Sex, God, and Rocking Chairs

When is an armchair something more? When it becomes a mode of imaginary locomotion. Elbowed seats date back millennia, but the expression “armchair traveler” did not appear until the early 1800s. These bookish men and women (in their proto La-Z-Boys) followed Emerson’s advice: the wise stay at home. With enough literacy and time, you could walk the world from an easy chair or roam Constantinople on an ottoman. Discussions of armchair travel tend to focus on the travelogue. But what about the chair itself in the nineteenth century? Its changing styles and technologies — the advent of rockers, say, or upholstery springs? And how do techniques of the reading body, the physical regimens of leisure and reverie, feed what we might call the sedentary imagination?

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