Friday, August 12, 2016

Home (2001)

Book Review from the January 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard

HOME - An anthology. Edited by Kathleen McPhilery with the Common Words Group. Katabasis, 2000.

At its title suggest, this is a compilation of writings on the theme of "home", following on from a similar anthology, "Work" (reviewed in the Socialist Standard, March 1999).

The entries are classed as poems, essays, accounts and reports—the collection relies too heavily on poetry for my personal taste, but otherwise there is plenty to interest the politically aware reader.

The collection opens with a fascinating essay by Dinah Livingstone, entitled "Home on Earth", which poses many question about the nature of "home", not just in the physical sense of four walls (if you're lucky), but also in the broader sense of cultural or national environments. She regularly refers to the Zapatista slogan, "For a world where there is room for many worlds", and also brings in the power of language—"as well as in a particular place, we are also at home in our mother tongue". This thoughtful essay poses more questions than it answers, but certainly set me thinking about my relationship with the world.

Colin Davies, in "The Architecture of the Home", contrasts "modern" vs. "traditional" styles of home building, with the "modernists" getting a clear thumbs-down: Frankfurt flats "spaced and oriented for optimum daylight and sunshine" made "no concessions to existing physical context or to any architectural tradition". "Being perfect, the city is unalterable . . . It is a city without memory and without hope". Davies goes on to reflect that, "Like every other material aspect of modern life, housing has become a commodity."

Later, Dilys Wood offers a feminist perspective with her essay "Woman and Home". I must confess to finding it slightly turgid, meandering along as it does to the conclusion that, "We have just reached the point at which the identification between woman and home has been broken and women can look forward to the same status as men in the world of paid employment."

More about such depressing reformism later. These and other theoretical essays are interspersed with poems and much more personal accounts of "home" life in a variety of settings. Such settings vary from life on the street, to squats, child-care institutions, boarding schools, sheltered housing, nursing homes, even a Hare Krishna temple. These often poignant vignettes offer perhaps more sense of real humanity than the more abstract essays. The accounts of live in a nursing home offers a welcome note of cynicism and defiance whilst a Yugoslav refugee remarks: "I don't think there is any justice left. I think that everything that is important in the world is money, money, money."

Comments like this are scattered throughout the book. Ultimately, though, it is a slightly depressing read for socialists because the only solutions offered seem to be from the usual reformist cul-de-sac. The book's fourth category, "reports", consists of reports from organisations such as Shelter, the Catholic Housing Aid Society, etc, with an under-riding feeling that these are the "experts" to whom we should look for solutions. Maybe that is unfair, but despite much criticism of aspects of capitalism, nowhere is there any suggestion that abolishing the wages system might get to the root causes of society's problems.

Despite its faults, however, Home is a well-researched and at times fascinating book.
Shane Roberts

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