My ideal room

We watched the documentary Derrida, about the French philosopher and founder of deconstructionism, last night. I don’t recommend it. It was dull. It reminded me, however, that I used to be smart. I remember getting very excited discussing “différence” in a lit crit theory class, even though in the end I did agree with our professor that Derrida was something of a sophist. I felt like I could be incredibly happy just always doing that kind of thing – discussing abstractions, losing an hour or two or three over a work of theory or historiography.

Last night I had an inkling of that feeling, but only really had the energy to declare certain statements made by Derrida “bullshit.” Very astute of me. My mind, though, right now feels too tired to do much more than simply formulate impressions, which I could possibly take further but can’t seem to summon the energy to do.

The filmmaker included in the film a man saying something along the lines of, “Americans always act as if they’re on camera” as the entourage and Derrida crossed a busy Paris street. Honestly I cannot stand a statement that begins, “Americans always” and I’m not sure there could be any situation more annoying than an American saying it in Paris. Not that it was Derrida’s fault that someone said that to him or that the filmmaker included it. Nor am I a great patriot. I should have a lot more to say about that, though, about sweeping generalisms that people say because they think it sounds insightful and smart, especially in the context of insulting others or Americans (read: Starbuck’s cups), but right now I can only express it as, “Oh gad, say something new or shut up already!” Right now I feel intensely annoyed and pissed off at any statement that assumes the speaker/writer has any sort of grasp on wisdom about the world, or especially, other people’s behavior. Even as I’m doing it myself right now.

I feel like everything is cluttered. I just want to sweep it all away. And banal, empty statements and judgments are the worst of it.

Derrida had the most beautiful office, in a sun room. But it was cluttered, full of papers and books. Some years ago I would have thought that romantic, and fantasized about the day I could have a giant desk in my own office full of stuff.

But now, when I think about my ideal office, and I do that often for some reason, I have an entirely different view. I will take the sun room idea, and especially love it on stormy days. I would furnish it with only a big white table, two or three monitors, keyboard, and a computer. Two shelves, one with Natan’s box, a picture of my nieces and nephew, and the poster of my childhood dogs, Sam and Petunia. On the other shelf I’d put my globes, and make room for just a couple of books – only those that were relevant to what I was doing right at the moment. I’ve ceased to feel like I need to own a lot of books, because I’m sick of moving them around, and I will always have access to most of what I could possibly need or want through a library, and more of them, as well as journals, are online anyway. Add two comfortable chairs, one for me at the computer and the other for cats or visitors, and that’s it. If I can have a sun room, I can probably also have a basement and there’d be filing cabinets in it, for all the papers which would otherwise be on the floor.

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13 responses to “My ideal room

  1. My ideal office is a little different. As you know, I don’t really like lots of windows. It’s sort of like, I look out the window when I want to do that, but not when I want to work. I think the little carrel in the library that I have right now is close to the ideal office for me: Small, contained, and completely without natural light. But I agree with you about most of the other stuff. I would like some additional room for a TV, DVD, and VCR that would be just for film viewing related to my work, but otherwise, yea, only a few books that are immediately relevant, and a computer with two good chairs.

  2. Jeez, love, you could have that office right now in the closet!

  3. Right after I wrote that comment, I found an article in the Chronicle that stated that people who sit behind a window have a higher level of job satisfaction.

  4. we have the Derrida documentary downloaded on the computer, but have never quite gotten up the energy to watch it. there is a part of my spirit that loves the pomos, but yeh, there’s sophistry at work there too. or at least, our culture can only seem to approach it as such.

    we Canadians, i think, are pretty guilty of “Americans always” statements. and its funny, because if questioned, most people will say “oh, but i don’t really mean ALL…”

    i think i work in Josh’s ideal office. i miss the light. the lack of it keeps me turned to the computer screen instead.

  5. My last two offices at work (for over four years now) have been without natural light. I want my windows back. My office at home is nice, but is currently full of crap, and I don’t see how I can get around to de-cluttering until after I am done with my current job, which is, thankfully, soon.

    I like my rooms open and airy. I’d come to shoot the breeze with you in your sunroom.

  6. Sara- I think there really is something to the cliche notion that the more wisdom you acquire you realize the less you know. I am a great believer in a avoiding sweeping statements and generalizations (probably why I abhor politics so much), but at the same time, I know I am guilty of doing the same thing in more subtle, and not so subtle ways.

    I detest clutter, so your ideal room sounds lovely. My only caveat, is that I think I still love shelves full of books. But only if they are lined up nice and neat!

  7. Sara’s ideal office sounds very close to perfect. Though entirely unlike my real office, which is completely cluttered. In fact, large portions of my floor are covered with the books and documents I’m using for my current project and the bookshelves are crowded with superfluous files.

    I haven’t read the article Josh linked to, so maybe the article addresses this, but I wonder which is cause and which effect in the office window = more job satisfaction equation, given that people who have window offices tend to rank higher in the hierarchy than those who don’t.

  8. I was wondering that exact same thing, Niobe.

    And I’m tempted to say that you can see who ranks the highest in our house since I would take the windows and Josh would be happy in a walk-in closet. But that would be too easy.

  9. Sara, don’t be so hard on your mind. I think this blog is ample proof that it’s doing much more than just “formulating simple impressions” all through this process. I know the feeling of mental inadequacy and slowness compared to “before”, but you seem to be handling that very impressively.

  10. I have EXACTLY the same reaction when I look at my deconstructionist texts from college on my shelves. It was like doing intellectual weight training, and now I’m all flabby.

  11. I know what you mean by “used to be smart.” I think I was once a lot smarter than I am now, though I never understood the concept of difference. Derrida may have had a particularly poor opinion of Americans because he taught at UC Irvine. Not that there is anything wrong with the school, but it is located in Orange County…

  12. I am with you on the windows. I worked in basements for years and really missed seeing that there was an outdoors, especially when I was very busy with work/experiments. At the time I was coming into the lab before sunrise and leaving after sunset.

    I used to think that being in a small closed off space would be the ideal office before working in the basements. I can be easily distracted to do other things when I have to write, especially. I actually cannot work on my prelim proposal in my current lab because it is so open. We share space with five other research groups and do not have closed off offices. Even if you eliminated the people, the wide openness of the space is distracting to me for reasons I cannot understand.

    I still love my books, but I have to agree with you on how they can be a burden after moving several times in my life. It is too bad one can’t shrink the books when one is in the process of moving and then bring them back to regular size when one has settle.

    Try not to be hard on yourself with regard to what you perceive as your current state of cognitive abilities. At this time your mental energies are being shared by the many priorities you have in your life right with baby on the way. You are also dealing hormone changes that can affect how fast you react and formulate thoughts.

  13. I’d love to have you come sit in my office, Julia, when I have one – I’d even brush off the cat hair.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts, Bon, on being post pomos. I for sure don’t think it’s all sophistry, but Derrida, sometimes? Absolutely. He made this statement about the eyes and the hands being the unchanging window into a person’s true being that made me want to stick my finger in his eye (may his memory be a blessing….) But I don’t think that was very post-modern of him, just old man sentimental.

    Emily, I have to give Derrida credit for not actually answering that young man. And do you know the first time I considered applying to graduate school (during my senior year in college but I decided instead to take time off) I was going to make Irvine my first choice? Because I wanted to work with Jon Wiener, one of the editors of the Nation, and someone who I still admire for his adept use of history in politics and public intellectualism?

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