Becoming Gone At Home
Today I read Reed McConnell on white walls for The Baffler not because I have a thing for white walls, or even have white walls, technically, but because last year I got the chance to reboot my living space, jettisoning a motley collection of heavy-looking and actually-heavy furniture which I’d felt had become something of a weight upon my autistic sensory sensitivities.
(McConnell’s piece substantially is about the idea of “whiteness” as normative and pure default, whether in interior design or, you know, in our racialized culture writ large.)
It’s true I don’t have white walls; these are more of a light cream color. If I’d the permission and, most importantly, the personal wherewithal and capacity to do so, I’d paint them something like a mid-tone gray or darker, with an accent wall in what I call “TriMet blue”—although the current iteration actually used by the transit agency seems a darker hue than the one I think of when I say the words, “TriMet blue”.
(If I were to use the Open Color system I’ve lately been using on my websites, something like Gray 5 and Indigo 5 nicely would do the trick.)
That seems counterintuitive since the furniture reboot was about sensory weight, but for whatever reason I’ve realized that I prefer dark walls and light furniture.
One general mostly-truism about autistics is that defining our own living spaces is part of what makes at all possible dealing with the unpredictable world outside of them on anything even close to a regular basis, as our homes become our only real place for recovering and conserving our physical and psychological resources.
Weirdly, given the overall thrust of McConnell’s piece, he sort of gets at what interior design means to an autistic person.
Becoming gone, disappearing, is perhaps the only possible response to the phantasmagoric, engulfing sweep of the media, architecture, and machines that characterize everyday life under late capitalism. Walter Benjamin was already making this argument a century ago, in writings throughout the interwar period: that the modern individual is forced, in anthropologist Joseph Masco’s formulation, “to take psychological refuge from the new dangers of an increasingly industrialized world by cutting themselves off from sensory experience, by anesthetizing themselves in everyday life.” It is precisely the overwhelming sensory nature of the contemporary world that causes the body to shut down, that causes the modern subject to retreat; it is no small wonder that, thus numbed, a person would seek out an outer environment that matched their inner state, and that this might bring them a measure of peace.
Emphasis added, because: just so.