House is the physical and tangible space in which people live; home comes loaded with a subjective attachment and all the sentiments that go with it. No one asks you which house you’re going to when you declare that you are going home – everyone knows that you are returning to your house. As a result, the home gains a special level of meaning to its resident(s), one which is deeply intimate and private. Home becomes a container for memories and worries, for relaxation and break-downs, love and bitter arguments, of experiencing the warmth after running home through the cold rain, and the undeniable bliss of staying in instead of facing the world when you’re too tired or sick. Home is all of this, in between the times when we venture out into the uncontained ‘wilderness’ with the public façade we don for the sake of social interactions and existing in public work environments. In Bachelard’s Poetics of Space, this is taken to its extreme, where he poses the structure of the house to be akin even to the psychological working of its resident: the attic is bright and above ground, a kind of escape from the dark depths of the basement where suppressed and gloomy thoughts and fears dwell. In so doing, the borders between the tangible house and the metaphysical nature of the dweller become blurred at the intersection that is home.
Slowly, however, as weeks have changed into months of remaining at home, much like a worn-out recording of a favourite song, Bachelard’s indulgent and syrupy sweet analyses of the house have become warped, distorted and the thought of home now leaves a lingering bitterness. With the shift in the way in which we experience our homes, the spaces of privacy and intimacy have been brought into the glare of the public institution, likening the meaning of home to the panopticon as described by Foucault.
Foucault’s panopticon describes a power dynamic between prisoners in a circular ring of cages and the prison guard in an observing tower in the centre; the prisoners have one window allowing for daylight from the construction’s exterior, and one gate facing towards the tower enabling constant surveillance. Key to understanding this is that the prisoners can see the observation tower, but not the guard, so, they do not know if they are actually being observed or not. In any case the consequences of misbehaviour if they are being watched are clear. As a result, Foucault describes, how because the prisoners are conscious of their surveillance, they become self-disciplining. Foucault fittingly goes a step further to compare this to a plagued medieval town under quarantine, with guards patrolling the public space. Should a prisoner exit their home, the punishment is death, and so, even though the resident is unaware if there is or isn’t a guard outside their home, the resident imprisons themselves regardless.
Homeward bound, I wish I was Homeward bound
Home, where my thoughts escaping, where my music’s playin’,
Home, where my love life’s waitin’ silently for me.
Every day’s an endless stream of cigarettes and magazines
And each town looks the same to me the movies and the factories and every stranger’s face I see reminds me that I long to be
homeward bound, I wish I was, homeward bound.
‘Homeward bound’ – Simon and Garfunkel
The once charming rattle of the single pane stained glass windows in the spring breeze is now alarming. Instead of serving as a meditative portal through which you can observe the day pass you by, it feels more like one through which other prisoners across the canal can observe you. And what is to be seen by looking through this window if you dare to? A tree, perhaps a canal… and across the street, your fellow prisoners who have a mirrored view of the same scene.
Such a cosy room, the windows are illuminated by the evening sunshine through them fiery gems for you
Our house, is a very very very fine house, with two cats in the yard, life used to be so hard […]
And our – la la lalalala la lala la la lala lala la lalala lalala[…]
‘Our House’ – Crosby Stills and Nash
The drain in your bathroom which emits an occasional ‘pop!’ that brings back memories of much loved former visitors now becomes a haunting ‘bang!’ which you cannot escape. And the garish carpet on my bedroom floor upon which I’ve shared whiskeys and laughed with friends now remains cold and without mirth. Collecting only dust, and hair that should have been cut two months ago instead of memories.
‘I said to Hank Williams, “How lonely does it get?”
Hank Williams hasn’t answered yet, but I hear him coughing…
all night long.’
‘Tower of Song’ – Leonard Cohen
The ultimate portal of the front door at the bottom of the stairs has changed its representation of freedom and safe passage from the intimate to the exciting outdoors into a threshold which ought not be trespassed. From the terrace which is surrounded by walls of other homes, sitting in a dark, viewless isolation, the vent from the neighbours below pokes through the floor and lets the cries and laughter of their young daughter be heard.
These are the days of miracle of wonder […] Medicine is magical and magical is ordinary
‘Boy in the Bubble’ – Paul Simon
When your entire world becomes defined by the archetypal characteristics of a house, and the tree outside, when all public interaction takes place through a computer screen with other people in their own homes, it transpires that your home is no longer unique. Because all public interaction takes place within it, the intimate values reduce, and furthermore, your home’s context becomes irrelevant. When discussing how international students in their homes in Mumbai, or Hong Kong, or Copenhagen might struggle with online lessons, Dick van Gameren in a Zoom meeting on the 8th of April made the astute observation by saying that, “In principle, distance is irrelevant” because at the end of the day we meet in a digital room, so, in the eyes of the public your location is irrelevant, and, as such, without context; you are as much in your bedroom with 20 colleagues as you are in the bedrooms of the other 20 meeting attendees. And so, these contextless homes which we find ourselves in bring Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot to mind, a play in which two characters wait in a place defined only by a path, a bog, a bush (or a shrub), and themselves. Is it in France? South Africa? Japan? All of these places or none at the same time? These characters are waiting for Godot to arrive, and as time passes, events repeat, the days are the same, and the same strange faces come and go, but Godot never arrives. In Beckett’s Waiting for Godot Estragon proclaims eventually: “Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it’s awful!” and I can’t help but feel like we are all, waiting for Godot.