Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Metaphysics of Cleaning

How's that for a catchy title ?? ;-)
I've just spent an hour or so washing my husband's office's windows downstairs.
Hard physical labor. Gets a sweat up. (By the way, Madame Clean says, crack out the white alcohol vinegar, and plain water, and use a little elbow grease, instead of all those... hydrocarbon derivatives that have mushroomed like little Hiroshima clouds since we got hooked on the hydrocarbon addiction. White vinegar (CHEAP, CHEAP !!!) does the job every bit as well ; I shall go into this maybe later in yet ANOTHER post on the metaphysics of cleaning, with a special mention for the politics of "the cleaning lady and money". It is one of my favorite subjects...)
While rubbing away (scientifically) methodically, I got to musing on one of Sigmund Freud's pronouncements, somewhere back there in his magnum opi (can't give you a quote... maybe it's in "Results, Ideas, Problems", HIS musings about anything and everything that came to HIS mind, and he was a very curious man, in every sense of the word.)
He speculated on a form of "psychosis" of the housewife, one whose primary symptom was monomanic devotion to housecleaning.
I love Sigmund. He is one of my favorite authors. He allows me to indulge the sin of incestual attitudes -- he can be in turn, lover, father, son, and with no guilt (on my part), because, of course... death (his..) has taken us out of the realm where we need to worry about any consequences of THIS KIND of incest... Tout bénéf, as we say in French...
As much as I enjoy being led down the primrose path by Sigmund, on occasion, THIS is ONE primrose path that I will not go down.
Cut back to window washing.
As I was washing, I NOTICED... all the areas of the room that I was NOT cleaning (and that were dirty, inevitably).
There is one thing about cleaning. If you really do it conscientiously, you can get depressed NOTICING ALL THOSE SURFACES that escape a cursory inspection. Those surfaces that you have to be down on your hands and your knees ALREADY CLEANING in order to see. There is nothing... ABSTRACT or THEORETICAL about those surfaces when you are cleaning them, I assure you.
One right after the other. The idea of infinity pops up and starts boggling your mind. When the sweat breaks, you realize just how REAL MATTER is, and HOW MUCH it is AGAINST your cleaning it. (Think carefully about the word "against". It is very interesting.)
Once you start noticing those surfaces, well, you come FACE TO FACE with that metaphysical question... JUST HOW FAR AM I GOING TO GO BEFORE I DECIDE THAT THE JOB IS DONE ??
What is... "clean" to you ?
....
This is a very... difficult question.
Because, in order for your place to be really clean, you would have to WORK FULL TIME AT IT (AND THIS, EVEN WITH THE MACHINES, MY FRIEND).
Obviously YOUR idea of what clean is, is probably NOT my idea.
And the dictionary will be of NO HELP deciding this question, will it ?
Back to Freud.
I suspect that Freud's diagnosis was motivated by 1) the fact that he never saw his mother, or the household help devote their full time attention to the cleaning problem. 2) the evolving position of women at the time had gone far to dissociate women from household work in the social body. 3) at ALL periods in time, household cleaning is a denigrated activity with negative connotations for everybody involved (almost...).
After musing on the question "how far will I go ?", you might consider the other questions :
WHO will clean what i don't ? (Ahem... THE CLEANING LADY WON'T, and you and I know it. She... isn't paid to clean what you WON'T or DON'T clean.)
And WHEN will it get done ?
The European Union has added an unexpected twist to this metaphysical problem.
In fussbudget, no risk fashion, it has decreed that cleaning ladies, for example ARE NOT ALLOWED TO climb onto footstools or whatever, to wash windows, or anything that might be a little difficult to access.
Too dangerous. In typical European Union fashion, it has laid REGULATORY legislation. (We say "pondre" ; it's not nice, but then the legislation is not particularly nice, and many people in European countries are getting fed up with the European Union's legalistic solutions to every problem that crops up in daily life, including cleaning...)
Kafka, anybody ?
This gives me a good belly laugh.
ANYBODY who could ever have thought that WE OR OUR SOCIAL BODY were rational, well...
Tintin, as we say in French.
Occasionally I talk to the people on my loony forum, and try to dispel their illusion that there is a... NORMAL attitude about the metaphysics of cleaning.
Like... they seem to think that normal people have clean houses..
What does THAT mean ??
i know that if I get down on my hands and knees, and start looking at those surfaces, well...
When is the job done for YOU, dear reader ?

10 comments:

Edwardo said...

We seem to be, in accord, in some strange way. I can't say I was cleaning yesterday, the people I hired to clean were cleaning the day before yesterday. The sub standard cleaning person I hired, who I will not hire again, convinced me to hire him instead of my usual window cleaners. That was my first mistake, or perhaps my second. I should have known that this pretender had no intention of cleaning the windows, but rather to windex the interior of said windows. When I came over during the cleaning process-during a heavy downpour- and asked if he/they would be able to clean the windows, he said, we've already cleaned the top two floors, as if there was no rain. Clearly there was a complete mis-communication between us, but I suspect this little bounder may have been willfully obtuse. Tough to say. If I can be unsubtle for a moment, in the service of being definitive, women are better at cleaning than men. Men are, for the most part, slobs, though I have met some female slobs in my day.

Freud came up with most of his ideas about the psyche via Viennese house wives, isn't that, more or less true. What an odd man he was, but very clever despite being very wrong about many things. I once read a good article by a Psychiatrist whose name I can't recall at the moment who made a good case that Freud had about two or three insights into human psychic functioning that have stood the test of time, reaction formation was one of them.

I am rambling in a way that I am not terribly fond of, and not focusing enough on the content of your piece which was thought provoking. However, I would like to see some of the strands more closely integrated. Don't ask me what strands.

Debra said...

Remember my credo, Edwardo... it all hangs together.
I told somebody today, and I have told Toby that our social structures, being based on language, are structured LIKE language, that means that if you stick ONE element under the microscope, you can spin it (by association..) in such a way that the ENTIRE social structure unfolds under your eyes.
I will get back to cleaning.
I HAVE THIS THEORY... that one of the reasons why some of the Scandinavian countries are holding up better than OUR countries is because their people CLEAN. They do their OWN housework, and don't hire other people to do it.
IF YOU NEVER DO HOUSEWORK, chances are that there is a lot of the world (those surfaces...) that you will just NOT SEE. Because there is NO REASON for you to see it.
We can debate about whether your LOSS is important or not, but I feel qualified to say that the LESS you see, the LESS you are able to see.
This ties into a post I did a while ago, where I said that one of the phenomenal advantages of our neotonic brain was the capacity to learn all the way through our existence. BUT THE DISADVANTAGE IS... that we can just as easily UNLEARN what we do not use. And we can unlearn just about EVERYTHING, I think.
THIS is what happens in those nasty experiments that the chiantifiques did sticking people into fishtanks and cutting them off from sensory stimulation (sensory deprivation).
UNLEARNING how to enter into a relation with other human beings.
It's pretty eery.
Freud spent a lot of time with the Viennese housewives. Thank God SOMEBODY was kind enough to listen to them during an age when they just barely qualified as having souls and intelligence...
I LOVE your rambling.
SEE.. it's contagious, huh ?
Admit that it's FUN.
Right, Toby ??

Edwardo said...

It all hangs together, eh? Well, pardon my contrariness when I offer, except when it doesn't. IF the Scandinavians are "doing better" than "OUR" countries", I think it may have more to do other factors than their proclivity-is it a proclivity or a necessity- to vacuum up their own derma, hairballs, and other detritus. BTW, Iceland is considered, at the very least, Nordic, if not strictly Scandinavian, and last I checked they weren't doing terribly well.

Advanced societies, in the main, are those with vast divisions of labor I have found, but I will grant you that, from time to time, there is value in doing certain basic tasks oneself. I am not apt, however, to fetishize cleaning.

Now, having said that, there are some tasks, like cleaning, and changing a diaper, that it is very hard to imagine forgetting how to do, but, once one passes a certain age, and that magic age varies somewhat from person to person, there is very little that one does better.

Debra said...

YOU may not forget how to change a diaper... but by the time you find yourself needing to change a diaper again, for example... THE DIAPER will not be the same thing as what you ONCE KNEW.
Heraclitus, remember.
Western European civilization (of which the U.S. is a part...) has colonized the planet.
Uniformization and homogeneization are picking up speed.
Personally, I HATE totalitarianism.
EVEN if it's... the totalitarianism of the market, OR "democracy" for that matter...
Salvation and the Kingdom of God on earth through the market and "democracy" have certain disadvantages that maybe we might start sticking under the microscope now...
You would like that Barzun book, you know. Very much...
I am pleased to be able to say that many of Barzun's ideas I recognize for having come up with them in the long "plages" (beaches) of thinking time that unemployment has AFFORDED me... ;-)

Edwardo said...

Yes, but a change in technology, i.e. new fangled diapers, is by no means the same thing as forgetting how to operate yesterday's tool.

And this gets us to a big reason why the west is in a state of psychic, and, perhaps, physical, exhaustion. We can not keep up with the rate of change we impose on ourselves, but trying to do so crowds out other essential activities and considerations. The constant introduction of new modifications of recent technological developments, most of which themselves just represent incremental changes in some basic, long since developed tool, amounts to a torturous societal treadmill that those of us who don't want that kind of excitement, have to work hard to stay off of.

However, because the money system is set to breakdown completely, there may be a temporary, if not permanent, respite from the aforesaid torturous treadmill.

Debra said...

Agreed. To all you just said. Amazing, huh ?

Debra said...

My God, Edwardo, are you the secret robber baron owner of a skyscraper with a penthouse loft, that you mention the "stories" cleaned ?? ;-)
The FACT about window washing (in my book, at least...) is that when there is a heavy rain afterwards, it has to be done again anyway. Even if Madame Clean spent hours doing it CORRECTLY (?) the first time around...

Toby said...

Matter is only as real as our senses allow it to be. "Mind and world arise together." Look up structural coupling for how 'reality out there' is 'shaped' by 'reality in here.'

Cleanliness is in the eye of the beholder.

My rigjht shoulder is feshly-operated on and huurting as I tzype. Bye!

Debra said...

Oh, Toby, a big kiss on your right shoulder to make you/it feel better !
Mea culpa, I forgot your operation, and was just beginning to think (as usual...) that I had said something wrong... ;-)

Padhma said...


Really nice and definitely it will be useful for many people. Kindly keep update like this.
Home Spa Services in Mumbai