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A room of their own – bachelors find make own space

by Michelle Gamage September 16, 2014
A room of their own – bachelors find make own space

Concordia Prof takes a look at design, sexuality, and politics in new publication

A new book by Concordia professor John Potvin is exploring the political links between sexuality, gender, and the spaces people carve out for themselves.

Bachelors of a Different Sort looks at six bachelors in Britain from the 1880s to the 1950s who created homes, or private spaces, different from the norm during a time when the white-bread wholesome mom-and-pop family units were all that existed.

“Things we often don’t think about is the policing of sexuality,” Potvin said, “it’s not just about bodies, but about space.”

The book explores how six bachelors, when faced with the policing of space, “carved out a space of their own,” Potvin said. “Literally, a room of their own.”

It then goes on to explore the complex relationship between how the six bachelors created their homes, how they lived in the spaces they made, and in some cases how they created a community that revolved around these spaces.

The bachelors Potvin refers to here are unmarried men. Not always gay or fitting on the spectrum of queerness, but deviants from the norm who lived a life different from the prescribed family norm of man, woman, and child.

One of the biggest issues bachelors are caught between is the double-bind of being “too” anything, said Potvin. They are accused of being too lavish or too miserly. Too sexual or too conservative.

“There is always too much of something that the bachelor was charged with doing,” said Potvin. “And so for me the seven deadly sins articulated that quite well.”

The seven deadly sins of the bachelor, according to Potvin, are queerness itself (as “bachelors are often conflated with non-ideal masculinity”), idolatry, askesis (or severe self-discipline), decadance, glamour, and artifice (otherwise known as trickery).

Potvin organises his book by looking at each sin, and the particular case study that embodies it.

The well-known Brit is introduced, explained and then explored for how and why he decorated his home.

The men in the book are not, save one, interior designers though. The book explores instead how they chose to decorate their homes and chose to function within these spaces, said Potvin.

Funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Potvin added that this book is important in the dialogue it creates.

“In the West there is a sense that life is good, and that all human rights have been obtained and safeguarded. But it’s always in these moments of supposed tolerance that one must be most vigilant,” he said.

Just look at Russia and Uganda, where anti-gay, or “hate laws,” just made legislation.

“It’s always easy to say ‘it’s always been this way,’ but it is not that simple,” Potvin said.

Design is not free of politics, and it’s not free of identity either, according to Potvin. “They’re inseparable, and that’s the bottom line,” he said.

“[I’m] using the book to look at interior design from the question of sexuality and gender, and see how they’re in these spaces, and in these objects,” said Potvin.

Bachelors of a Different Sort: Queer Aesthetics, Material Culture and the Modern Interior in Britain (Studies in Design) is available from Amazon for $91.99.

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