The life-worn-off sense

The life-worn-off sense

There’s been a terrific back and forth at Snarkmarket on doorknobs and their extension to an expertise in civil society. One contributor pointed to an interview at McSweeney’s with Bruce Gerrie, organizer of an exhibit of over 300 antique doorknobs:

I also like the idea of telling the history of a city through its doorknobs. And I like doorknobs. I had a standard, hexagonal glass doorknob in my bedroom in the first house I lived in. I liked that doorknob because its edges had been worn down from so many hands turning it.

On what you can tell from doorknobs:

I like the worn-down feel of doorknobs because it feels as if — for lack of a definite word — some life has been worn off on them. It’s that life-worn-off sense that I like about old doorknobs, old houses, older objects. They feel like they’ve been lived in.

Immediately, I thought of marginalia, those classes of hand-written notes that Billy Collins so aptly describes, as they tell the history of the people who have lived in books before I get there. What other ordinary objects, often overlooked, tell the history of a place?