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Elephant in The Room: Narrating Unfamiliarity in the Domestic Interior
by Andrew David TEO
This dissertation examines how a foreign ornament placed within a domestic setting might recalibrate the occupant’s familiarity with his or her dwelling through its narrative potential. The elephant ornaments in the author’s home are engaged as objects of study. The dissertation seeks to find a correlation between such ornamental objects and the new spatial relationships formed through the presence of these objects in the domestic interior. Drawing on a compendium of narratives about the elephant-image in non-domestic spaces, I will argue that while these elephant ornaments are often found in the home, they in fact implicate domesticity as a convergence of the strange and the familiar. This is made possible by the narrative potential of the ornaments, acting as literary “bibelots”, or knickknacks in the house.
Following Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour’s studies on the iconography of buildings, the dissertation maps the day-to-day spatial narratives that operate in this house in order to examine how the elephant ornament reorders these narratives and subverts the banality of domestic space and its routines. By deliberately making space for these elephant ornaments in the flat, the house becomes one for the elephant. Indeed, an understanding and perception of this domestic architecture emerges through and is entangled with a genealogical narrative of the creature woven in myth, fiction, history and anecdote. In studying how the elephant ornament acts as a catalyst for reconfiguring the use and perception of this domestic space, the aim of the dissertation is to reposition the house as a Foucaultian space of difference, wherein members of the same household have different perceptions of the domestic space that they share. Such a space does not simply juxtapose disparate objects, but presents them in their difference, and in the difference that is inherent in interpretation. This then enables the house to perform Foucault’s genealogy on the elephant-image, which is explored to find out if there are coincidences between its association with these various narratives and myths, with its position in the house.
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