Philosophy in the bedroom, literally: no Jacques Dutronc propped up on the passenger side pillow to make me feel like a worn-silk-wrapped Romy Schneider, but in his place a fat solid book of French psychoanalytic theory with the distinct musk of passionate intelligence (Félix Guattari’s Soft Subversions).
I’ve just moved into a new apartment, my third in my fifth year in Providence, and I’m determined to make a success of living it. Some people, like my dear friend Tracy, have a tremendous sense of interior space. Colors meld with furniture placement in a way that makes everything look squared off—like the furniture were given a good spinal adjustment. I am not so gifted. Maybe from too many years of playing dolls with no doll houses, my sense of interior architecture is miniature. Furniture makes no sense to me, and I have a sinking feeling that I make no sense to furniture. Many times I’ve been thwarted by ill-chosen dressers and side tables. So this time around, I think I will try to turn my handicap into an aesthetic.
The above self-portrait is a snapdash-ghetto attempt to mimic a scene from one of my favorite films of all time, Andrzej Zulawski’s L’important c’est d’aimer (1975). In it, Romy Schneider plays a has-been actress reduced to playing in softcore porn, trying for a comeback while being supported by an oddball husband played by Jacques Dutronc. The husband was a movie-mad fan of hers who basically stalked the actress into marriage, and their domestic sphere reflects this: they have scarcely any furniture, but do have piles of movie memorabilia strewn about the walls and floors. When I first saw the film years ago, I was moved by the interior design of the film as I was by its more obviously filmic aesthetic moves. The Scheider-Dutronc apartment was so messy, yet so orderly, and so so chic.
And its chicness had nothing to do with the latest issue of Architectural Digest or Elle Decor. The apartment was chic because the arrangement of things in the space became a material resonance of the film’s messy but intensely romantic emotionality. The title of the film translates roughly as “The most important thing is to love” and the film proceeds to unroll that most hackneyed romantic dictum from hermetic sentiment to functional philosophy. Schneider and Dutronc both know that their marriage is toxic, kindled as it was from his identity as a movie buff and hers as a movie star. But like a lot of poisons, their toxicity also nurtures them. Theirs is a weird kind of codependence (is there any kind of codependence?) in which their need for cinema actually allows them to hone and intensify their love for one another.
In his poem, “This Room and Everything in It,” Li-Young Lee writes:
I am letting this room
and everything in it
stand for my ideas about love
and its difficulties.
This is close to how the Schneider-Dutronc apartment works, but not quite. The apartment in L’important c’est d’aimer doesn’t just “stand for” an idiosyncratic love, it enables its expression. It is not just a representation of the couple’s love, but that love made tangible so they can better grasp and grapple with the complex emotionality of two humans. The bedroom of the scantily-furnished apartment is particularly naked: it has only a bed, and only a mattress at that, flopped on the floor amid a tornado-aftermath of clippings, records, books, and clothes. I’m not a movie actress, and I don’t have a movie buff husband. But I am a buff of (too) many things and I did have a husband. Even before I moved in last week, I decided not to use the bedframe that had been transported here all the way from San Francisco five years ago. The bedframe is huge and heavy, made of stony dark wood, with a giant curved square headboard: it was the marriage-bed of me and my ex-husband. It is pretty, but it no longer feels correct. It feels better the toss the war-torn mattress on my bedroom floor and let my life just arrange itself around it. I want my place—and we’ll start with the bedroom—to feel as if it is my brain turned inside out. I want a space that looks like chaos from afar, but up close, begins to look like art: instead of furniture, piles of things.
PILES: no shelves, no wall-hangings, no drawers. No hostaging or disciplining my things to “stay in their place.” No hierarchy through organization either (Sweaters in drawers and books on shelves? Not for me). Homes are usually furnished to display a missing human: chairs, tables, and even storage units arranged to look as if they are missing and longing for their humans, the humans who will occupy and touch and use them. In this way, the very idea of arranging furniture kind of always depressed me. Furniture always manages to look not only enslaved, but as though they exist only to wait for human contact. This is the traditional idea of “homey”: furniture that always imply the dotted-line outline of a human. I want a different kind of a home. I want my home to resemble a warehouse, but a tender warehouse. A tender warehouse is a place in which piles of things look careless, useful, arranged, loved, displayed, stored, but above all, where the things look like they are not waiting for anyone, instead, just hanging out with each other. A place where stockpiling finally gets the emotion it deserves. Where humans and things merge: piles of jeans collide with piles of French Vogue collide with piles of old diaries collide with piles of records collide with piles of words collide with piles of dirty t-shirts collide with piles of bones and skin and hair and breath.