The Millions

Obsession, Collection, and Connection: On Pixar’s ‘Soul’ and Jazmina Barrera’s On Lighthouses

A chunk of bagel. The crust of a slice of pizza, pale as a sliver of fingernail. A spool of blue thread. A yellow subway card with cobalt lettering. A red lollipop, unwrapped and glistening as though still wet. And, finally: a single helicopter seed from a molting maple, veined and translucent, like an earlobe in sunlight.

These are just a few of the endearingly New York mementos accumulated by the protagonists of Disney Pixar’s latest animated feature, Soul. On the evening I watched Soul, the concept of collection was on my mind: I had just finished Jazmina Barrera’s haunting hybrid On Lighthouses, translated by Christina MacSweeney last year for Two Lines Press. Throughout the petite sky-blue book, Barrera pursues her obsession with lighthouses through time and space and the annals of literature until her fixation begins to accumulate matter and heft, a kind of reverse entropy, becoming a collection of objects and experiences—and, finally, six experimental essays. In fact, Barrera wonders if obsession couldn’t be considered “a form of mental collecting,” a “fervent yet controlled passion.”

also concerns itself with the consequences of passion), who has to make his way back to his body to live out his dream of performing in a successful gig after a near-death experience sends his soul into a metaphysical realm called “The Great Beyond.” There, Gardner becomes convinced that without finding success in music his life will have amounted to nothing. Essentially a fugitive from death, he teams up with an incorrigible soul known only by their number, 22 (), who hopes to avoid life on earth altogether. But after a mishap lands the pair in Manhattan, 22 begins to gather a collection of artifacts—the bagel, the pizza crust, the subway card—that challenges both characters’ presuppositions about what makes life worthwhile.

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