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bathroom design. The earliest known toilet paper holders are thought to be those found in the tomb of Tutankhamun, while recently unearthed records of toilet paper holder practices in ancient Greece are now bringing us fresh insight into the contrasting cultures of Sparta and Athens. In ancient Rome, toilet paper holders designed by Vitruvius were prized as status symbols, whereas in the later Byzantine Empire, the aesthetic qualities of the toilet paper itself, rather than of the holder, come to the fore for the first time, as evidenced by the lovely icon paper shown right, with its obvious religious significance. The toilet paper holder, previously an essentially secular item except for its little-understood function in Egyptian burial customs, also emerges as religiously central in early Christianity, with an important role to play in the myth of the Holy Grail itself. Some recently discovered British Bronze age cave paintings have provided detailed evidence for the previously disputed nature of the use of toilet paper holders by sun worshippers at Stonehenge.
From European toilet paper holder, Wikipedia featured article of 1 April 2005. GFDL.
The artistic glory days of the European toilet paper holder were however the 16th to early 20th centuries, with their splendour of bathroom fittings stretching unbroken from Palladio to Fabergé. Individual toilet paper holders of spectacular opulence have again and again played key roles at crisis points in European history: a uniquely alarming Palladian polar bear holder dissuaded England's Virgin Queen Elizabeth I from marriage with the King of Sweden, one jewelled Fabergé holder precipitated the Russian Revolution, and another exacerbated the course of World War I. In spite of the historical importance of these cultural artefacts, their own history is surprisingly under-researched. Some feminist scholars ascribe this disproportion to the masculine domination technique of "toilet humor", meaning to belittle and ridicule toilet paper holders and other door furniture in the essentially feminine space of the bathroom.
- 1 Ancient toilet paper holders: Stonehenge to Caligula
- 2 Early Christian era: Holy Grail
- 3 Non-Celtic Europe in the Middle Ages
- 4 Medieval Europe
- 5 Renaissance: first political use and da Vinci invention
- 6 Lutheran Northern Europe: morality meets mortality
- 7 18th century: ancient astronaut theory refuted
- 8 Napoleon
- 9 Victorian era: neo-Gothic extravaganza
- 10 Imperial Russian toilet tissue dispenser
- 11 21st century: digital bathroom fitments
- 12 The Camilla
- 13 Marxist perspective: class in the bathroom
- 14 Gender perspective: "invisible" toilet paper holders
- 15 Trivia
- 16 Notes
- 17 References
- 18 See also
- 19 External links
Ancient toilet paper holders: Stonehenge to Caligula
The ancient history of toilet paper holders confounds those who assume that bathroom fittings and sanitary arrangements were primitive before our own day. Recent research by Professor David Summers and his team from the University of Oxford, has shown that the Mesolithic postholes, thought to date to 800 BC, discovered surrounding Stonehenge, were not in fact postholes but a series of public conveniences erected for the use of the Sun worshippers at Stonehenge.Template:Fn This theory is based on the discovery, during construction work at the new visitors' centre in 2004, of bronze artefacts at one time thought to be funerary ornaments dedicated to a phallic god. However, recently discovered cave paintings at Cheddar Gorge, showing these artefacts in use, clearly suggest a woven cloth wrapped around them, which was used in ablutions of a personal nature. These astoundingly graphic cave paintings, which have yet to be opened to public viewing, record accurately the use of the bronze holders with a view of Stonehenge behind. The paintings were probably made by pilgrims returning from their once in a lifetime visit to Stonehenge, and similar paintings have been found in the Ardeche. Typically, pilgrims would paint objects which had impressed them; the fact they painted the toilet paper holders indicates that these were not in common use at this time. There is an apparent allusion to this practice in Canto XCI of Ezra Pound's long modernist poem The Cantos. Pound was drawing on the 12th century Brut of Layamon and it is speculated that, through the monastic inter-library loan system that existed at the time, Layamon may have been familiar with some now-lost early personal hygiene manuals.
In Greece, the Spartans, who favoured the manly virtues of toughness and disregard for bodily comfort, preferred bowls of freshly-harvested thistles and stinging nettles, a habit that led to frequent, heartfelt cries of Oi moi! Aoi Lacedaemonai (Greek: Οι μοι ! Αοι Λακεδαιμωναι!). The use of ornate pottery holders in Athens and the likely survival of remnants of this hidden tradition in the Grail stories has led the critic Harold Bloom to reassess John Keats' Ode on a Grecian Urn. Bloom argues that the lines Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard/Are sweeter point to a growing requirement for privacy in the convenience. This, in turn, fed demand for greater numbers of toilet paper holders to service individual cubicles. Close reading of the extant manuscript sources for Plato's Republic has lead to a re-evaluation of one of the best-known passages in that work. It seems that Plato did not wish to bar poets; his censure was rather aimed at the new Athenian softness in the personal hygiene department. Later, in Roman times, toilet parchment holders, similar in style to the Egyptian, were designed by Vitruvius, and much prized by the Romans as a symbol of status. The Emperor Caligula had many of these objets d'art made for his new palace, some of which have been uncovered on the Palatine hill.
Early Christian era: Holy Grail
With the decline of the Western Empire, the sophisticated objects valued by the Romans were replaced by cruder wooden holders used by the Germanic tribes. These have, up to recently, been wrongly categorised by archeologists as votive deposits, but are now recognised for what they were (Gibbon passim). In the Byzantine Empire, patterned toilet paper emerged as a side product of icon production. The highly ornate holders required to do justice to these art papers were of such value that they were frequently carried from bog to bog by their owners. (See image top right.)
Research currently being carried out at the National Museum of Ireland indicates that the Bronze-age ornate gold torcs found all over the island are not, as was believed, necklaces but are, in fact, toilet paper holders of a pendant type. The fact that many of these were discovered buried in bogs in a manner that indicates that they may have been votive offerings is highly suggestive. With the advent of Christianity in the Celtic area, matters of personal hygiene took a distinctly Spartan turn. For example, in the absence of any suitable vegetation, the monks of Skellig Michael took to using rough earthenware containers filled with pieces of broken shell gathered on the seashore. Winter weather conditions frequently meant that even this rudimentary form of filling for their holders was in scarce supply.
Recently the daring suggestion has been made that the Old French San Greal is a misreading of an Aramaic word deriving from the root sgr, meaning to close, with close associations with personal hygiene. The theory, as formulated by Dan Brown in his important historical monograph The Da Vinci Code, is that the Holy Grail was, in fact, a particularly fine Middle-Eastern toilet paper holder that was brought to Europe by Mary Magdalen as she was fleeing persecution. Close reading of the Gnostic gospels has led Brown to conclude that Magdalen suffered from chronic constipation from an early age. He goes on to claim that the 'Grail' came into the hands of Charles the Bald and later formed a key element in the French elaboration of the theory of the divine right of kings.
The fact that the Holy Grail may well have been a toilet paper holder, requires a thorough review and reinterpretation of the stories surrounding the shadowy, mystical figure of King Arthur. Given the frequency with which holders are found in religious contexts, if, indeed, the Grail was closely associated with defecation, it must be linked, via the use of human excrement in early medieval farming, with Celtic vegetation cults. This link is underscored by the emphasis placed on the role of the Grail in the fertility of the land. For example, in the version of the myth found in the Mabinogion, the failure of the questor Peredur to ask the (somewhat loaded) question Who does the Grail serve, results in the desolation of the land, the infertility of maidens and the confinement of the Fisher King.
It should also be remembered that this practice of soil enrichment and fertilisation resulted in an increase in agricultural output, which in turn hastened the abandonment of that hunter gatherer culture of which the Knights of the Table Round were the nec plus ultra.
Non-Celtic Europe in the Middle Ages
As in so many other areas, Islam led the way when it came to introducing personal hygiene into the Europe of the Dark Ages. Inevitably, many of the finest examples of Hispano-Islamic toilet paper holders and other bathroom fittings are to be found in Spain. The example illustrated here is not untypical in its fusion of Classical, Gothic, Romanesque and Islamic forms and motifs into a whole that is almost organic in its inevitability.
The Dark Ages of Early Medieval Europe are subject to great speculation that is unsuited to a scholarly account of this nature. The first reliable information about specialised bathroom facilities in post-Conquest England comes from contemporary accounts of the Peasants' Revolt. Believing that John of Gaunt was responsible for the shortage of hemp and linen essential to the manufacture of comfortable toilet paper, the rioters abandoned their leader Wat Tyler in 1381 and demolished London's Savoy Palace. This sumptuous dwelling was famous for John of Gaunt's collection of paper goods and ornamental bathroom fittings. Torn to its very foundations, even the contents of the house were destroyed and John Gower reported that at least one rioter was killed by his fellows for attempting to rescue a "particularly fine repository for matters fundamental". This item may have been one of the thirteenth century installations by the Count of Savoy, whose descendants would attempt to influence the shape of English toilet holders again in the twenty-first century.
Renaissance: first political use and da Vinci invention
It is often thought that baroque toilet paper holders were an innovation of the 18th century, but this is false, as Palladio, doubtless inspired by Vitruvius, designed them at Villa Capra in the 16th century. These were of course Palladian toilet paper holders, magnificent objects adorned with fluted doric columns, supporting a ring from a lion's mouth, on which were hung sheets of decorated parchment.
Inaugurating a tradition among the crowned heads of Europe of using luxurious and unique toilet paper holders as politically significant gifts, King Eric XIV of Sweden commissioned a once-off, fearsome toilet paper holder from Palladio, featuring a polar bear's head in place of the usual Palladian lion, as a gift for Queen Elizabeth I of England. By sending this remarkable gift, which has unfortunately been lost to posterity, to the 28-year-old Virgin Queen in 1561, together with a full-length portrait of himself, Eric hoped to persuade her into a dynastically important marriage. Elizabeth, infatuated with her Master of Horse Lord Robert Dudley, had dithered before receiving the gifts, or as Clare Rider writes, "in characteristic manner, the Queen kept everyone guessing, refusing to commit herself on the subject of the royal marriage or the succession issue or to discuss such matters before Parliament". Her exact coeval Eric was a handsome, well-educated and talented Renaissance prince who had not yet begun to show signs of the insanity which was to blight the later part of his reign (see Lavery), unless indeed his lapse of judgement in sending such an alarming object as a betrothal present be accounted an early symptom of madness. At any rate Elizabeth, though pleased with the portrait (shown left), declared upon sight of the sculpted polar bear's head with unusual decisiveness that she would never set foot in a nation that was home to such dreadful beasts. Thus ended a marriage project that would have changed the course of European history.
Toilet paper holders in late medieval and later Tudor England do not seem to be documented at all. Whether this is due to the delicacy of the subject or to their not being used is little known. The most widely accepted theory (see Neville Williams p. 176) is that unlike in Spain, Italy, France and Sweden, where culture was of a greater refinement than in England, the English had no reservations about defecating in front of their servants, who probably then handed them the necessary paper or hemp.Leonardo da Vinci found in Madrid's National Library in the 1960s. Ramon Paz y Bicuspid found the missing page, which verified a long-held belief that Leonardo had invented the first valve flush toilet. As you can see from the sketch (at right), the valves involved clearly double as toilet paper holders, and one of them is conveniently within an arm's-length of the seat.
The dual-purpose paper holders in this sketch form a definite cultural and architectural bridge between the vertical and functional paper holders of the preceding centuries and the increasingly horizontal and poetic paper holders of the Romantic and Baroque periods.
Lutheran Northern Europe: morality meets mortalityWhereas trends in toilet paper holder design in the Mediterranean and Central European lands dominated by the Habsburgs tended towards the robustly exuberant rococo style epitomized in the late designs of Bernini, the more temperate climes of Northern Europe induced a more sober outlook towards the intimate accouterments of daily life. Byzantine revelries of the late Venetian designs so widely imitated in the South that intimated a celebration of earthly munificence and material prosperity in those brief private moments their owners shared with them in daily reflection was supplanted in the North by a quiet pessimism and resignation; De Rerum Natura, "the call of nature", became the philosophical underpinning that guided aesthetic developments. In the loos of Saxony and Prussia, the toilet paper holder had become a potent symbol of human mortality, embodying the sacred trinity of "ashes to ashes, dust to dust, fertilizer to fertilizer", and this sobriety extended to toilet paper itself. Martin Luther's 95 Theses nailed to the door of the door of the privy of the Wittenberg Church of All Saints was explicit condemnation of the decadence of the soft, perfumed paper so favored by the Romans, who Luther derided as papelists. Luther argued that such indulgences fatally undermined the constitution and moral fiber of the Germanic Urmensch, whose posteriors, he challenged, were more accustomed to the coarse, unbleached flax prevalent since late Roman times.
Many of Luther's followers, embracing a perhaps too literal reading of the doctrine of sola fides, abandoned the use of toilet paper completely. Others, in a more iconoclastic spirit, took to nailing looted indulgences to their outhouse walls. In Tudor England, where Lutheran rigour encountered an existing hygiene deficit, the new austerity was enthusiastically received. In fact, recent excavations in Windsor Castle have led some historians to wonder if a related olfactory complaint contributed to Henry VIII's difficulty in sustaining long-term relationships.
In the face of this mass movement, the Northern European wing of the Counter Reformation inclined towards greater austerity in the area of personal hygiene, even, at times, pursuing a policy of return to the privations of the early monastic church. It would take the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) to restore a sense of proportion and balance and to create the conditions under which the emergence of the modern bathroom and its furniture and fittings became possible.
18th century: ancient astronaut theory refuted
The holder pictured right is a modern copy of a landmark baroque toilet paper holder known as the "Blenheim holder", an understated version of Palladio's opulent design which was developed for Blenheim Palace by the architect Sir John Vanbrugh in the 1720s. (We will be mercifully silent on the holder for some reason pictured left.) The Blenheim holder is today perhaps best known for its anomalous resemblance to a modern roll holder. Vanbrugh's model predates the invention of the toilet roll itself by several centuries, and various non-mainstream conjectures including variants of the ancient astronaut theory have been offered in explanation of this seemingly prophetic early design (see Däniken pp. 70—73). However, Vanbrugh's austere black marble cylinder cannot in fact be loosened as in a modern roll holder, and most scholars assume that the sheets of newspaper or of obsolete plays which were commonly used for hygienic purposes in the 18th century were kept in place simply by being tucked behind the cylinder (Blunt p. 191).
Several of these valuable antiques are still in use on the piano nobile at Blenheim Palace, although in the parts of the palace accessible to the public, modern copies have replaced the original fittings. The stylized seashell backing and subtly restrained flutings of Vanbrugh's design made it one of the most noted and appreciated features of the sumptuous Blenheim bathrooms, and effected something of a revolution in paper holder taste among the aristocracy and landed gentry. The English baroque toilet paper holder had arrived.
NapoleonFrench Revolution and subsequent incessant conflict between incipient nation states left the European toilet paper holder, and the French toilet paper holder in particular, in a precarious situation.
Louis XVI was recaptured in 1791 near Varennes, while trying to flee by coach to Belgium. Historical documents show that he was captured soon after resuming his coach journey, having stopped to admire (and make use of) the bathroom furniture at a favourite's nearby chateau. The sans-culottes (French for "without paper (holder)") celebrated, as aristocratic bathroom fitments were cast into the River Seine while their erstwhile owners faced their fate with Madame la Guillotine, and the pissoires of Paris ran red with blood during Robespierre's Reign of Terror with no paper to soak it up.
Despite the dire situation, the toilet paper holder survived, kept safe from the mob in secret hiding places, and soon bounced back to its eminent position in the reign of Napoleon.
As a professional soldier, Napoleon recognised the importance of soft, dry paper, and the equipment to keep it in that state. Toilet paper holders in the Empire style, harking back to a classical paradigm, appeared in the smartest French boudoires, although facilities were much more limited on Elba and St Helena.
Victorian era: neo-Gothic extravaganza
Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria, took a special interest in the design of toilet paper holders. He personally designed for the queen both Balmoral Castle and Osborne House, and in each of these sumptuous holiday residences he designed the toilet paper holders to blend with the surroundings.
For instance, in the private apartments at Balmoral, the holders have been designed as stag's heads, and the individual sheets of paper were hung daily by the queen's personal servant on the tips of the horns. In this way Prince Albert was emulating the Gothic Germanic design of paper holders in his homeland.
It was at Osborne, however, that delight of architecture, overlooking the Solent, that he gave full rein to his architectural freedom. Here the toilet paper holders were of an oceanic nature, carved from Isterian limestone and embellished with onyx. They depicted scenes of Neptune and the water gods performing their toilet in bass relief. Gladstone, visiting Osborne in 1889, noted in his journal the eccentricities of the bathroom fittings, while a decade earlier Disraeli, writing from Osborne, in a letter to his wife expressed the sentiment that "My Dear, until one has seen the luxuriant fitments of the bathrooms here, one has not lived". As Psyche Hornblad has shown in a ground-breaking short study, "Benjamin Disraeli and the afterlife of a penny magazine" (1997), he was undoubtedly referring to the toilet paper holders.
During this period, toilet paper holders became for the first time relevant to the non-elite, as it was inevitable that so useful an item would draw the attention of British industrialists of this great age of mass production.
One of the less-noted exhibits at the Great Exhibition of 1851 was Doulton's Patent Water Closet Fitting for the Relief of Gentlemen and the Delight of Ladies. After an inauspicious start, Doulton's ceramic and steel holder became a byword for middle-class style and hardly a respectable household was without one by the end of the century. Indeed, one of Doulton's creations features in the toilet scene near the beginning of James Joyce's novel Ulysses.
The working classes, however, persisted in their preference for an arrangement of galvanised nails and woven hemp fibers. While the work of the great sanitary pioneer Thomas Crapper (1836-1910) impinged considerably on lower class plumbing, it effected only marginal improvements in their bathroom fitments (see Reyburn).
Imperial Russian toilet tissue dispenser
Fabergé, court jeweller to the Tsar of Russia, and purveyor of jewel-encrusted objets d'art to the elite of the world, entranced the Romanov family with his cuff-links, cigarette cases, parasol handles, toilet paper holders, and Easter eggs. Many of the Romanov family's palaces contained small rooms with jewelled toilet paper holders designed by the great master jeweller. Sadly, not one example is known to remain. The speculation that Fabergé's famous music-box Easter eggs may have originally been portable musical toilet paper holders is seen by modern scholars as wishful thinking: the world of bathroom art would be the richer if it were the case, indeed, but x-ray examination of music-box eggs such as the one pictured right have revealed no traces of radical alterations, and all contemporary references suggest that the Fabergé toilet paper holders were of the wall holder type.
Unfortunately so, because, fixed to the walls of the gilded bathrooms, they were left behind by the fleeing aristocrats, and then looted by revolutionaries for their stones, their historic importance dismissed. One sole example remained intact at Tsarskoe Selo and this was looted along with the famed amber room by the Nazis in 1945. Anna Vyrubova in her Memories of the Russian Court, describing a stomach complaint, makes veiled reference to the opulence of the dowager Empress's bathroom fittings. Empress Marie was known for her love of jewels and bathroom fittings. Robert K. Massie in Nicholas and Alexandra describes the Empress Alexandra's own bathroom as being very simple and modest, yet a newspaper feature as early as 1913 reports Alexandra as having given Rasputin a Fabergé toilet paper holder. At a time when many peasants could not afford soft toilet tissue this was certainly a provocative act, and was undoubtedly one cause of the revolution.
Empress Marie writing to her daughter Xenia in 1926 wrote: "I often feel the revolution began with that Fabergé toilet paper holder". However, she was more likely referring to a little known incident at Christmas 1913, when the Kaiser discovered he had only received a jar of caviar for Christmas from the Tsar, while his cousin George V had received a Fabergé toilet paper holder. The resultant diplomatic incident caused a permanent rift between the Royal houses of Europe, and one can only speculate as to whether this was part of the Kaiser's underlying hostility to Russia and Britain in 1914.
Felix Yusupov, the transvestite murderer of Rasputin, almost certainly owned several Fabergé toilet paper holders. In his book Lost Splendour he gives us one of the few detailed descriptions of a Fabergé original: "My favourite was a gift from Princess Olga Marizinski, fashioned from malachite, edged with rose cut diamonds, and with the Marizinski crest (a treble headed ostrich erect) depicted in Burmese rubies. When the paper was pulled, a spring caused a hidden musical movement to play the 'Star Spangled Banner', hence one knew when to stand up. This toilet paper holder had been a special commission from Fabergé, and was a killing example of the Princess's renowned wit and sense of humour." While better known to posterity for her unconventional sex life, Princess Marizinski was said to own one of the largest collections of Fabergé's art in Russia.
So, what of the legacy of the rarest and most prized toilet paper holders of all? Interestingly in 1973, when a new book of Queen Elizabeth II's jewels was published, Buckingham Palace refused to comment when questioned about the whereabouts of the 1913 Fabergé toilet paper holder, causing speculation that it is today still in regular but very private use.
21st century: digital bathroom fitments
While the toilet paper holder has been an object of status and desire for many millennia, it has not been immune to technological advances.
At the beginning of the 21st century, it seems that in parts of Europe the utility and prized place of the toilet paper holder in the domestic pantheon is fading. The toilet paper holder has been reduced in size, becoming an almost vestigial appendage to the bathroom suite; indeed, the digital (paperless) toilet has emerged, with the toilet paper holder replaced by an integrated bidet. In contemporary Japanese toilets, toilet paper is a rare sight.
Although German fashion has followed this reductionist approach, Scandinavians have favoured an increase in opulence, with striking ornamentation gaining popularity as a contrast to the sleek modernism prevalent in domestic decor outside the lavatory.
The United Kingdom and Benelux have shown a third way, however, with the adoption of apparently primitive unarticulated forms such as the vertical rod [see illustration, left]. Some style analysts suggest that this may be a conscious echo of Native American forms. Another catalyst for the adoption of such designs is the growing cult of individualism in the UK—this form allows the individual user to place the holder to the left or right hand ad hoc.
The CamillaIn April 2005, a well known American company launched one of its most successful and beautiful collectables: "The Royal Wedding Souvenir Commemorative Toilet Paper Holder (Mark 2)". The holder features two linked statuettes of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles, each lovingly crafted figure acting as a caryatid to the toilet tissue cylinder. Camilla and Charles are cast in gently sunkissed and finely burnished bronzique alloy metal, overlaid by craftsmen from Taiwan with a layer of gold plate effect lacquer. The couple's eyes are of genuine simulated quartz which twinkle with light, stars and merriment as the couple gaze adoringly and romantically at the soft tissue supported between them. Camilla wears a pretty little tiara which sparkles in the soft sunlight with near perfect stones of synthetic cubic zirconia. U.S. President George W. Bush at the White House. In a speech of acceptance, the clearly overwhelmed Mr. Bush said he had never before seen anything like it. Other senior world figures are known to have placed an order for this limited edition item, including the happy couple themselves, who will no doubt treasure it for posterity; as will millions of their loyal, happy, flag waving subjects in the many far flung corners of the Commonwealth of Nations, from Dublin to Stockholm.
An interesting sequel to "The Camilla" occurred when an undercover agent from the finest secret service in the world (the Italian) placed an agent Giacomo Bondi in Balmoral Castle to investigate claims that the new Duchess of Cornwall was in fact a subversive member of the Italian Royal family, otherwise known as Chamomile Ciotole-Del-Parco, attempting to unite the failing house of Windsor with that of the noble and superior blood of Savoy and hence unite the two crowns and restore the Italian monarchy, while simultaneously electing Prince Charles to the papacy. Agent Bondi 003.5 with his phone camera was able to capture the secret and lavish wedding gift to Camilla from Charles. Spurning the Commemorative Camilla, he had in fact commissioned from Cartier a jewelled lavatory tissue dispenser, thought to be redolent of that by Faberge so zealously guarded and treasured, and some say indeed used, by his mother.
Marxist perspective: class in the bathroom
In Grundrisse, Karl Marx argues that art, to be art, must be ideologically active. That is, it must encode the stresses of an emergent class struggle against a persistent power structure. Marxist theorists and Marxist revolutionaries have often taken widely divergent positions as regards the toilet paper holder.
A revolutionary object
Most Marxist inspired revolutions have aimed to improve the general welfare and living standards of the people. In this context the toilet paper holder has been a celebrated emblem of modernity, comparable with the tractor cult or Sputnik as evidence of the superiority of actually existing socialism. In many revolutions the introduction of toilet paper, and the accompanying roll holder, to the masses was a massive step forward in hygiene above the hand-and-wash method. The continued need for revolutionary praxis was considered demonstrated by the Soviet bloc, in that many workers in advanced western countries died from rectal cancer, contributed to by wiping with carcinogenic inks present in newspapers, even into the 1970s.
Once an art form has become "official" or "state," it is no longer art, but rather ornament or emblem. "Ornament" functions as a re-encoding of class/ideology, while "emblem" is a branding of class or ideological position. Social critics like Raymond Williams have argued that the toilet paper holder is ornament and display: a voluntary signification of wealth and power. However, Michel Foucault and others have suggested that such ornament is not voluntary, that the progress of ornament through a house into even the "shameful" and "invisible" areas of bodily necessity is on the contrary a demonstration of the compulsion of emblem. In this schema, a richly decorated and impractical toilet paper holder is an emblem of wealth and a sign of a neurotic ideological position.
Gender perspective: "invisible" toilet paper holders
Bathroom fitments and particularly toilet paper holders are inscribed into Western culture as inherently debased, minor, or "funny", argues Marta Zajac, who has theorized the belittling and ridicule of toilet paper holders as being a masculine domination strategy. Zajac has used the masculinist "toilet humour" to show that toilet paper holders are gendered feminine in two different ways. Firstly, the domestic space defined by gender is epitomized in the toilet, the most feminine place in the house, where men often feel compelled to re-mark the territory as masculine and as "theirs" by urinating outside the bowl, in order to feel psychologically able to use the facilities at all. Secondly, the toilet paper holder, being "door furniture", is a thing that women view more often than men, a site where women can subvert the dominant paradigm by using their sexual difference, i.e. by sitting facing the door as opposed to standing facing the wall, thereby seeing the paper holder. To men, who see only the wall behind the pot, the paper holder is an "invisible" art object, a suggestion which could be taken to account for the ignorance and scepticism of the history of these artefacts which prevail in patriarchal societies.
These gender attitudes can be read behind the semiotics of the symbols ♀ and ♂, which, for Zajac, deconstruct the feminine and masculine spaces involved in this power-driven transaction. Or, put into layman's terms, if you squint a little, you can see the symbols as aerial views of a woman (represented by an o) facing a door, and a man (also represented by an o) sending a proud stream far afield in a random direction.
A version of the old joke caption to Rodin's Le Penseur/The Thinker, "Merde! J'ai oublié le papier", appears in Canto XXII of Pound's The Cantos: "Merde! J'ai oublié le distributeur de papier toilette". In a remarkably prescient comment made in 1920, T. S. Eliot described this phrase as "perhaps the most finely layered tissue of cultural allusion in the whole of the poem" (The Sacred Wood, p. 73). The phrase becomes further complicated when it reappears in several different languages, including Old Norse, in another Modernist classic, James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake (1939).
- monk squats at stool
- holder out of reach
Despite a common misconception, there are no known references to toilet paper holders in the extant works of William Shakespeare.
In the 1960s, the song Hold on (I'm coming) by the Southern soul duo Sam & Dave was released by Stax Records. It has been the subject of some conjecture that the iconic song has the motif of an empty toilet paper holder in a moment of need, although it is unclear whether it was Sam Moore or Dave Prater with the urgent requirement. However it is equally likely that the song refers to a famous European historical event, as the pair were well travelled.
Research by Oliver Stone and others into the true identity of John F. Kennedy's assassin has unearthed the suggestion that the Liberty Bell was cracked by an overly vigorous yank on the roll of paper it was holding at the time. This urban legend arises from confusion with the "broken taps" of bugler Keith Clark.
Template:FnbCoincidentally, it has been suggested that failure to publish the results of the Stonehenge excavations by Hawley, Atkinson and Piggott, respectively, may be because the original records were used as toilet paper.
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