In Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space, there is a chapter on drawers, chests and wardrobes in which the philosopher follows his usual method of meditative daydreaming. If the house is the world, the box and the multitudinous species of containers are not mere subsystems for classifying parts of the world. They also make possible the act of hiding things. The chapter is full of the assumptions of the bourgeois French household in which the author was raised and lives – one in which there exists, always, an armoire, or wardrobe.
Americans tend to favor the closet. One of my more striking childhood memories: there were three closets, side by side, in the room I shared with my twin brothers until I was eleven. I would climb up on the closet door, perching my bare feet on the door knob, and then swing out (this was something my old man had strictly disallowed and condemned for all eternity. But I did it anyway.). The point was to get to the farthest the door would swing, and then manage to jump to the second door, and then do the same thing until you got to the third door. When I did this I was not Roger; I did this as Tarzan.
But to return to the armoire, or wardrobe. Whether closet or armoire, Bachelard’s point is still valid that “To put just anything, just any way, in just any piece of furniture, is the mark of unusual weakness in the function of inhabiting. In the wardrobe there exists a center of order that protects the entire house against uncurbed disorder.”
What a beautiful passage! It is exactly that center of order I lack in my life.
It is not simply that I am sloppy as an inhabitant. I am. I live and work in a small efficiency, and so I generate the mess that goes with an office and the mess that goes with a living space. There are the manuscripts, the books for review, the notebooks, the stray papers, the unopened letters, the three computers (with only one working), the dictionaries flung about. There are, too, the clothes, the cups, the glasses. There is the pile of books next to my bed that I can never seem to reduce. There’s the invisible seep of the dust that comes off the parking lot in the apartment, which I can never seem to get rid of.
That mess, though, is merely the shell around which the larger disorder, the intellectual disorder, has manufactured itself. This is a scandalous intellectual disorder. I could begin with the lost manuscripts, for instance, my first and second novels, which exist, if they still exist at all, in a box in a house in Connecticut – although I have reason to believe that they were dumped long ago. I have no copy of my master’s thesis. I have dusty boxes of diskettes on which, if I had a computer to read them, there are hundreds of files that contain materials that I spent years working on: always thinking that now, here, I had finally achieved enlightenment and would surely thus achieve fame. I have at least the ms for most of the novel I wrote in New Haven, with a copy stored at my friend Miruna’s place (who is always asking why I don’t try to get that thing published). It is on account of that work that I moved to Austin in the first place, in 1998.
But that emptiness in the wardrobe, that essential central emptiness, always strikes. For it is not just a passive lack. It is an active and militant one. I become overwhelmingly bored and disgusted with my projects. In my soul, there are basically two forces. There is a ravening, rabid pit bull of self hatred. And, opposed to it, there is a boredom that must be the kind of boredom Judas feels down in hell, head first in the ice. It is a cold, cold boredom. Happiness, to me, is keeping those two forces in fine balance – otherwise, I begin to want to cut my throat.
And so it is that uncurbed disorder has been my muse. I go from project to project, hoping to slip the yoke of my own emptiness – the lack of a will to have one place, any place, where things are just so. I wonder if I ever will. If some day I actually achieve one of my projects, it will certainly not reflect my real life, which has been entirely ill spent, but the conditional life, the life I could have had if I had not put anything anywhere. My life as Tarzan, not as Roger.
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