A Room of One’s Own

Van Bo Le-Mentzel: housing is a universal human right

The One-SQM-House is designed by Berlin-based architect Van Bo Le-Mentzel. Le-Mentzel, a Laos native, fled his home country as a refugee and has dedicated his life to examining the meaning of home and the importance of having at least one square meter of personal space.

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one-square-meter-house

Van Bo has asked: “Does the consumer really always have to be the one who’s at the very end of all the value creation chains? No. We’re not living in the industrial era any more. It’s high time for us to adapt our consumption behaviour to our own age. The next field I’d like to take a critical look at is the property market. Why is it that the price per square metre determines everything? Who does the city belong to? Why is it that only rich people are allowed to have a fine view of a park or a lake?”

Tiniest-1-Square-Meter-Micro-Home-by-Van-Bo-Le-Mentzel-1

BUILD MORE – BUY LESS

Men are all brothers … ?!

Yesterday I read a bit about Oulipo. While reading I discovered this beautifully arranged picture of a part of the group, but couldn’t help noticing that there weren’t any women around … (I am, after all, on a quest  for literary foremothers).

In A Room of One’s Own Virginia Woolf writes: “we think back through our mothers if we are women. It is useless to go to the great men writers for help, however much one may go to them for pleasure.”

Definitely the Opera hinted to this party of men not being a case of accident, but more of a cultural tendency, or – to be honest: a classic case of historical phallocentrism. A concept Derrida can tell us more about, as he also can about friendship.

The following text is snatched from a great paper by Joanne Winning

Derrida recounts the three models of friendship proposed by Aristotle:

  1. the higher friendship’ which is ‘based on virtue’ and which has ‘nothing to do with politics. It is a friendship between two virtuous men’;
  2. ‘friendship grounded on utility and usefulness, and this is political friendship’;
  3. ‘On the lower level, friendship grounded on pleasure’.

These different concepts of friendship, Derrida argues, move across different registers. Some are political and some are not. Derrida notes, as he works through the Aristotelian models, that ‘political friendship’ is fundamentally inflected by gender. It is, to quote from him directly, ‘a phallocentric, or phallogocentric, concept’. From an Aristolean construction onwards, the parameters of friendship and friendship bonds exclude women and the notion of female friendship.

Whilst Derrida himself doesn’t cite the example of the sixteenth-century essayist Michel de Montaigne, we might well use him as an example. In his essay ‘On Friendship’, Montaigne argues: ‘the normal capacity of women is, in fact, unequal to the demands of that communion and intercourse on which the sacred bond is fed; their souls do not seem firm enough to bear the strain of so hard and lasting a tie’.

Derrida argues that the canonical model of friendship is archetypally ‘a friendship between two young men’. Such a canonical model, Derrida notes immediately, excludes several possible permutations: ‘first of all friendship between a man and a woman, or between women, so women are totally excluded from this model of friendship: woman as the friend of a man or women as friends between themselves’. 

Derrida identifies the guiding principle that underlies the model of canonical friendship as ‘brotherhood’ or ‘fraternity’. Such a principle finds its roots in various dominant cultural discourses; Derrida identifies it in Greece, as well as Christian ideology in which ‘Men are all brothers because they are sons of God’.

“we think back through our mothers if we are women”!

A Room of One’s Own

But, you might say, we asked you to speak about women and fiction – what has that got to do with a room of one’s own?

I will try to explain …

- a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction …

I have just finished re-reading A Room of One’s Own, this time in Norwegian translation. Once again I am struck by the actuality of Woolf’s writing.

The essay A Room of One’s Own is framed as a spoken lecture. It originated out of two talks given at a university; actually the university her brothers attended. (There were however no family funding for higher education of Virginia or her sister Vanessa).

A Room of One’s Own (1929) was an immediate success with its readers; it has never gone out of print either in the UK or the US.

In my privileged part of the world equal rights are secured by the government in form of legislations, but looking around I see that even in my own democracy women are being harassed & supressed in many strange ways – especially through misogynistic religions. So – unfortunately – A Room of One’s Own delivers a still relevant critique of patriarchal societies.

The Sitting Room at Monk’s House. The armchair was one of Virginia Woolf’s favourite reading chairs. It is upholstered in a fabric designed by her sister, Vanessa 

Going back to the origin, to Woolf’s situation in 1929, biographer Hermione Lee says:

A Room of One’s Own could be read as Woolf’s own disguised economic biography

– at this point of her life, at the age of 46, after having published 6 novels +, Woolf had sufficient money to plan, build, and furnish a new room at Monk’s House in Sussex. (Her reviews and essays continued to bring in more money than her fiction).

In A Room of One’s Own Woolf claim that women need an income of £500 a year, in today’s money this would equal a middleclass income.

Woolf-ish

How can it be …

… that I find it necessary to have:

  • 4 x The Waves
  • 3 x To the Lighthouse
  • 4 x Mrs. Dalloway
  • 4 x A Room of One’s Own

To my excuse I will hastily add that one of each copy is in Norwegian … and that the latest version of A Room… was sent me for reviewing -

but even so, I must admit that this seems a bit “over the top” …

… for books have a way of influencing each other …

In “A Room of One’s Own” Virginia Woolf is saying:

Fiction will be much the better for standing cheek by jowl with poetry and philosophy  … For books have a way of influencing each other.

All of Woolf’s writing (according to Hermione Lee) goes in for this mixing and merging of genres: fiction, history, biography, essays, elegy, poetry, drama, are always criss-crossing and influencing each other in her work.

This is, as I see it, why Woolf’s texts are such magnificent models and ideals for one who wants to write. She is extremely inventive and free in her texts, she uses the world, arts and history in her own ways, creating new meanings, which is really something to strive for

Vanessa Bell: The Schoolroom (1937)

Lithograph on paper. In many ways this is both quintessential Bloomsbury and closely representative of Vanessa Bell’s work: the colours are strong, the patterns bold, the décor of a type Bell might herself have designed for the Omega Workshops.

Carol Becker on A Room of One’s Own

For women to do serious creative work they must have a room of their own – a room to hide in, parameters to protect them from external interference and from psychic interference. Women must protect themselves from their inability to keep out input of others, to say no to the needs of others, the fears, the wants, and desires of others that inevitable pull them away from themselves.

Carol Becker 

The above quoted is from Carol Becker’s Zones of Contention: Essays on art, institutions, gender, and anxiety, it is a book I have yet to read. As for now I only know cultural critic Carol Becker as a great lecturer, you can listen to her here