a request for a transformational experience and at the same time, continue the 'relationship' to an object that signifies the experience of transformation. We know that the advertising world makes its living on the trace of this object.: the advertised product usually promises to alter the subject's external environment and hence change internal mood. The search for such an experience may generate hope, even a sense of confidence and vision, but although it seems to be grounded in the future tense, in finding something in the future to transform the present."

Very often, when we want something we are actually wanting the transformational experience. We want the shoes or the trip or the  house to give us a different experience of ourselves. Or at least that is something I experienced. I have imagined that when I had the new car, new furniture or that Ferragamo bag that I would be transformed in some permanent way. Only, it has been my experience that objects rarely, if ever, give us the imagined character qualities that we believed they would.

Here is the equation of the transformational object prior to the purchase :

Me+Desired Object=Me as more.

Here is the equation of me after the purchase:

Me+Possessed Object= Me as the same as before,  with some initial and temporary excitement and, perhaps, some grief and depression that said object did not make me more than I was before.

That said, there are some shoes in my closet that do have a "Ruby Slipper" quality, in that they remind me in someway of my essence. But, like Dorothy, I had the essence all along and the shoes just reminded me of who I am---they didn't turn me into something I wasn't.

Thanks to Bollas, and YEARS of therapy, I now deconstruct my desire. Each time a desire is born I ask myself, "What qualities do I believe that these Black Jimmy Choo Verdict Cutout Sandal's will give me?" If I am clear that I will be the same once I acquire them then I am feel free to go on longing them, which is not necessarily a good thing as they are ridiculously expensive and, perhaps more importantly, they don't have them in my size.

This is the Christopher Bollas article that inspired this post.