Purcell’s ways of making sense—and eventually pictures—of her collections vary almost as much as the things themselves, systems of classification resembling those in Borges’s imagined Chinese encyclopedia. Some of her items take on meaning by juxtaposition. A mummified cat and a pitted one of concrete go together with pitted volcanic stones, because such stones falling from the sky were once called “lynx stones,” and their sulfuric odor was like cat piss. Or do the stones and the concrete cat go together with the piece of wormholed bread from France as “Things that have holes”?
An overarching category (if Purcell’s extreme nominalism can permit such a thing) is the category of the sublimely diminished, things that, as she says, are bereft of their original potential yet still familiar. “I have chipped these things from the matrix of the almighty thingness of our all-American world, and, as I did not stop to mourn their demise, why not revel now in their inevitable disintegration?”
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