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Dr Alistair Brown | Associate lecturer in English Literature; researching video games and literature

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Through exploring the psychopathology of Capgras syndrome, in which a patient mistakes a loved one for an imposter, The Echo Maker offers a sustained meditation on the ways in which we project our own problems onto other people. As a reflection on the mysteries of consciousness, the novel offers some interesting if not especially new insights into the fuzzy boundaries between scientific and literary interpretations of the mind. Read more


Christmas Sets

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Walk into any department store at this time of year - and here in the United Kingdom I am thinking of the likes of Boots, Marks and Spencer, and Debenhams - and you will see something that has become as ubiquitous at Christmas as tinsel and fairy lights. There, stacked on feature tables near the high street windows, you will encounter the "sets." Sets for alcoholics of all kinds, from wine to whisky drinkers; sets for fans of football, golf, tennis or any other sport; make-up sets for younger girls, and sets of royal jelly bath soaps for the older lady. There are shaving sets for men, photography sets, tea lovers' sets, coffee lovers' sets, sets for wannabe magicians and sets for soap opera gurus.


Though coming in all these different species, each set typically shares a common shape. A body of excessive (and environmentally unaware) plastic packaging, tied neatly with some ribbon, with bold and colourful type announcing its inner nature. The word "Lover" features often here, as in "Tea Lovers' Set." Cosmetics are often highlighted as "Experiences," as in "Relaxation Experience" or "Bath Time Experience." Each set will contain around four different items relating to its category. In the tea set, you will find a mug, some tea-bags, and a tea strainer; the wine drinker finds a glass, bottle stopper, and small bottle of cheap wine; the sports afficianado will find a keyring, DVD ("Wonder Goals!" "F1's Greatest Races!") and short book about his topic.


What accounts for the popularity of these sets? Clearly it is not the quality of their contents, for the individual components are invariably inferior to those that could be bought separately, and often for the same overall price. For the ten to fifteen pounds that these sets typically cost, you could easily buy a nice bottle stopper, a good (and full-sized) bottle of wine and cheap wine glass. Likewise, why spend £10 on a mug (for everyone has enough mugs) when the same amount would buy a great deal of unusual tea or coffee?


On the other hand, the psychological value of buying a "set" makes them more than the material sum of its parts. For what could be a better gift than something that proclaims how well you know the recipient? Look, I know you like tea, says the "Tea Lovers' Set." See how I accept your passion for football, says the wife to the husband, his fanaticism now legitimated by the set. For the recipient, there is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy in opening one of these. For I may drink a lot of tea to get me through the stresses of the day, but what could be better than to be confirmed not as a mere addict, but as a "lover," afficianado, expert. Breaking that ribbon and using the items of the set, I am engaging in an experience, whereas normally I am simply pouring myself a cuppa into any old chipped mug using the tea which happened to be on offer in the supermarket. I have a different relationship to the object because it now stands as a sign of someone's thoughtful categorisation of me, rather than simply marking one of my addictions.

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Posted by Alistair at 9:03 am

2 Comments:

Blogger carrol said...

thank you for such amazing information....if you love tea just like me....please check out the blog mentioned below its really cool....!!!i'm sure you'll love it!!!

http://staysharpwithtea.blogspot.com
http://staysharpwithlipton.blogspot.com

11:33 am  
Blogger carrol said...

thank you for such amazing information....if you love tea just like me....please check out the blog mentioned below its really cool....!!!i'm sure you'll love it!!!

http://staysharpwithtea.blogspot.com
http://staysharpwithlipton.blogspot.com

11:34 am  

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