I moved recently to Saint John, New Brunswick to take up a position as an assistant professor of social theory in the department of social sciences. Consequently, I had to go shopping for a new mattress. I turned around the corner of my neighbourhood to discover an old family owned furniture store. The owner of the store discussed the ideology of mattresses with me for about two hours. I was delighted by the conversation. Although the owner did not demonstrate an academic understanding of ideology, he did demonstrate that he had a practical understanding of the ideology of mattresses (which came from selling them for most of his life).
I learned the following:
- During the menopausal moment of a relationship (roughly 50+ years old) couples shift into a wider mattress.
- Younger couples tend to purchase narrower mattresses.
- The elderly, as they increase in age, move toward narrower mattresses (much like the youngest demographic, children).
This seemed to me counterintuitive. I would have believed that moments of sexual excitement in a relationship produced the necessity of a ‘gap’ between bodies. By this logic, the ‘gap’ would have introduced a barrier to the ‘too much’ of the sexual relationship. This would thereby facilitate a desire for wider mattresses.
However, the store owner informed me that it is often during moments of greater sexual abstinence (originating from the woman’s decreased sexual appetite) that a desire for wider mattresses heightens. This explains circumstance number 1. Circumstance number 3 is explained by practicalities: elderly women or men are now sleeping alone, and, as such, they require no gap, and wish to roll off of the mattress more easily. Circumstance number 2 is explained by way of increased sexual appetite in both younger men and women who wish to decrease the gap so that the sexual relationship may be more easily established.
What the store owner outlined, then, was that the mattress operates as a material embodiment of sexual desire itself. To put it in Slavoj Zizek’s language: ‘it is ideology at its purest!’ For example, in all cases the mattress provides us with an indication of the sexual desire of the individual: in case number 1 the individual does not wish to overcome the gap of a sexual relationship and so leaves it in place, (number 2:) the individual wishes to overcome the gap of a sexual relationship and so removes it, and (number 3:) the individual rolls off directly into an acceptance of the gap of the sexual relationship.
Here, my conclusion regarding number 3 may seem a bit complicated. We must presume that the gap of a sexual relationship is already always present. This is what Lacanian theory teaches us: the neurotic’s question is to avoid rather than come to terms with the gap of the sexual relationship, so, as Lacan put it, ‘there is no such thing as a sexual relationship.’
Thus, the mattress sets the scene for neurotic desire. The elderly, who have experienced a life-time of sexuality, have, one would think, come to terms with the lack of a sexual relationship. The mattress is not designed to overcome it but neither is it designed to produce it: it is rather designed to facilitate a ‘rolling back over into reality as such.’ This is why the elderly have, in one way or another, ‘matured’ sexually. They have pushed through the neurosis to arrive at the passage of accepting lack. They have come to terms with the lack of a sexual relationship.
More generally, and, more likely in the cities, larger mattresses have become more popular, and are continuing to become more popular, as individuals desire more personal space. Thus, we can see the discourse shifting to facilitate the need for a ‘gap.’ This, I think, demonstrates a desire to overcome the ‘too much’ of the sexual relationship. Lacan once said that ‘love is what makes up for the lack of a sexual relationship,’ but, as we can see here, cuddling or other forms of ‘love’ are not making up for the lack of a sexual relationship. The gap is being introduced precisely to stabilize the relationship. This is the direct opposite of the expectation that a sexual gap must be overcome.
Times are changing.