In the age of broadband and the cloud, will our walls be bare?by Will Self / May 22, 2014 / Leave a comment
Published in June 2014 issue of Prospect Magazine
Sources: Emarketer; BPI; IKEA; Nielsen Bookscan; Netflix
You might think that rumours of the death of the shelf are greatly exaggerated—at least if you visit my household, where shelves are a hot topic and a source of contention. I arrived home last week after a few days working on a book (one which will, I hope, eventually be printed, published, and require shelving), to discover that two new shelves had appeared in the kitchen. One of these was fairly utilitarian: a simple additional narrow shelf in the pantry to hold those troublesome pickle jars; but the other was positively baroque—a mosaic-encrusted ledge, high up above the work surface, supported by two ornate brackets, featuring dancing boys teased out of their wrought iron. I was informed that the brackets used to hold up a Victorian lavatory cistern, and I can assure you, had I expressed anything but wholehearted approval of the new shelf and its bog boys (as I immediately termed them), there would’ve been a domestic domestic.
My wife and I are of a generation—late baby-boomers, now in our early fifties—who revere the shelf. The shelf is, for us, the repository of culture-in-view. Ranged along our shelves are all the artefacts we possess that indicate to ourselves, and those we admit to the house, what we know, what we like, and what we consider to be of importance either for its use-value, or its aesthetics. The application of shelving to our rooms makes of them individual chambers within a memory palace to which we and our invitees have open and continuous access. If you like, the shelves are the joinery knitting together the past and the present, the public and the private, the practical and the decorative. Far more than paintings, or other furniture, the shelves—whose raison d’être is to both contain and display—are, I would argue, the very lynchpins of a form of bourgeois domesticity dating from at least the early modern period.