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Who's Been Sitting in My Chair? Our Shadow Selves

Ian Sansom examines our complex physical, mental and emotional relationship with the chair, focusing on Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Van Gogh's painting and Thoreau's Walden.

Are you sitting comfortably? Despite his bad posture, novelist and academic Ian Sansom explores our complex physical, mental and emotional relationship with the chair. Chairs can symbolise who we are, like Ian's comfy old overstuffed armchair, and in 'Goldilocks and the Three Bears', the little bear asks 'Who's been sitting in my chair?' which Ian reads as "Who am I?" Van Gogh painted two empty chairs after his famous fall-out with Gauguin; Henry Thoreau, out in his cabin at Walden Pond, had just three chairs 'one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society'. Ian has 26 chairs in total, but not a 'named chair', which is the 'scholar's burnished throne'. Apart from beds, we share more intimacy with chairs than with any other piece of furniture, but often their symbolism is most powerful when empty, because Ian believes that empty chairs always imply people.

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15 minutes

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