I sing the Sofa. I who lately sang
Truth, Hope, and Charity, and touched with awe
The solemn chords, and with a trembling hand,
Escaped with pain from that adventurous flight,
Now seek repose upon an humbler theme;
William Cowper The Task Bk. I
It’s all change in the student’s lounge. The sofas are gone and the chairs have taken over. I sing the sofa.
There’s a story about Steve Jobs and his obsessive perfectionism. At one point in the 1980s he and his family moved into a new house, and spent the next seven years (if memory serves) agonising over not only the choice but the root purpose of their furniture. His wife recalls that they would spend night after night at dinner worrying about, for example, just what a sofa is for.
Perhaps it’s not such a dumb question. I had an American friend in Rome who believed that his relationship with his girlfriend broke down because they did not have a means of transition between the dinner table and the bed. I suspect he was wrong (where there’s a will there’s a way) but his supposition points to the fact that what we take for granted as functional objects – sofas, chairs, desks, tables – are nothing but: they are loaded with symbolic associations and other semiotic baggage.
Hence the shock, yesterday morning, at the disappearance of the sofas. A sofa is at once a convivial object (as my American friend surmised) and a presidential object; chairs are more strictly businesslike, I suppose, but if you sit with the president of the country, or the corporation – not that I have much experience of either – you will probably sit on a sofa. And there will probably be biscuits. I did once teach the president of a large corporation in his office now that I think of it, and I remember biscuits, and coffee brought in on a little silver tray. And sofas.
We will adapt. Chairs are flexible little objects by comparison with a sofa (pretty immovable on the whole), they can move around, occupy odd corners. For now they are ranged as though for an AA meeting, but that will change. We may not grow to love them, but we will cease to notice them, we will start, merely, to use them. Furniture, in the end (and as Steve Jobs might usefully have reflected) is just furniture.
I wonder though how they are getting on at Regent, with their nice sofas and everything…