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Sex and Real Estate: Why We Love Houses





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About the book:

Were this book only about sex and real estate, it would quickly get dull. After all, the comparison between buying real estate and dating, while apt, doesn't merit more than the few pages devoted to it in the introduction. Fortunately, Marjorie Garber tackles much more than the title implies, delving into literature, history, cinema, and psychology in order to make sense of the fantasies and longings we project onto our homes. Chapters examine the cultural role of the house as lover, mother, body, dream, trophy, history, and escape, and range from Jane Austen to Steve Martin, the history of architecture to Puritan guilt. In her teasing and self-effacing way (Garber admits to her own house fetishes), the erudite professor gives us the history of the bathroom and analyzes the current trend of moving what was once the most hidden room of the house into the foreground (along with the kitchen, which wealthy families of the past would not have deigned to enter).

While contemplating the dream house, she looks at dreams themselves, in particular Carl Jung's famous dream of himself as a house and its image of the collective unconscious. In one of the best chapters, she explains how mother and home became conflated as part of the 19th-century idealization of domesticity. Ultimately, the idea of home as fantasy or desire is the foundation of Garber's thesis: "Home is more than a place ... it is the ground of possibility, a place of beginning and ending (or, as the poets have it, of womb and tomb). But more and more it is also a conscious fiction." As time becomes a longed-for commodity, home has become a substitute for the unlived life, the repository of our desires. Though these can never truly be satisfied, the attempt to bring our dreams to material life is a perennial one. --Lesley Reed

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