The Baltic Notebooks of Anthony Blunt
Once I Met a Collector

Once I met a collector. Or should I better start from Richard Wagner who lived in Riga shortly from 1837 and worked as the music director of the local opera. In his early career, Mr. Wagner experienced severe financial problems which also caused constant quarrels with his beautiful wife Miss Wilhelmine ‘Minna’ Planer (she actually left him for another man during this period, but he took her back). By 1839 the couple had amassed such large debts that they fled Riga to escape from creditors (debt would plague Wagner for most of his life). They didn’t have money, so they had to travel secretly in the lower deck. According to the sailors (who thought the couple were smuggling), this caused many problems and the ship experienced a stormy sea flight. During the long and nerve-racking trip down in the lower cabin, Minna would cry pleading God to die but not to be eaten by fish, while the same sailors told a marvelous story of a Flying Dutchman to young Mr. Wagner. This would later lead him to write an opera under the same name.
But let us come back to the story of the Collector. There used to be a big flea market held on the first weekend of each month at that old school on the Aleksandra Čaka Street in Riga, and the Collector would attend it every now and then. Once an old man was selling a photo album there. The photographs were all taken out and laid out. The Collector took a look at them, an uninterested look, then he turned one picture over and said – “ok, I buy this” – with only the slightest possible change in his calm but somehow stone-like face. And this was the photo album of Richard Wagner and his orchestra, which the Collector would sell later for a very good price at an auction.
There are two moments in this story that made me to tell it to you. First, is the moment of a daily acting practice in the Collector’s life which actually represents the subtleties of the art of collecting. The second comes from further away from the life and the career of the composer Richard Wagner: as you probably know, this was a man who, despite his numerous monumental operas also presented the idea of a complex or total artwork. Wagner used the exact term 'Gesamtkunstwerk' (which he spelt 'Gesammtkunstwerk') on only two occasions, in his 1849 essays "Art and Revolution" and "The Artwork of the Future", where he speaks of his ideal of unifying all works of art through theatre. This concept was put by him in a context of performative stage arts and had no direct link to any philosophy of art or aesthetic theory. However the idea of a total artwork as such generally assumes the total experience of this kind of artwork. The Gesamtkunstwerk was supposed to unite all arts and create a total Experience of Art. While we leave this, there is also a third reason to tell this story – it is real.
I sit here in a room and think… of how many times I have read this sentence in many texts before and how many times I have imagined the same room. Once I inquired about imaginational environments, the ones that each has and spends some time in. Imagination space is the one that all the thinking and ideas come from, the space of one’s primary perception as Foucault puts it. Those are internal spaces. Some spend there more time than others, the others – are always there. They set a room, their imagination room, and inhabit it, – those are never empty; on the contrary, most of them are thoroughly imbued with quantities. While one puts a carpet on a wall, the other plants some trees, hides all knifes and turns the music on (usually people set their rooms very similar to their imagination room); some of them need nothing, his or her imagination space is absolutely vacant or there is no gravity in it, and it is only mirrors and transparent surfaces all over, or there is no single facture anywhere and etc. It’s interesting to think of how one (imaginative) space might resemble the other (real). And how these spaces intervene. Indeed there are women that you think of and see the fields. Of flowers maybe. And there are men that you see and feel the mountains – fearlessly near – I love them most.
Another type of a woman (not the one recalling fields, the camphor oil possibly) was sitting in her room and typing on an old typewriter – tchack tchack tchack. Tchack tchack. She was spending summers in a small town in the south to finish her story that she started in the same small town in the south. Every night she would stay until late