Counterprivates: An Appeal
Ordinary memory knows it so well that it sings, in
all languages, of the sweetness of one’s “home, sweet home.” Yet, the
enclosed garden where the body hides its pains and joys is not a “forbidden
city.” If it does not want to become a synonym for a terrible house
arrest, separated from the living, the private space must know how to
open itself up to the flow of people coming in and out, to be the passageway
for a continual circulation, where objects, people, words, and ideas
cross paths; for life is also about mobility, impatience for change,
and relation to a plurality of others. Only a dead language no longer
changes; only the absence of all residents respects the immovable order
of things. Life maintains and displaces; it wears out, breaks, and reworks;
it creates new configurations of beings and objects across the everyday
practices of the living, always similar and different. Private space
is this ideal city in which all the passersby have beloved faces, whose
streets are familiar and safe, whose interior architecture is changeable
almost at will.
—Michel de Certeau and Luce Giard, The Practice of Everyday Life, vol.
Home Sweet Home
While imaginations of dwelling cannot but proliferate
unpredictably, these pages begin with a more paranoid tale about “privates”—the
oft-imagined private domain of the detached single-family variety of
American home sweet homes and the so-called private territory of the
self, of personhood. In the first two decades of the twentieth century,
both spaces converged in an unequivocally suburban form of American individualism
that not only impacted material forms of dwelling along residential landscapes,
but substantially limited so-called “proper” affective and
sexual life to the insides of house-bound nuclear familial units, while
it forcefully kept other kinds of connections and identifications out.
Of course, I am here reiterating an ideal—the model home and incubator
of nuclear families and model citizens, of personal happiness and domestic
content—not to prove it illusory, but to grapple with its very real hold
over so much of everyday life. As Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner have pointed
out with respect to heterosexual norms of intimacy, the normal “may never
have been an accurate description of how people actually lived” (323).
And yet, “this structural relation is no less normative for being imperfect
in practice. Its force is to prevent the recognition, memory, elaboration or
institutionalization of all the nonstandard intimacies that people have in
everyday life” (324). June Howard similarly explains that even though “the
home is no haven,” even though its walls are exposed as more and more
permeable at every turn, even though the boundaries between private and public
are “divisions that can never divide,” “that does not stop
them from having effects. They project bounded entities, set the terms of connectedness,
and are woven together in circuits of reciprocally stabilized instabilities
with real consequences” (9-10).
Few deny that the dream falls short, that sometimes (if not most of the time)
this home sweet home isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. But the majority
hesitates to classify the problem as foundational if they call it a problem
at all. That is to say, the ideal still performs regulatory and disciplinary
functions: a wide range of existing familial formations are largely defined
in relation to it. And if they fail, they are damned as dysfunctional—held
individually responsible for instability—because they failed to follow
the rules. This inquiry emerges from a nagging suspicion that the less desirable
dimensions of suburban privatized domesticity have such staying-power, because
they are so intimately and invisibly tied to theories of subjectivity, to self-concepts,
to the form and shape people believe themselves to take. At the turn of the
twentieth century, architect Michael Sorkin so aptly explains, the home gathered
considerable ideological force “as the preserve of the personal, the
terrain of our individuation” (193).
With roots extending back to at least the Renaissance, the notion of the house
as a domain for the articulation and construction of the private self is obviously
not just a twentieth century development. But acute transformations of common-place
principles of privacy did occur in the 1910s and 1920s with the emergence of,
among other things, new technologies of publicity; a legal definition of personhood
as private property; the popularization of psychological discourses about the
self; the beginnings of suburbanization; and the growing strength of market
mechanisms designed to elicit and sustain specific attachments to home across
product packaging, magazine serials, and billboards. Through my research into
archives and histories of architecture, urban studies, and popular culture
and my encounters with literary fictions of home-life, I have become convinced
that a particularly cozy relationship between the architectural domestic and
a theory of subjectivity as, precisely, privatized enclosure gathered a conspicuous
amount of energy at this time. In house planning and interior decorating manuals
from the 1920s, they were analogously modeled and also equated—thereby
the house was understood to express the self. 1 In itself, the conflation provides
no necessary cause for social criticism. But when the dwelling-model gravitates
toward one singular form that has dominated the production and consumption
of such a vast portion of American culture (housing, novels, furnishings, films,
etc.), drastically limiting imaginations of alternative material and social
forms of dwelling, then the alignments between the domestic and the self could
stand some serious renovations.
Consider a passage from a 1916 article about “the pleasant adventures
of home making” in one of the popular architecture and interior decorating
periodicals, The Craftsman:
Houses are recorders of experience, vouchers of taste
or the lack of it. A man’s thumb-prints upon paper have no more convincing a variation
of individuality than the house he elects to build upon the lot of his
choice. The bumps and depressions of a man’s head are no more an
indication of his character than the windows, porches, roof and doors
of his house—were there some new species of phrenologist to interpret
them. (“The Story of Home-Making” 216)
If here the house signifies (literally standing in
for) the occupant, the individuality of said occupant emerges from
an empty lot. The house
takes shape from scratch; it has no history, or neighbors for that matter,
to speak of. Individuality is self-made upon a blank slate and only then
engaged and interpreted. “A distinct domicile is, indeed, something
worth fighting for,” as Sorkin argues, in the sense that every
single person on earth deserves a home (198). And fair enough is Frank
Lloyd Wright’s 1908 pronouncement that “[o]ur ideal is Democracy,
the highest possible expression of the individual as a unit not inconsistent
with a harmonious whole” (“Cause: First Paper” 13).
It is his more melodramatic restatement of the idea in his second lecture
six years later that should raise some eyebrows: “A great Democracy
is the highest form of Aristocracy conceivable, not of birth or place
of wealth, but of those qualities that give distinction to the man as
a man, and that as a social state it must be characterized by the honesty
and responsibility of the absolute individualist as the unit of its structure,
then only can we have an Art worthy the name” (“Cause: Second
Paper” 42). In a world where the “absolute individualist” is
the fundamental unit upon which the social order is built, there is no
foundational sense of shared space or collective subjectivities, no room
for the very basic idea that my conception of myself as a person comes
through my interactions with and compassion for people around me.
If both self and home were conceived as autonomous and detached, they
were also ubiquitously prescribed (by social reformers, real estate people,
and others) as privatized dwellings positioned against the social world, defensive
preserves of the personal. Certainly, as another piece in The Craftsman expresses,
what sometimes makes a house a home is precisely its relative difference from
a world “out there”; it should be “a place of constant enjoyment,
a refuge from useless annoyance, a place of rest and realization of interests
. . . a restorer of life and interests, not a drain upon it” (“Small
Houses With a Sense of Space” 313). A haven in an occasionally heartless
world needs to lock its doors in certain circumstances. But the political and
commercial forces behind American households are all too often in the business
of restoring certain lives and interests and draining the resources from others.2
The following pages interrogate and expand upon Sorkin’s conception of
the home as a defensive preserve of the personal that structures and is structured
by a strong theory of the person as a privatized, free-standing, owner/container
of emotions and sexuality. In their imaginations and prescriptions of a good
society, architects, urban planners, educators, politicians, women’s
clubs, and popular periodicals alike equated individuality, independence, and
moral virtue with an overwhelmingly suburban conception of private space. They
prescribed and legislated inner-directed dwelling practices at the scale of
the house, a detached domestic space hermetically sealed from the marketplace,
and at the scale of the individual subject, a bound and psychologized interiority.
Inside both properly ordered houses and bodies, proper sexuality aligned with
romantic intimacy that was heterosexual, coupled, and maintained inside, as
a kind of private property. To be a good citizen of a stable nation, it was
assumed (and arguably still is) across large sections of built, textual, and
visual worlds, one must inhabit an autonomous, detached unit with identifiable
boundaries that at once announce its contents to the social world and seal,
stabilize, and defend them from it.
The considerable force of these movements inward at the level of housing and
subjectivity across architectural and fictional landscapes needs to be confronted,
but not fixed or even centralized, in any analysis of early twentieth-century
dwelling patterns. I use the language of boundary formation, because I am looking
closely at the way that residential lines in social space intersect with conceptual
and corporeal grids of subjectivity. “Privates” refer to the discursive
and non-discursive stabilizations of a particularly strong model of domestic
interiority that nevertheless makes up only one, albeit very visible, dimension
of a far more complicated American landscape. “Proper” homes and
bodies were interiorized as social subjects became more mobile across all sorts
of borders, as languages diversified and literatures exploded, as social spaces
were constituted by visibly conflicting value systems. In the 1920s, floods
of immigrants were crossing the nation’s borders. Fights for women’s
rights became increasingly visible. More and more women entered work spaces
formerly dominated by men. Divorce rates were on the rise and so was a growing
diversity of family types. And sex was commercialized in ways it never had
been before. Andrea Friedman explains that only with the emergence of motion
pictures, plays, and burlesque shows in the first half of the twentieth century
was sexual diversity writ large on the social stage and screen; sexual commodification,
in other words, exploded across a range of classes and tastes:
Commercial sex was not limited to the expansion of
prostitution. Concert saloons, dance halls, and restaurants all offered
public spaces for expressing
sexual desire and for arranging extramarital liaisons. Images of nude
or seminude women could be purchased at cigar stores, were displayed
in saloons and pool halls, and could be found in national media like
the Police Gazette. Even marital sexuality was drawn into the commercialization
of sex, as married women perused advertisements for contraceptives and “female
remedies” and availed themselves of the services of professional
In response to increasing commercialization, emerging technologies
of publicity, and altogether new public spheres which challenged existing
boundaries around class, ethnicity, and geography, privacy emerged
as a self-conscious principle and the boundaries around certain familial
enclosures and bodies became more defensive. If interiority was held
up as an ideal, in other words, it was because outsides were felt more
It is precisely at the edges, then, and not the center of domestic
enclaves, where one can begin to analyze textual and material efforts
to manage and map
threatening social landscapes. It is here also where one might begin to understand
that the enclosures produced are tenuous, riddled with fissures and broken
seams; borders are crossed all the time; and what Berlant and Warner describe
as the queer world—“a space of entrances, exits, unsystematized
lines of acquaintances, incommensurate geographies”—may, as it
turns out, be the one most of us actually inhabit (322).4 And yet, for some
reason, beliefs in boundaries separating the home from the rest of the world
or some kind of “real” self from the social persist. Exposing them
as blurry may constitute only a portion of the intellectual labor necessary
for their rearrangement.
In its very form, this essay aims to pull prevailing assumptions about so-called
private dwellings and selfhoods away from certain polarities and dead-ends
and into a field of greater complexities and opportunities. Sections one and
two map the “suburban privates” of households and subjects so that
the third section may go about imagining alternative interior architectures,
counterprivate frameworks for “feeling at home.”
To the Blackburns (a family with mom dad daughter son and dog):
Herewith the plans for a good time space for your family in a style to which
you are, as yet, unaccustomed but one which you might truly call your own if
you wanted to. We call the style Usonian meaning ‘of these United States’… Space
is characteristic of this free pattern for a freer life than you could possibly
live in the conventional house – separated into boxes; itself a big box… We
have studied your little family and arranged for all including the dog. Each
has his own privacy when needed and good time space for all together… Betty
Jane has a telephone box and all the privacy by the fireplace in the sitting
room any young girl has a right to expect before she owns her own home – or
her own car. The boys meantime have plenty of room for action… Mother
has a convenient kitchen next the dining table – everything ‘on
ballbearings’ to save labor. It is all but autoa right to expect before
she owns her own home—or her own car. The boys meantime have plenty of
room for action . . . . Mother has a convenient kitchen next to the dining
table—everything “on ballbearings” to save labor. It is all
but automatic. Father’s office is next so mother can answer the telephone
when he is away. There is plenty of car space . . . . American family life
is unlike any other in the world and I think this plan recognizes it for pretty
much what it is—at this stage of development—a little private club—with
special privacies, ultra conveniences, and style all the while.
—Frank Lloyd Wright5
In his foreword to the 1923 government publication How to Own Your Home:
A Handbook for Prospective Homeowners, Herbert Hoover, then Secretary
of the U.S. Department of Commerce under the Harding and the Coolidge
Maintaining a high percentage of individual homeowners is one of the
searching tests that now challenge the people of the United States. The
present large proportion of families that own their own homes is both
the foundation of a sound economic and social system and a guarantee
that our society will continue to develop rationally as changing conditions
After World War I, but before the emergence of mass suburbanization
in the likes of Levittown, Hoover motivated a massive political, economic,
social, and commercial campaign for individual homeownership. And the
ideal American home, a detached, supposedly secure and self-sufficient
technological unit, was reproduced in massive quantities to serve as
both a foundation for and a shield from a rapidly changing social order.6
The 1920 census classified the majority of Americans as either suburban
or urban for the first time. Throughout the 1920s, the population of
suburbs increased at twice the rate as the population of cities, and
the suburban market tripled between 1920 and 1922 (Wright, Building the
Dream 195, 199).
Gwendolyn Wright points out that “most popular middle-class literature,
housing guides, and even architects’ manuals and government documents
praised the suburbs as the haven of ‘normalcy’” (196). At
this time, to be normal, wholesome, and happy was to be ensconced in an isolated
sphere of domesticity. While, as common history has it, the divisions between
private and public zones within the domestic household became more flexible
(with the appearance of new spaces like the common living room, for example),
the identity of the household as a whole seemed to solidify as a private reserve.
A stable home, Hoover insisted as Secretary and eventually as President of
the United States, served as the foundation for good citizenship. The proper
family of good citizens was accordingly granted a privileged place at the center
of a healthy nation, but was both functionally and spatially separated from
the rest of society. Increasingly into the 1920s, the family’s function
was framed as personal as opposed to political. If the home was taking care
of any business, it was doing so behind closed doors, façades of intimacy
separating the personal social relationships of everyday life from political,
economic, and state concerns.
Although zoning restrictions against noise and pollution predated the twentieth
century, zoning laws became the norm only in the 1910s and ‘20s, regulating
the lay of the land and framing the divisions between residential and commercial
or industrial areas as “natural.”7 Anti-urban federal housing programs
proliferated, preaching that the livability of residential communities depended
on their being precisely distinct from cityscapes considered dangerous to physical
and mental health. The aforementioned government publication, How to Own Your
Home, directed its readers to insulate their homes from everything but domestic
If a city is zoned it is almost always safest to
buy in a residential district where there is safety from intrusion
by factories, public garages,
and scattered stores… If there is no zoning law, how about private
restrictions?… If even one or two lots near by are unrestricted,
objectionable buildings might be erected on them… Are the private
restrictions such that a home will surely be protected? (Gries and Taylor
Homeownership guides were published to educate the
public as to proper ways of living but also to sell these residential
the Hoover administration, there emerged an extremely widespread and
successful housing business. An open letter from John M. Gries, the Chief
of the Division of Building and Housing at the Department of Commerce
and one of the authors of How to Own Your Home, placed inside the front
cover of the guide reads: “It is our belief that if home ownership
is to increase and become a basis for a progressive citizenship, the
home seeker should have sound financing machinery available, that his
investment should be as free as possible from unnecessary hazards and
that he should be given in general a reasonable opportunity to attain
his purpose.” In 1908, Sears Roebuck, acting as mortgage bank,
architect, contractor, and builder all in one, started selling small,
relatively low-cost houses (“Mass-produced Houses” 54). By
the 1920s, in conjunction with the emergence of the automobile (which
Hoover calls the “great impulse to suburban life” [v]), the
government and the housing industry massively coordinated their efforts
to move people out into planned suburbs, and the mid-1920s witnessed
an enormous boom in the production of single-family homes.8 The house
became an object to be bought, sold, and reproduced in the marketplace.
Not only was the domestic marketed, but it also became a target market
itself. According to urban and architectural historian Dolores Hayden,
for example, “[a]dvertising
and marketing firms spent 1 billion dollars to promote private domestic life
and mass consumption in 1920; their annual volume had risen over 1,000 percent
since 1890 and continued to rise throughout the 1920s” (274). Ironically,
the media for this marketing campaign (such as the radio) continually permeated
the boundaries of the house. In other words, it is precisely as the envelope
of the house became more explicitly vulnerable to the forces of the market
that those same market forces, in cooperation with politicians, social reformers,
urban planners, and architects, circulated the ideology of a free-standing,
impermeable domestic interiority.
Early twentieth-century prescriptive literature, home-making and -decorating
manuals and periodicals, and architectural manifestos continued to frame domestic
architecture as a strong determinant of behavior and values, but they shifted
away from the nineteenth-century emphasis upon moral patterns of living toward
a much more individualist agenda promoting honest personality and character
over fleeting and transitory forms. As that which formally marked the border
between inside and outside, the domestic enclosure’s façade became
more and more critical to the proper functioning of home-life and was judged
according to its honesty—whether it genuinely and accurately communicated
or translated its inner purpose. The outward appearance of the home, in other
words, was required to designate, express, authenticate that which it contained—the
private life of an American family of free citizens. For Frank Lloyd Wright,
for example, the house functioned not merely to signify, but somehow to authenticate
the individuality of its occupant—to “idealize the character of
the individual it is fashioned to serve more intimately” (“Cause:
First Paper” 21, 24). Accordingly, he argued, “[t]here should be
as many kinds (styles) of house as there are kinds (styles) of people and individuals” (10-11).9
Because it operated as an external indicator of interiority, the honest domestic
façade had to look different from public architecture in order to express
hominess.10 To put it another way, the façade indicated the separateness
of home from the outside on the outside. By the second decade, there was a
growing opposition to the use of industrial-looking elements to build homes:
Claim[ing] that the traditional building materials
were those best adapted to the rooted, solid institution of the house,
and that the chief materials
of mass production—metals, fabrics, and plastics—would be
ill-adapted to housing, . . . the foes of fabrication deposed that a
man’s home is wreathed in sentiment as is no other inanimate object.
(“Mass-produced Houses” 52)
Although Sears Roebuck led the way in pre-fabrication,
their manufactured domestic spaces, designed to appear “homey” and precisely
not part of the business world, “neatly stylized in the suburban
manner with accents of Colonial New England,” clearly reflect these
general sentiments (“Mass-produced Houses” 54). Today, developers
continue to make a whole lot of money mass-producing the “faces” of
suburban privates, feeding a growing desire for the images of quaint
communities and picket fences.11
In his own home thus the Broadacre citizen would be not only impregnable.
He would be inviolate. This nation indestructible! . . . . He is his
—Frank Lloyd Wright
The socio-economic and affective orders that materialized
through the built environment in the early twentieth century applied
similar ways to the self. “A free America, democratic in the sense
that our forefathers intended it to be, means just this individual freedom
for all . . . freedom in space . . . . The home of the individual social
unit will contain in itself in this respect all the city heretofore could
afford, plus intimate comfort and free individual choice” (Wright, “Modern
Architecture” 74, 76). Frank Lloyd Wright’s prolific declarations
about privacy and individual liberty could be found everywhere in his
many lectures and books, as well as in the pages of popular women’s
periodicals like Ladies Home Journal. “It is the essence of Democracy
that the individual man is free in his body and free in his soul . .
. . It is the ideal of Democracy that the individual man should stand
self-centered, self-governing—an individual sovereign, an individual
god,” his early employer and mentor, Louis Sullivan, wrote (141).
Wright and Sullivan render a free-standing, self-governing sphere of
individuality that is the privatized liberal subject par excellence.
It is the theoretically autonomous figure who inhabits a landscape of
impossibly distinct boundaries between the public and the political,
on the one hand, and an interiorized private on the other. It is the
subject for whom much American legal and political theory and practice
is based and according to whom so many dimensions of American social
and personal space are imagined and materialized, and it gained considerably
strong currency in the 1910s and 1920s. The outer shape and the substance
of this subject, so it goes, remains universally the same on the face
of American politics. Each to an acre.12 And the personal, the peculiar,
the idiosyncratic mingle happily together inside property lines.
So much more than a privilege, privacy became an individual right prerequisite
to a healthy national body. This wasn’t always the case. Privacy used
to have a privative trait, according to Hannah Arendt:
It meant literally a state of being deprived of something,
and even of the highest and most human of man’s capacities. A man who lived
only a private life, who like the slave was not permitted to enter the
public realm, or like the barbarian had chosen not to establish such
a realm, was not fully human. We no longer think primarily of deprivation
when we use the word “privacy,” and this is partly due to
the enormous enrichment of the private sphere through modern individualism
At the turn of the twentieth century, the private
enclosures of modern individualism so enriched at the expense of the
public also demanded
legal protection from the public. It was only in 1890, with Louis Brandeis
and Samuel Warren’s Harvard Law Review article entitled “The
Right to Privacy,” that a principle of privacy was legally established
to regulate and discipline traffic around, into, and through private
spheres. In his extremely informative historical review of the right
to privacy, William L. Prosser explains that Brandeis and Warren’s
article did not have an immediate effect upon the American legal, economic,
and cultural landscapes: “For the next thirty years there was a
continued dispute as to whether the right of privacy existed at all” (384-386).13
Prosser’s point is worth reiterating, because it illustrates that
the dimensions of the private sphere of individualism were highly ambiguous
and that the private’s relationship to the legal constitution of
individual subjects was up for heated academic and popular debate across
various legal, social, and cultural institutions from the late 1890s
through the 1930s.14 During this time, in other words, privacy was becoming
constitutive of personhood.
The idea of privacy emerged primarily in response to technologies of
protect individuals from invasions by “the too enterprising press, the
photographer, or the possessor of any other modern device for recording or
reproducing scenes or sounds” (Brandeis and Warren 206).15 It was a defensive
principle designed to provide refuge from the modern world and its “unseemly
The intensity and complexity of life, attendant upon advancing civilization,
have rendered necessary some retreat from the world, and man, under the
refining influence of culture, has become more sensitive to publicity,
so that solitude and privacy have become more essential to the individual;
but modern enterprise and invention have, through invasions upon his
privacy, subjected him to mental pain and distress, far greater than
could be inflicted by mere bodily injury. (196)
The principle defended not just domestic possessions
and corporeal private space, but “the thoughts, sentiments, and emotions, expressed through
the medium of writing or of the arts” as well as “the personal
appearance, sayings, acts and . . . personal relation[s] domestic or
otherwise” of an individual person—thereby rendering the
social exogenous to a very wide range of practices legally cordoned off
as “the personal” (205, 213). All such personal attributes
and behaviors, Brandeis and Warren argued, are “instance[s] of
the enforcement of the more general right of the individual to be let
It is like the right not to be assaulted or beaten,
the right not to be imprisoned, the right not to be maliciously prosecuted,
not to be defamed. In each of these rights, as indeed in all other rights
recognized by the law, there inheres the quality of being owned or possessed—and
(as that is the distinguishing attribute of property) there may be some
propriety in speaking of those rights as property. But, obviously, they
bear little resemblance to what is ordinarily comprehended under that
term. The principle which protects personal writings and all other personal
productions, not against theft and physical appropriation, but against
publication in any form, is in reality not the principle of private property,
but that of an inviolate personality. (205)
Brandeis and Warren understood the right to privacy
to be “a part
of the more general right to the immunity of the person—the right
to one’s personality” (207). This “extended and unusual
sense” of property legally defined the individual person as a private
space, a bounded personality requiring its own legislation, policing,
If the emergence of the legal principle of privacy was a reaction to
intruding technologies of the public, the values that came to be associated
private sphere also emerged in response to what Robert Wiebe describes as the
functionalism of the public sphere in the early twentieth century. Providing
a very clear analysis of the professionalization and the systematization of
public spaces and institutions, he argues that, “[a]rriving around 1900
and gaining momentum after 1910, the bureaucratic orientation did not reach
its peak of success until the nineteen twenties” (149). I want to expand
and revise Wiebe’s claims that bureaucratic society “obliterated
the inner man” (148). Indeed, within bureaucratic frameworks, “the
focus had shifted from essences to actions,” and “the new ideas
concerned what men were doing and how they did it” (148). But the rationalization
of political, social, and educational institutions in public led precisely
to an intensification of something called the “inner life” in private.16
As bureaucratic efficiency increasingly characterized social institutions,
the intimate sphere functionally and spatially separated and protected the “human” side
of life; it was where the person was cultivated and made whole. To sum up,
if Wiebe is right, and the rhetoric of functionalism reached its peak in the
1920s, the function of the private spaces of domesticity and personhood, in
turn, was to house those qualities that were not oriented toward bureaucratic
efficiency—to protect the inner self.
During these first two decades, the inner self became thoroughly pop-psychologized.
And, predictably, it gathered enormous attention as a target of the advertising
industry, a trend that distinguishes twentieth-century advertising from earlier
practices, according to design historians Ellen Lupton and J. Abbott Miller: “By
1900 the notion of advertising as a benevolent advertising information service
gave way to more aggressive and sophisticated strategies. Pamphlets, lectures,
and articles on ‘advertising psychology’ appeared as early as 1896” (184).
Textbooks such as Walter Dill Scott’s The Theory of Advertising and The
Psychology of Advertising emphasized advertising’s power of suggestion
and defined the consumer in a new way: as a manipulable subject motivated not
by reason, but by impulsive desires. A new field called “market research” appeared,
and along with it, what I am calling the psychologization of separate spheres,
the mystification of social normative gender categories as psychological. “J.
Walter Thompson, then one of the largest firms in the country, added, in 1919,
a statistical and investigation department and two planning departments—one
for male and one for female consumers” (187). Armed with experts’ knowledge
from this departmental structure of separate spheres, advertisers played upon
the insecurities and desires of their target markets; for example, “fear
was frequently turned to the advantage of business through advertisements that
played upon the insecurities of women as inadequate dates, wives, mothers,
or housekeepers” (187).
It is not difficult to make the transition from the convergence of the pseudo-scientific
psychologization of the inner self with the mechanisms of the market to this
period’s overwhelming preoccupations with identity, especially sexual
identity. Indeed, it is impossible to fully understand early twentieth-century
working concepts of identity without also taking into consideration prevailing
attitudes towards sexual difference, or deviance, as it were. On the one hand,
the self was conceived as a depth that escaped social systematization. But
on the other, the self became a bound interiority that could, in the interests
of the social (sexual) order, be contained—a privatized enclosure to
be named and identified, its boundaries regulated accordingly. The definition
of sexuality radically shifted at this time—from outer-directed behaviors
and desires to identity, a personal trait to be uncovered through a close hermeneutic
reading of the subject. With the relocation of sexuality to the insides of
body, it became the private property of atomized subjects, hidden, but retrievable
if necessary, and subject to discipline if not properly maintained.17 Anti-obscenity
campaigns and vice crusaders reigned, rigorously legislating boundaries around
proper expressions of sexuality. Already ripe with the research of sexologists
attracting a wide range of the population, this period marked the advent of
pathologized and “deviant” sexualities on an institutional scale.
The same sexual advice literature advocating self-government and individual
management of one’s own borders and surfaces called for the establishment
of external regulations for those who couldn’t control themselves.18
The actual alternative to the received and produced fixed forms is not
silence: not the absence, the unconscious, which bourgeois culture has
mythicized. It is a kind of feeling and thinking which is indeed social
and material, but in an embryonic phase before it can become fully articulated
and defined exchange. Its relations with the already articulated and
defined are then exceptionally complex.
My concerns about models of defensive enclosure are
driven, in large part, by contemporary legislations of social bodies
and spaces that privatize
housing and subjectivity in the face of intimate relations between people
who don’t adhere to the heterosexual couple formation or the detached
nuclear family. The policing of public sexual culture at the center of
the 42nd Street Development Project in New York City over the last few
years reminds me that the deconstruction of dominant social structures
is emphatically not an outdated critical activity.19 As I study the impact
of domestic form on subjectivity, I think about particular ways that
sexual difference and orientation, as well as skin color and economic
class, get figured into or out of contemporary models of dwelling. If
there is a sense of urgency fueling my analyses of the forces of privatization
which have been cleansing public spaces, policing bodies, and fueling
narrow-minded educational policies for almost ten decades, however, I
am at the same time acutely aware of the need to analyze and reposition
these forces as one set of multiple factors contributing to the multiple
and intersecting layers of social relations and landscapes that coexisted
in the early twentieth century. An emerging opposition between a social
sphere and an intimate one at the turn of the twentieth century speaks
to a state of acute vulnerability. But not everyone felt the need to
secure a personal space away from the social world. While divisions between
the home and the marketplace, between private realms and public spheres,
did and still do order a significant portion of the American landscape,
there existed other modes of dwelling and practices of subjectivity that
did not take such predictable forms.
If Jeffrey Masten asks, “How will we read, interpret, conceptualize,
organize, and edit texts written before the birth of the author in its modern
(self-possessed and sexually orientated) incarnation” (9), I am asking:
How might we read, interpret, conceptualize, organize, and edit spaces designed
and texts composed in the early twentieth century that don’t fit this
self-possessive framework? Rather than engage the still valuable work of deconstruction
or reiterate the various problems with the dominant ideologies of privacy,
the remaining pages of this essay seek to develop a language through which
other modes of inhabitation that existed alongside defensive enclosures may
be better understood. I resist framing these alternative spatialities as exceptions
or even reactions to the rule. Instead, I am trying to find the tools with
which we might positively explore other(ed) spaces—to discover what they
do rather than what they don’t do.
I take very seriously Eve Sedgwick’s warnings about paranoid reading.
Sedgwick explains that the “paranoid critical stance” has become “nearly
synonymous with criticism itself” (4): “Subversive and demystifying
parody, suspicious archaeologies of the present, the detection of hidden patterns
of violence and their exposure . . . these teachable protocols of unveiling
have become the common currency of cultural and historicist studies” (21).
Operating according to a false consciousness model, the paranoid critic assumes
that her job is to decipher, to expose dominant power relations that structure
any given site (for Sedgwick, the site in question is the literary text; I
am here concerned more broadly with material and textual practices of domestic
interiority). The problem with this widespread critical habit is that while
such a practice can expertly reveal how certain social systems operate to constrain,
it simply cannot see how those same systems might enable and, moreover, it
is largely blind to other relations that may be shaping the site. Furthermore,
the demystification of power structures may not contribute so much after all
to their actual dissolution. Placing all “faith in exposure,” Sedgwick
argues, the paranoid critic acts “as though to make something visible
as a problem were, if not a mere hop, skip, and jump away from getting it solved,
at least self-evidently a step in that direction” (17). Nowadays though,
most everyone knows in their popular cynicism that ideologies are contradictory;
even the media likes to laugh at the artificiality of gender representations.
So “what is the basis for assuming that it will surprise or disturb—never
mind motivate—anyone to learn that a given social manifestation is artificial,
self-contradictory, imitative, phantasmatic, or even violent?” (19).
Drawing upon the work of Melanie Klein and Silvan Tomkins, Sedgwick wants to
make space for what she calls reparative reading practices—“methodologically
adventurous” ways of reading (3) that are “more interesting, more
responsive, more truthful, and more useful as we try to account for [our work’s]
motives in a less stylized fashion than we have been” (23). Reparative
readers acknowledge the realities of oppression without fixing them. They explore “the
extremely varied, dynamic, and historically contingent ways that strong theoretical
constructs interact with weak ones in the ecology of knowing” (23), and
they look closely for relations and desires in texts that have “not (yet?)
resolved into a sexual specificity of proscribed object choice, aim, site,
or identification” (2). “To read from a reparative position is
to surrender the knowing, anxious paranoid determination that no horror, however
apparently unthinkable, shall ever come to the reader as new: to a reparatively
positioned reader it can seem realistic and necessary to experience surprise.
Because there can be terrible surprises, however, there can also be good ones” (24).
The possibility of other worlds drives the reparative reader, not the inevitability
of the present ones. Reparative reading is not meant to replace paranoid criticism
as I understand it. It is a mode of thinking, reading, and writing that deserves
to take up adjacent and complementary spaces in our scholarship and teaching.
I offer the term counterprivate to critically complement two recent trends
in architecture and social theory, which are themselves reparatively driven
by the possibility of other words, alternatives to past and present mappings
of domesticity, privacy, and the public. First, the unprivate house, the central
figure of the 1999 Museum of Modern Art exhibition curated by Terence Riley,
challenges conventional private dwellings by highlighting the permeability
of their boundaries and/or undoing them. The exhibition praises the “unsentimental
pose[s]” of unprivate houses spanning the twentieth century for the way
they expose, in their formal arrangement and design, objects and practices
that are usually kept private (26). In the accompanying narrative, Riley suggests
that in the age of digital media and public exhibitionism, “the splendid
isolation envisioned by [Frank Lloyd] Wright” may be outdated, that these
unprivate houses offer a progressive alternative to the intimacy—publicity
dichotomy (17). As the framing figure suggests, however, the exhibition does
not seek an alternative state of being at home, whatever that may mean. The
house is either private in the conventional sense or it is slyly, playfully,
or cynically deconstructed and turned inside out.
Second, the counterpublic sphere so central to recent queer public sphere criticism
practiced by Berlant and Warner, among others. This is the place where affects,
behaviors, and attachments dwell in neither “the official publics of
opinion culture and the state” nor “the privatized forms normally
associated with sexuality” (322). It is the site for non-normative intimacies
that aren’t allowed in public space “proper” (which, as Berlant
points out, is actually constituted by “simultaneously lived private
worlds” [Queen 5]) and that certainly won’t settle for the predictable
formations of the “inside.” Because private residences for normative
sexual relations and citizenship have increasingly replaced more diverse public
cultures, Berlant and Warner argue, it is central to queer culture to make
public other “kinds of intimacy that bear no necessary relation to domestic
space, to kinship, to the couple form, to property, or to the nation” (322).
A counterpublic in this sense is always unstable, “an indefinitely accessible
world conscious of its subordinate relation” to the existing arrangement
of private and the public spheres (322), but rich with transformative, “collective
world making” energies (Warner, Publics 57). Gestures, encounters, and
collaborations that have no canon, more ephemeral productions in social space
and in print culture, connections between people who are for various reasons
not visible as a community or an identity, mobile sites that are not supported
by dominant architectures of domesticity—these have the potential to
produce other spatialities.
Counterpublic criticism has much in common with Raymond Williams’s work
around what he calls “structures of feeling.” The movement through
and beyond the subject positions made visible by institutional discourses is
the movement between what Williams describes as “the ruling definition
of the social,” on the one hand, and that which, through the processes
of exclusion, “may often be seen as the personal or the private” (125).
He interrogates the common-sense world as composed of various modes of spatiality
that are not all organized in terms of dominant discursive categories. Structures
of feeling, in so far as they exist beneath the level of the concept, pose
the possibility of oppositional practices to the dominant culture. The dominant
is never all-encompassing: “No dominant social order and therefore no
dominant culture ever in reality includes or exhausts all human practice, human
energy and human intention” (125). That which is designated as the personal
and private, the self and the body, can be sites of resistance. The stutterings
and the slippages, the bodily gestures gone awry, the missed communications,
the unexpected points of contact . . . they often fall between the cracks of
dominant social norms. But unless the dominant discourse’s gaps and fissures
are publicized, that is to say, unless the dimensions of the self and the body
are conceptualized as public products of social relations rather than bounded
interior personalized spaces, such normative representations will not be challenged
to the extent that they should be. It is important to depersonalize structures
of feeling, to get them out into the open, to break them out of their contained
Whether they concern the complex processes involved in the consolidation of
boundaries around the private or the opposites, failures, leaks, and loose
ends of such consolidations, much contemporary literary and social criticism
frames the private as a site to be demystified, exposed, questioned, deconstructed—a
repressed, stifling, “obnoxiously cramped” space from which progressive
social criticism must run, a bourgeois trap, an effect of bad ideology (Warner,
Publics 194). In Warner’s Publics and Counterpublics, for example, the
term is almost always used in conjunction with regressive conceptions of identity
based upon the fiction of some kind of pre-social stable ground for the self
(see 208). He critiques the current conditions of the private self, privacy
as a product of “heteronormative conventions of intimacy,” which
conjure a mirage: a home base of pre-political humanity from which citizens
are thought to come into political discourse and to which they are expected
to return in the (always imaginary) future after political conflict.
Intimate life . . . is the endlessly cited elsewhere of political public
discourse, a promised haven that distracts citizens from the unequal
conditions of their political and economic lives, consoles them for the
damaged humanity of mass society, and shames them for any divergence
between their lives and the intimate sphere that is alleged to be simple
If this is clearly a limited (when not utterly disabling) formation
of the private, I am wondering if there is a private to be differently
imagined with respect to complex personhood? How might the private be
conceived within alternative contexts for living? Are there privates
that are attendant to the more flexible indexes for social membership
collectively constructed by counterpublics?
As we seek to articulate affects and relations that exist outside the
bounds of normative privacies, I wonder whether it might be useful to
into less predictable formations of the inside, architectures of intimacy that
do not merely support or reinforce standard forms of intimacy, models of individualism
that are committed to making space for an inner life but not defensively detached
from outerworlds. Counterprivates run contrary to the “right” course.
They offset (as in counterattack), reject (as in counterculture), or thwart
the efforts of (as in counterintelligence) dominant ideologies of privacy.
They exist simultaneously with so-called established privates but move in an
opposite direction—not opposite from the public, but opposite from the
kind of private stuck in that dichotomous relationship with the public. The
always shifting morphologies of the counterprivate are profoundly un-sum-up-able,
but they will likely share at least three major aspects: 1) relative autonomy
from what is understood to be the “public,” 2) a non-defensive
posture towards this “public,” and 3) non-identitarian attachments
or relations to the self.
First, while never forgetting that the dimensions of the private space of the
house and of the person have everything to do with the social coordinates which
plot work, leisure, romance, gender, and sexuality, I am concerned to disarticulate
counterprivates from social institutions—to insist on a connected but
non-necessary relationship between certain formations of the private and normative
structures. In response to some feminist theorists’ fears “that
attention to the surface and the outside denies the affectivity of interiority,” Elspeth
Probyn argues that we should be careful not to oppose interiority to social
construction (12).20 It makes more sense, she explains, to investigate “the
forces which constitute the outside and the inside as dichotomous” (12).
But if interiority is always socially constituted, are all interiorities stuck
within this socially constituted dichotomous relationship? That is to say,
are there insides that are not the opposites or the other sides of outsides?
Take, for example, T. J. Jackson Lears’s now classic analysis of the
coalescence of architectural and subjective interiority for the late nineteenth-
and early twentieth-century middle classes. Lears argues that the turn of the
century domestic interior, “increasingly called upon to harbor all the
emotional warmth and intimacy that had been banished from the calculating world
outside” (5), turned into a hyperpersonalized escapist haven, “an
arena for exotic performance and theatrical illusion” (7), “an
essential refuge for cultivating personal identity” that was only apparently
set off from the modern technological and commercial world (14). Both the self
and home became “theatre[s] for performance,” their stage sets
furnished “with high-style consumer goods” (14): “The sanctioned
way to foster these illusions was by purchasing and assembling mass-marketed
commodities so that the interior might harbor a more fluid self, adrift amid
the objects of its fantasies” (7). Lears sets up a strong dichotomy between
the commodity-obsessed consumers duped by the market into endlessly remaking
themselves, “unstable selves who try to solidify their existence through
high-style consumption,” and the core interior authentic selves longed
for by many a modernist writer (15). But is there a third space between or
alongside a commodified self and an imagined core interior self? Are all subjects
trying to solidify their existences? Is there a performative interiority to
endlessly developing selves that is not slave to the market, that can be granted
some degree of critical autonomy?
Second, the private need not be a defensive space of refuge or resistance.
The point here is not to discount the importance of “the home as a place
of security” and “the confidence in the house as providing shelter
and security” (Rainwater 93-94).21 Sociologist Lee Rainwater finds that
the more threatening the social environment, the more acute the longing for
a boundary that designates a necessarily defensive domestic interiority. His
analysis serves as a much-needed reminder that blurry, heterogeneous spaces
cannot be treated as categorically positive, but it also reveals the dominance
of a middle-class ideal of privacy that suppresses other kinds of valuable
interactions. The only available solution to unsafe living arrangements, in
other words, seems to be the middle-class suburban dwelling legislated by a
neighborhood association that deals with social problems. Moving up the socio-economic
ladder, so to speak, means that safe common spaces that are created in higher-risk
neighborhoods—semi-private outdoor spaces and common indoor spaces, like
the hallway shared by multiple families—disappear in favor of detached
dwelling. And interactions between “families” become less and less
Barry Schwartz similarly points out the important functions of privacy in the
struggle for individuality, especially in oppressive situations in which the
ego needs to put up defenses: “Privacy prevents the ego from identifying
itself too closely with or losing itself in (public) roles” (136). Likewise,
Erving Goffman provides a provocative analysis of “the practice of reserving
something of oneself from the clutch of an institution” (319). He argues
that “this recalcitrance is not an incidental mechanism of defense but
rather an essential constituent of the self” (319). In any social organization,
an individual “employ[s] methods to keep some distance, some elbow room
between himself and that which others assume he should be identified” (319).
Goffman’s articulation of the self as a “stance-taking entity,
a something that takes up a position somewhere between identification with
an organization and opposition to it, and is ready at the slightest pressure
to regain its balance by shifting its involvement in either direction” is,
largely, a defense model of individualism: “It is thus against something
that the self can emerge” (320). But his own question—“If
we find then, that in all situations actually studied the participant has erected
defenses against his social bondedness, why should we base our conceptions
of the self upon how the individual would act were conditions ‘just right’?”—suggests
that a reconceptualization of the self might begin to understand such distancing,
reservation, and recalcitrance as something other than defensive; in other
words, it may be possible to reframe this residue of selfhood that doesn’t
slot smoothly into given social categories of organization (that “often
resides in the cracks” of “the solid buildings of the world”)
in its positivity and moreover, as Goffman articulates so well, as a practice
It follows, then, that defensiveness should be understood as a temporary, situational,
and symptomatic state, not a foundational quality of privacy. Under better
circumstances, the private can be created and inhabited as a non-defensive
interiority, a “free space,” to use the phenomenological language
of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, which allows embodied subjects to carry out their
own projects in the world, to act in and on their surroundings (see 98-147).
Merleau-Ponty’s “free space” is no doubt utopian in the sense
that social norms operate otherwise. Political theorist and philosopher Iris
Marion Young, for example, brilliantly articulates the effects of oppressive
gender norms as precisely the felt corporeal and psychological constriction
of such “free space.” For many women, she explains, “a space
surrounds us in imagination that we are not free to move beyond; the space
available to our movement is a constricted space” (146). She also adds
that “the space that is physically available to the feminine body is
frequently of greater radius than the space that she uses and inhabits” (151).
In other words, when a subject is oppressed as a body by social norms of femininity
her space as a free subject sometimes seems to start inside her skin—the
surface of the body felt to be a social ground—and the body is experienced
as an enclosure. Far from a social privilege, this interiority is experienced
as an effect of social norms that frame or inscribe a subject along its corporeal
boundaries. It is this kind of interiority, as I understand it, that becomes
the object of various anti-racist, feminist, and queer critiques of essentialist
philosophies and politics that are structured around a logic of identity that
makes claims about what people are. In this sense, the subject-as-enclosure
more accurately serves as an indicator of an oppressed social subject rather
than a descriptor of empowered selfhood.
Third, the private need not bind to the self as a protective or stabilizing
apparatus of personality or identity. Young’s recommendation that “political
theory would do well to disengage social group difference from a logic of identity” affects
not only conceptualizations of the political, public culture, and social justice;
it profoundly concerns theories of the private (82). For in order to “conceptualize
social groups according to a relational rather than a substantialist logic” and
affirm that “groups do not have identities as such, but rather that individuals
construct their own identities on the basis of social group positioning,” the
private forms of citizenship upon which contemporary American political rhetoric
and policy are based clearly need to be dismantled and reconceived (82). Counterprivates
support a form of individualism based upon a freedom that is not substantive,
that is less a characteristic or descriptor of being than a condition for action.
They bear a non-identitarian relation to the self, enabling—but neither
containing nor expressing—dimensions of subjectivity and domesticity
conventionally understood to be private and personal. As frames for private
transformation, they have boundaries that articulate permeable and connected
spheres of flexible use and creative inhabitation, zones that are not defined
by any fixed content (emotions, secrets, nuclear family, skeletons, monogamous
sex) or set of properties (pitched roof, four walls, family feel, ethnic background,
heterosexual orientation, distance from neighbor), but by how they function.23
To borrow from legal scholar Patricia Williams’s reconceptualization
of legal rights, they are flexible states of inwardness wherein “privacy
is turned from exclusion based on self-regard into regard for another’s
fragile, mysterious autonomy” (92). Counterprivates move away from a
model of interiority whereby idiosyncrasies, differences, and failures reside
inside each atomistic and disconnected “house of rights,” embracing
instead the profound irreducibility of the adjacent other. And they respect
the ungraspable perplexities of the self, what Marcel Proust beautifully renders
in the following passage as the non-ego inhabiting the most intimate of places:
I leave it to people of taste to make of their rooms
the very image of their taste, and to fill them only with things of
which they can approve.
As for me, I feel myself living and thinking in a room where everything
is the creation and the language of lives profoundly different from mine,
of a taste opposite to mine, where I find nothing of my conscious thought,
where my imagination is excited by feeling itself plunged into the depths
of the non-ego . . . where in the evening, when opening the door of one’s
room, one has the feeling of violating all of the life that has remained
scattered there, of taking it boldly by the hand when, once the door
is closed, one enters farther, up to the table or the window; to sit
with it in a kind of free promiscuousness on the sofa designed by the
upholsterer of the local county in what he believed to be the style of
Paris; to touch everywhere the nakedness of that life with the intention
of being troubled by one’s own familiarity, by putting here and
there one’s things, by pretending to be the master of that room
full to the brim with the soul of others and which keeps even in the
shape of its andirons and the pattern of its curtains the imprint of
their dreams, by walking barefoot on its unknown carpet; one has then
the feeling of shutting in with oneself this secret life, when one goes,
all trembling, to bolt the door; of pushing it in front of one onto the
bed and finally lying down with it under the large white sheets which
come up over one’s face . . . . (17, 19)
One’s own strangers in residence are not ghostly
invasions of the homely that need to be expelled. They constitute a
precious and generative
unfamiliarity that is a welcome not a threat to a self utterly vulnerable
to its outsides.
In conclusion, there are two broad goals motivating my wide-eyed and open-ended
appeals for counterprivates: to rethink the suburban model of interiority upon
which many a household of the self is based and to rearrange the domestic itself
so that the house might not figure as a stabilizing ground for subjectivity.
If a site so intimately linked to narratives of identity and belonging is to
be a practicing place productively linked to the social world, it can be secure
without being a static foundation for the fiction of pre-social selves. As
so many developments in architecture and urban planning, legal and political
frameworks of liberalism, and literary and educational discourses around the
text still tightly entangle the privatized domestic and the subject, whereby
one is assumed to contain and express the other, it seems like a pressingly
good time to not merely unhouse the subject, but set up some new digs.
1 For example, Frank Alvah Parsons writes: “The house is but
the externalized man; himself expressed in colour, form, line, and texture
. . . . It is he” (vii). A browse through any issue of The Craftsman
from this period also demonstrates multiple variations of this pattern.
For the explicitly gendered aspects of such conflations, whereby the
female body is aligned with the domestic interior, see Post 200; de Wolfe
5, 18, 21; Burbank xi; Gordon.
2 For a very dense investigation of different historically-situated relations
between family structures and civic life and an argument against neoconservatives
and liberal humanists’ assumptions of a natural relation between the
two, see Shapiro.
3 For excellent histories of commercialized sex from the mid-nineteenth to
the twentieth century, see D’Emilio and Freedman; Erenberg; Kasson; Gilfoyle;
4 George Chauncey charts a “gay life . . . more integrated into the everyday
life of the city in the prewar decades than it would be after World War II” (3).
Chauncey convincingly argues that the urban landscapes of sexual culture before
1940 were not subject to a strictly binary framework of sexual identity. The
most visible gay worlds, he claims, were grounded in working-class cultures
where the labels “homo” and “hetero” were not dominant
until the middle of the twentieth century.
5 For an excellent analysis of Wright’s middle-class conventions and
clientele, see Twombly.
6 Oddly enough, Hoover resided at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. For
a more detailed explanation of Hoover’s influence, see Wright, Building
the Dream 193-214. Gwendolyn Wright also discusses the 1922 Better Homes in
America Movement, the more explicitly commercial arm of this effort. For an
overview of late nineteenth-century defensive domesticities, see Sennett; Warner,
7 The first zoning ordinance was passed in Los Angeles in 1909, and New York
established land use regulations in 1916, but it was not until the 1920s, when
smaller cities and suburbs adopting zoning regulations, that they had the biggest
impact (Wright, Building the Dream 213). See also McKenzie 299-301; U.S. Department
8 Motor vehicle registration doubled between 1920 and 1930, from 9 million
to 20 million (Wright, Building the Dream 207; Historical Statistics 223).
As president, Hoover held a conference in 1931 advocating single-family home
ownership, which led to the development of 50 million homes housing three quarters
of American families (see Gries and Ford; Hayden 9-10). The overproduction
of single-family dwellings, in fact, produced a crisis during the years leading
up to the Depression, when thousands of these houses were left unoccupied because
they were too expensive (“Mass-produced Houses”). Since the Depression,
Gwendolyn Wright points out, “housing in the United States has been circumscribed
by federal guidelines . . . . The government has set standards for construction,
for financing, for land-use planning, and, to a certain extent, for family
and community life” (218). Wright also points out that after World War
II, the federal government actively promoted widespread building of suburban
developments, slum clearance, urban renewal programs, and the building of highways—all
of which deeply segregated American communities, most of them explicitly so
9 The is part of Wright’s nationalist project. Complaining of Americans’ tendencies
to copy other civilizations rather than produce their own “originals,” of
the American “habit to fashion appearances rapidly into a nation-wide
cult in lieu of genuine culture,” of the commodification of “America’s
own nature,” he puts forth this call for regionalism:
Why not then, take hold ourselves of this interior
native content awaiting deliverance in our Culture in our own minority
report and ourselves gradually
build with it a Nation where no commodity can hope for success except
as it contributes not only to the ease and wealth of the Nation, but
contributes as well to the integrity of the Nation considered as created
for the spirit of Man—not merely for men. (“Prospectus” 2-3)
10 From the very beginning of the practice of architecture
in the United States, domestic and public architecture were treated
just programmatically, of course, but stylistically. At the end of the
eighteenth century, Thomas Jefferson built his private houses in the
Palladian style and reserved Classicism for public buildings. It is important
to point out that the difference between inner-city architecture and
suburban architecture wasn’t just one of taste or security—it
had everything to do with the institution of architectural education
at this time. In the second half of the nineteenth century, it was understood
that the best American architectural students (Louis Sullivan, Richard
Morris Hunt, Henry Hobson Richardson, and Charles McKim, to name just
a few) went to Paris to study at the École des Beaux-Arts,
which exercised a strong influence on recently established
schools of architecture in America, and where for several decades Americans
in a majority among overseas students . . . . As this relationship grew
in the second half of the nineteenth century, so inner-city architecture
in America came increasingly under the influence of the École
des Beaux-Arts, whilst in the suburbs and in the countryside autonomous
developments continued. (Kruft 345-355)
11 For a variety of disciplinary approaches to the
study of the front lawn as an extension of the domestic façade,
see Jenkins; Teyssot; Diller.
12 Each individual family unit received an acre in Frank Lloyd Wright’s
various utopian schemes. All plans were decentralized to avoid the social and
moral problems he considered endemic to overcrowded cities. Broadacre City,
for example, was designed as a series of largely self-subsistent homesteads
for the average five-person nuclear family. Early plans included only detached
houses for residences. A later tract accommodated apartment buildings and hotel
facilities, but only on the outskirts of the City, beyond a waterway which
served as a barrier between the residential and industrial zones. See Wright,
The Disappearing City, When Democracy Builds, The Living City. For a critique
of Broadacre City’s pseudo-cooperative organization, see Zellman and
13 Prosser’s article is both a historical review of the right to privacy
and an analysis of its separate components (freedom from intrusion, public
disclosure of private facts, misrepresentation in public, wrongful appropriation
of identity) as we have come to understand the principle today (389). For a
thorough list of early twentieth-century law review discussions of the right
to privacy, see Prosser 384n.
14 Over the course of at least two or three centuries, intense dialogue and
debate over the creation and definition of private property can be found with
respect to copyright laws and practices. Here, I am concerned with the private
property that becomes synonymous with personhood in the early twentieth century.
15 The larger story here concerns the commodification of privacy, made possible
by new technologies such as the camera. It is not a unidirectional movement
from the public into the private. The private, in many cases, makes itself
available for public consumption. Roland Barthes says it best in the following
passage: “The age of photography corresponds precisely to the explosion
of the private into the public . . . or rather into the creation of a new social
value, which is the publicity of the private: the private is consumed as such,
16 This is, of course, not an original claim. Georg Simmel famously described
the split metropolitan type at the turn of the twentieth century in his 1903
essay “The Metropolis and Mental Life.”
17 For an excellent overview of the pathologization of non-normative sexual
practices in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, see D’Emilio
and Freedman 171-235.
18 Andrea Friedman begins her study of Comstock’s reign with the 1909
establishment of the National Board of Censorship of Motion Pictures, “a
New York based organization that offered the first institutional articulation
of the principles underlying democratic moral authority” (21). According
to Friedman, sexual materials and expressions were judged not only by their
purportedly “indecent” content, but by their potential to elicit “indecent” responses
(i.e., lust, arousal, deviant thoughts and behaviors) from their readers or
viewers (17). She explains that this “dual emphasis . . . made possible
the successful prosecution of serious works of social criticism, sex education
tracts, advertisements for contraceptives, and outright pornography alike” (17).
The Comstock laws deemed most expressions of sexuality “outside” the
private domestic sphere indecent, immoral, and obscene; sexuality was not allowed
to take up social space.
19 For provocatively different takes on the redevelopment of 42nd Street, see
Delaney. For a multi-pronged response to contemporary conservative sex education
agendas and for links to organizations that act out against the systematic
policing and purification of public space, see also Managing Desire. In one
of the best pieces I’ve encountered on the complex moral and financial
forces behind zoning laws, Alison Redick argues that the Redevelopment Project
under Mayor Rudy Guiliani’s reign can be traced back to vice campaigns
in the 1920s and ‘30s that targeted brothels and saloons. For similar
work, see Dangerous Bedfellows.
20 Biddy Martin, for example, argues that “too exclusive an understanding
of psychic life as the effect of normalization can impoverish the language
we have available for thinking about selves and relationships, even as they
apparently enrich our vocabularies for thinking about social construction” (106).
21 Rainwater’s analysis points to the class-specificity of the concept
of the house as an expression of the self. Lower classes, he explains, may
exist in tension with their homes, and he argues that only after “the
battle to make the home a safe place has long been won” does the home
have “more central to its definition other functions which have to do
with self-expression and self-realization” (93).
22 On the importance of semi-public spaces to working- and lower-class families,
23 Because the primary aim of this essay is to develop the historical and theoretical
framework for counter-formulations of private dwelling, I have chosen to leave
out analyses of specific past and contemporary architectures that I believe
productively engage in counterprivate practices of the self and home. Such
work, of course, falls into the broader scope of this project. Here, I will
mention just two of several possible architects who may be preoccupied with
shaping private spheres of flexible use and creative inhabitation. First, Rudolph
M. Schindler conceived of his houses, especially his own 1921-1922 Kings Road
House, as profoundly permeable “frames for living.” The text accompanying
a recent major exhibition, The Architecture of R. M. Schindler, serves as an
excellent introduction to Schindler’s philosophy and work. Second and
more recently, Lebbeus Woods’s philosophies and materializations of “free-zones”—experimental
architectures of indeterminacy for “a type of free interaction—a
dialogue with oneself” (15)—strongly parallel my descriptions of
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Jessica Blaustein is a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in English at the
University of Pennsylvania, where she teaches and writes at the intersections
of American literature, architecture, urban studies, and critical theory.
Her current research focuses on anti-sedentarist theories of subject
and community formation, and she is preparing a book manuscript about
alternative practices of privacy in the early twentieth century United
Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies 3 (Fall 2003)
Copyright © 2003 by the University of Iowa