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I Dream therefore I Am – The Praise of Superfluous



Toys for Boys Editorial December 2012 by Stefano D’Anna

 The function of dream is to transcend. When Greek artists attained perfection in reproducing the human body as no civilisation had ever done before, and reached the apex with the statue of the ephebe,  the young man of Kritios, truer than true, they stopped. Their art had ceased to surprise and elicit admiration so it had lost its sense. It was then that in the span of a generation they transcended it by no longer imitating reality but exaggerating it. And so immortal works were born like the Bronzes of Riace, of a beauty that life would be unable to equal.

When I first visited the museum in Reggio Calabria to admire the Bronzes, splendid even in the inadequacy of that setting, my attention was attracted by an apparently modest find: a finely chiselled prehistoric arrowhead. The question of how our remote forebear was able to achieve such a work fascinated me, and also why he had done so.

What the unreasonable reason was for that immense, useless toil tormented me for a long time after that visit because I sensed the ineffable, unfathomable mystery that it holds. An arrow is a hunting tool and forging its tip is an ordinary skill of any hunter, it serves to procure the day’s food for him. But that arrowhead chiselled 12,000 years ago was actually a time machine, a spaceship made to travel at the speed of dream, like the Sistine Chapel, like Versailles. The vision of a being capable of conceiving in the semi-darkness of a cave the feat of crossing the millennia, of defeating time, swept through me like a shivering of the soul. Whoever created that object wasn’t hunting to survive but was performing a propitiatory rite that would have garnered prosperity and food for generations. He was the archetype of a timeless being, a centaur, half man, half dream. Not being aware of an older find, I have to believe that unknown progenitor is the inventor of the superfluous.

But the superfluous is a necessity. Our whole civilization was built on the architrave of the apparently useless, the futile. When the superfluous reaches heights of dizzying beauty, as in the objects selected and illustrated in the pages that follow, they become instruments of dream. There are things that time buries beneath its dust in a few years, or even in a matter of days, and there are others that have the magic of defeating time, the god Cronus, cruel devourer of his offspring.

Even today some produce arrows for contingent necessities, and others, few among the few, who apparently make arrows but in reality dream and produce objects that when they appear, every time we use them or even only see them, leave a trace that is still warm. Following it, we can go back to that work of aspiration, of intuition, of harmony and beauty that conceived and created them, to the Olympus of objects that have escaped the laws of time. And when we yearn to own them it isn’t for their materiality but for the magic that they possess and that our minds confer only on some of them, extremely rare. Those that have transgressed every human limit, shattered prejudices and taboos and with them the barrier of logic and common sense, to enter the enchanted realm of the dreams and visions to which only childhood has access.

And so I come to Toys for Boys, to the heart of this editorial that introduces the seventh issue of this fortunate series, religiously collected year after year, a marvellous showcase of apparently superfluous and “outrageously” costly objects. Especially in these times of austerity that are forcibly enrolling millions of people in the ancient Cynic school, instigator of extreme frugality, founded by Diogenes 2500 years ago, more or less.

By the way, Diogenes, who, true to his philosophy had reduced himself to living in the streets of Athens, is a good example of the fact that frugality can prolong life. He died in the jar in which he slept at the age of 96, on the same day as Alexander the Great, who after having met him had said, “If I were not Alexander, then I should wish to be Diogenes.”

The ambition to explain in an article the absolute necessity of the superfluous, at all latitudes and in the whole history of humanity, would be excessive. But the attempt to understand something is legitimate. What drives a watch collector to pay a hundred thousand euros for a big complication? And what makes us stand stock still, full of admiration, in front of a super sports car or a mega-yacht? And who purchases it? Rich folks who have money to burn, vain, exhibitionistic spendthrifts who sooner or later will reduce themselves to poverty, or dreamers, inspirers, propitiators of prosperity, strategists of luxury, the heirs of titans like Louis XIV who built Versailles, Julius II who entrusted the Sistine Chapel to Michelangelo against the advice of everyone and especially his architect Bramante, and more recently, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the visionary of Dubai?

Behind every human conquest, at the origin of every intuition, of all scientific and social progress, behind the world’s great undertakings, the boldest and most successful business initiatives, at the fount of everything beautiful, useful and rich that has been achieved and lives on, there is invariably a person, an individual and their dream. Which is why the most famous quotation in Western philosophy, “Cogito ergo sum” (I think, therefore I am), coined by the philosopher considered the founder of modern thought, René Descartes, should be changed to “Somnio ergo sum” (I dream, therefore I am). I dream = I am. I am my dream. It’s why a person’s dream is also the measure of that person.

There are those who can dream a house in the mountains and others an exclusive villa in Sardinia, but no one can dream Versailles or the Sistine Chapel, and not even Burj Al Arab. These are the dreams of kings. The purchaser of a work by Picasso for fifty million at a Christie’s auction didn’t buy an oil painting but its invisibility, that fragment of eternity that every artist, every great designer tries to capture and imprison in their work. And those cars, that yacht, aren’t means of locomotion but attempts to enter the Olympus of the universal masterpieces, spaceships created to travel in time in a vertical dimension, where man’s superior senses can be refound: creativity, intuition, and a seventh sense, dream.

These objects have a soul and know who to side with and who to abandon. A sceptre is an object for a king. The regality, the breadth of vision, the responsibility of a king comes before the sceptre. Chance might bring that object into the hands of someone who has no regality, but how long could it stay there? Like a perfect homeostatic mechanism, existence takes a little time but then inexorably brings objects with a soul back into the hands of those who recognize their magic and are able to manage their power.

We have been accustomed to believe that the paradigm of life is to have – to do – to be. If I had enough money I’d take a five-star trip around the world and I’d be happy. But the real paradigm proceeds in exactly the opposite direction. Being precedes doing and having. If I want to have more, I have to be more. Which is to say, I have to dream more. We can put forward the pre-scientific hypothesis – but which might soon be demonstrated scientifically – that just as we dream them, objects with a soul dream too. They dream about who to belong to and how to reach them. Chuang-Tzu, the sage, fell asleep one day and dreamed he was a butterfly. Upon awaking he wondered: “Who am I? Am I Chuang-Tzu who dreamed of being a butterfly, or a butterfly that is now dreaming it is Chuang-Tzu?”