Completism

People are reading the encyclopedia, cooking every recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, walking the Pacific Crest Trail. They are photographing every alley in New York, walking every street in New York, drawing every building in New York, drawing every person in New York. I wasn’t so ambitious; I only wanted to photograph every neighborhood in St. Louis.

In doing so, these people are of two minds; they at once are flagpole sitters and pillar-saints. They might have balanced an egg on a spoon for a week, except that they also have some desire to know. They hope that by memorizing their own particular Koran, they will gain a cosmic understanding of the chosen topic, and that this will (naturally enough) be mirrored in a cosmic understanding of themselves. They will then kindly descend from the lonely height to preach to the rest of us.

Considering the results, it might be closer any many cases to say that these people have, as in the game vernacular, leveled up; through this particular habit of cooking, walking, picturing, acquired by force, they have come to live in the same world with a different set of abilities. They are not made a different person by their chosen endeavor, so much as they have added a set of advantages, where an added authority is maybe mirrored by an added peace of mind.

It must be said, finally, that they come to profit in the world; the residency, the book to sell, never being far off. This is not so hard because their goals, their frame of reference, has remained the same.

This, then, is the form of the pilgrimage – that an uprooting, a deviating, a bloody-mindedness, should only come to point the way back home. But rather than take a pilgrimage agreed upon by all on a well-worn Way of St. James, the completist makes as though to see any concept, set, text, or group in terms of a pilgrimage. Is it functionally the same to pilgrimatize such things? 

(June 2016)