19th century interior

Phil Ford

From Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, “The Interior,” p. 216:

Nineteenth-century domestic interior. The space disguises itself—puts on, like an alluring creature, the costumes of moods. The self-satisfied burgher should know something of the feeling that the next room might have witnessed the coronation of Charlemagne as well as the assassination of Henri IV, the signing of the Treaty of Verdun as well as the wedding of Otto and Theophano. In the end, things are merely mannequins, and even the great moments of world history are only costumes beneath which they exchange glances of complicity with nothingness, with the petty and the banal. Such nihilism is the innermost core of bourgeois coziness—a mood than in hashish intoxication concentrates to satanic contentment, satanic knowing, satanic calm, indicating precisely to what extent the nineteenth-century interior is itself a stimulus to intoxication and dream. This mood involves, furthermore, an aversion to the open air, the (so to speak) Uranian atmosphere, which throws a new light on the extravagant interior design of the period. To live in these interiors was to have woven a dense fabric about oneself, to have secluded onself within a spider’s web, in whose toils world events hang loosely suspended like so many insect bodies sucked dry. From this cavern, one does not like to stir.

I read this and thought, wow, I once wrote something very similar, about cold war loungin’:

Lounge is music for a state of heightened sensual receptiveness, or heightened desire. Except desire impels movement towards the thing desired; when you lounge, everything you want is right there, surrounding you. The lounge is where you array your pleasures just so, everything in easy reach, all contingencies handled in advance. It is where pleasures are contained—and pleasure is refracted back through its containment. Civilization, depending on your point of view, is either a prison or the lounge writ large. Or it is both: the velvet prison. Either way, loungin’ is the proper mode for civilized existence. Lounge music offers the consolation of small vices and taboo indulgence.

About Phil Ford

Chairman of the Committee for the Memorial to the Victims of Modernism
This entry was posted in Loungin'. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to 19th century interior

  1. You should read, if you haven’t already, Michael Bracewell’s book _When Surface was Depth_. Check out this quote from Chapter One, “Culture-Vulturing City Slickers”:
    “From that point on, to the closing years of the Ninties, Tom Wolfe’s phrase about the art scene of the late Sixties, and “Cultureburg’s’ need to be ‘cosily anti-bourgeois’ would seldom seem more relevant. For throughout the Nineties, as the margins became the mainstream — typified by television comedy and the mediation of Young British Art (the latter, in fact, being a complex and eclectic generational grouping of artists, who happened to comprise, as a phenomenon, a good story) — so the newly perceived Reactionary (for instance, a certain kind of painting itself being considered reactionary) would become the New Margins — the anxiety dumps, the unfashionably alcoholic, the not Post Anxiety. . .
    When you saw those culture-vulturing city slickers, sitting there in the submarine twilight, you could have had the feeling that they’d been there for ever, and would just stay in one place, immobile, entranced. . . Would anything–as Pierre [Boulez], with a slight upward twitch of his right hand, summons up another staccato, slippery snooker ball, clunky chord — ever disturb them?”

  2. mark says:

    For me, your text is more concrete than that of Benjamin. You theorize while Benjamin evokes. It’s interesting how Benjamin can bump along, with these incredibly suggestive and wonderful bits (“bourgeois coziness,” “complicity with nothingness”) , but still maintain an essential illusiveness. I can’t help but wonder, if he were writing today, without name or fame, if his manuscripts would be rejected. Are there Benjamins out there who can’t get published? Who, among those whose genius will be discovered way on down the road, will kill themselves tomorrow?
    Lounge is troubling because of the intersection of social practice with music. There’s something to be said for unobtrusive music, music that has a purpose other than to say “listen to me as I express this wonderful thing.” Music to eat grapes by.
    But yet, at the end of the day, we decide that somehow we can do without lounge, because the way it speaks to us is so oblique as to say “I am aural wallpaper,” an ingredient in a hedonistic mis-en-scene. We instinctively go, in our ear’s heart, for the anti-lounge, for the difficult, yet stimulating.

  3. rootlesscosmo says:

    It seems to me an important gendered aspect of lounge is being overlooked here: lounge is msic to be fed grapes by, and the conveniences at [male] hand include attractive women willing, even eager (or sham-eager), to perform sexual services whose recipient need only lie back and enjoy. Hef lounges; the Playmates attend him.

  4. Phil Ford says:

    Re. lounging and being fed grapes: yes. This is very, very true. The lounge turns every man into Captain Kirk.

Comments are closed.