It is a super question. Marjorie Garber never explicitly asks it, but in her Sex and Real Estate she supplies a possible answer. It is a book that captures a particular moment in American history and culture. Read today it can inspire nostalgia for real estate lust. Remember the days of ever-rising property values and easy mortgages? It colored our thinking and defined much of what was considered essential to a good life. Disingenuously subtitled “Why We Love Houses,” Garber’s book is less about why and more about about the ways that we love houses. Organized around a series of metaphors “House as Beloved, House as Mother, House as Body, Dream House, Trophy House, House as History and Summer House,” she writes about the many ways in which house and home dominate language and thinking. A house may not necessarily be a home, but a house clearly is so much more than a building in which people live, sleep and eat.
Garber published the book in 2000. She anticipated many of the key trends of the coming decade, especially with regard to how American consumers “invest” in their homes. She understands the power of Renovators Supply to provide a consumer with a taste of the “authentic,” even though it may have been mass-produced in China. Garber placed the desire of Americans to flip public and private within a broader context. Erudite, witty and an ever so gently tongue in cheek, Gerber was and remains a welcome guide. What is most fascinating about Garber’s book now, in a post-boom economy, is the power of the underlying assumption that single family home ownership defines a home. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are somehow tied up in it – but not necessarily a community in which to give that home a proper context.
Academic disciplines are very good at asking and answering certain kinds of questions. Profoundly simple questions, however, are often beyond their reach. Strong interdisciplinary scholars, such as Folgelson and Garber, understand the power and limitations of disciplines.