Gimme shelter

I’ve been reading Terry Castle’s new book The Professor: And Other Writing, (from the dust jacket) a “collection of penetrating autobiographical essays” (and more: wit and humor, observations on literature, art, culture, and sexuality). There are any number of short quotable bits in the book; here I want to pick out just one, from the essay “Home Alone”, about magazines devoted to interior decoration, domestic architecture, home furnishings, landscape design, etc. — what she calls “shelter mags” and “shelter lit”, using both the clippings mag for magazine and lit for literature and also the coyly pretentious term shelter that many of these magazines themselves use. (She also calls this material “house porn”, using the snowclonelet X porn discussed, with others, here.)

“Home Alone” has come up in Language Log (I read it when it came out in the Atlantic a while back), since in it Terry notes the occurrence of the revolt-against-mother formula “not your mother’s X” all over these magazines. This is a special case of the larger snowclone “not your R’s X”, where R is a kin term (discussion here, including the perhaps most famous instance of the snowclone, “not your uncle’s Oldsmobile”).

[Terry is a distinguished colleague of mine at Stanford, in the English department. We became acquainted through the Stanford Humanities Center.

The NYT Magazine of January 17 has an entertaining interview with Terry by Deborah Solomon, which ends with this wonderful exchange:

[Castle] The smartest literary scholars right now are interested in evolutionary psychology and brain science — how we may be hard-wired for fiction-making, aesthetic appreciation and the like.

[Solomon] Is that a good development? How do you feel about seeing the adventure of life reduced to a function of DNA?
[Castle] I guess I’m down with it because I’ve always felt, for instance, that my own lesbianism was genetic. My cousin, whom I was just visiting in London, we have the same DNA, and we’re both big, old dykes.

[Solomon] Surely you can find a more graceful way to describe yourself.
[Castle] Svelte, coltish and effortlessly alluring? Cate Blanchett, please call me.]

Finally, the quote. This comes in a discussion of the now-defunct shelter mag nest, which was “louche, sly, sexy, so dark and downtown in sensibility it was funny — an interiors rag for John Waters.” She summarizes:

The magazine was quite stupendously mannered — redolent of Ronald Firbank trawling for hunky handymen at Home Depot.

I wish I’d written that.

2 Responses to “Gimme shelter”

  1. Scent and masculinity « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    [...] a life the reader might attain some part of, while focusing on the surfaces of living. (See my posting on shelter magazines, with the wonderful term house porn (from Terry Castle), referring to magazines [...]

  2. X porn « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    [...] 2010 I posted about house porn (from Terry Castle), referring to magazines with sumptuous depictions of interiors. I [...]

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