Museums Within Ourselves
“This is the greatest consolation in life. In poetically well-built museums, formed from the heart’s compulsions, we are consoled not by finding in them old objects that we love, but by losing all sense of Time.”
― Orhan Pamuk, The Museum of Innocence
It is difficult to remain pristine in the face of love. Love sweeps across the surface of your skin and slowly simmers inside you. Love imprints itself in your heart. In Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence, Kemal is suspended in 1975 and intoxicated by his cousin, Fusun. There are not a lot of places that their love can occupy, so they meet in his apartment in languid afternoons. She is a shopgirl with a 9 to 5 schedule, and he is born into a wealth that allows him to simmer in his love. The apartment is filled with objects that remind him of her, objects she has owned, she has used, she has touched, even for just a moment. His compulsion expands, and he keeps a cigarette with her lipstick marks, a perfume bottle, an earring that once graced her lovely ears, all of which, does not only decorate his apartment, but becomes part of the landscape of his love.
We could argue that Kemal’s devotion is excessive, we could argue that Kemal’s curation is evidence of his desire of her ownership, but ultimately, it is a prolific testatement of their love. He reaches out to her, and she is momentarily his until she leaves, leaving behind parts of herself that she feels she no longer needs. It would be wrong of us, however, to condemn this behaviour especially when our modern desires constantly urges us to collect reminders of the things we love. We’re talking about poetry, photographs, tickets from the cinema, old sweaters, and all of those nonchalant gifts lovers share that might not seem profound to others but is everything to us. We’re talking about memories. We’re talking about creating a museum within ourselves.
It has been 3 months since I came back from my trip to Frankfurt, and I still haven’t unpacked my suitcase. It lies in my bedroom and holds the entire story of my current relationship. Inside it is the books Max gave me from his bookstore including Alice Munro’s Too Much Happiness, the grey scarf that he offered me and I never returned, the opium perfume he bought me at the sunday market, the German sweets that I will never learn to pronounce, the mixtape he made me with Nick Drake’s One Of These Things First (A whole long lifetime / Could have been the end / I could be / Yours so true), all of these things return me to memories of falling in love. Sometimes, I revisit the suitcase. I take out a book and read it before falling asleep. I take out the perfume and press a little bit on my wrist. I take out a sweet and place it in my mouth. But most of the time, I do not disturb my collection. I let them become a museum within me.
The Museum of Innocence really exists. It contains 4,213 of Fusun’s cigarettes pinned up behind a glass case, the earring that fell from an afternoon of lovemaking, articles of clothing that she has worn and shed, and of course, clocks. The Museum is articulate and dedicated, writes the guests, The Museum is real. I haven’t been there but I would love to take Max one day. For now, I will continue my collection that since my return to Jakarta have seen the addition of books I plan to give him including Goenawan Mohamad’s The Blindfolded Queen, keroncong records, pressed flowers, and even a portable typewriter. If ever we find the chance to visit The Museum of Innocence, I will continue to keep the plane tickets, the catalogue, and everything we accumulate from the trip, because memories, I feel, is the only way we can remain pristine in the face of love.