“Neat” in the rooms in which I live, is a rare and fragile thing. There are mountains of mess at the margins of the tidy, just waiting to seep in.
You see here one corner of my work pod. Others may more accurately describe this space as a “cupboard”. Note the mess, above, steadily encroaching on the workspace, below. If you are short, like me, the mess is above eye-level and virtually invisible. And in any case, I am fond of the mess: it is a sort of sculptural testimony to space-saving. It is frankly amazing what you can fit in a space three feet by six feet by eight feet high: computer, printer and associated gadgets; three bookshelves filled with books; my entire stash of fabric and wool; half of my packed away wardrobe (I have to rotate clothes between winter and summer); numerous old handbags and pairs of worn out shoes; boxes of photographs; old letters and greetings cards; a frightening assortment of wooden animals; several eighteenth-century prints; a small rug; a clarinet; me sat at my desk, and a commemorative bottle from 1876 in the shape of George Washington.
I love mess. Mess is archeology.
Mess is pleasure, and the memory of pleasure:
(this mess may soon be made into something else).
Mess is good because it is stuff in the process of becoming. It might well become more mess, or it might turn into something else entirely. I am put in mind of Bill Brown’s account of Toy Story, in a great article he published ten years ago. Brown gives a superb reading of the mutant toys under Sid’s bed –“a one-eyed baby’s head on an erector-set spider, a pair of Barbie legs attached to a miniature fishing pole” — as things of tremendous transformative power. For him, these essentially messy objects are suggestive of a “wish to transfigure things-as-they-are.” To me, tidyness is an acceptance of things as they are. Mess, on the other hand, is the wish for transformation.