No Room of My Own
Just lately I’ve been reading Mel Gregg’s Cultural Studies’ Affective Voices. She recounts Richard Hoggart’s description of the working class living room and his points about the obstacles to academic activity faced by the working classes when they are unable even to find a private space to read quietly. Mel associates this with the transitional phase after the Second World War when scholarships and more universal education opened the universities to the working classes for the first time and many students were the first in their family to have the opportunity.
This part of the book came back to me as I was reading an article this evening in preparation for a tutorial tomorrow. I was at the dining room table, having nowhere else to go, the bedroom already taken over by my partner. It was almost impossible to concentrate over the blaring television one teenager was watching in the next room and the complaints of the other one whose headphones had stopped functioning while he was working on the computer (he also was trying to avoid the noise of the TV). Outside the window behind me the neighbour’s dogs were having a fight, which I will grant made a change from their usual whining. I had been trying to read in the gaps while the evening meal cooked but was ultimately defeated by a ten-minute phone call from a family member in the midst of all of this.
Sometimes I really relate to Hoggart’s description. Over tea John reminded me that years before Hoggart, Virginia Woolf had written about the need for a woman to have “a room of one’s own”. Over on Circulating Library, Catriona Mills celebrates having even half a room, with just a touch of desire for something really adequate. Wouldn’t it be lovely! Forget about ivory towers and the cosseted life of the academic. Much intellectual work still takes place amidst the noise and messiness and constant demands of family life and interactions with ‘ordinary’ people in all their spendid diversity. And really, as Cultural Studies scholars should we want it any other way? If we spend too much of our time tucked away with our own kind, our own thoughts and our own texts, don’t we run the risk of losing touch with the cultural life of ordinary people and betraying the origins of the discipline? Still, it would be nice to have somewhere quiet to study!