Thursday, April 6, 2017


I finished the Winter Edition of the Lapham's Quarterly, called Home, last week.  As I was reading it, I bookmarked a few entries with the intention of commenting upon them after I was finished the entire edition.  So, here goes.

Floor Plans, from The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo begins with the question, do you greet your house?  It reflects her belief that in the process of her job as a "decluttering consultant" she feels it important to establish a connection with the house itself, along the lines of acknowledging that by showing respect for the house, the process of making the house more of a home for its inhabitants will be revealed naturally.  Kondo also comments positively on the act of tidying up, as a way of not only making one's shelter cleaner and more organized, but as a sort of worship towards the house, and consequently the inhabitants.  Her words struck me as I have more than once told people that sweeping the floor is good for the soul.  To me, it provides a break from the thinking part of one's day, yet still produces a positive effect.

Collectibles, from Travels in Hyperreality by Umberto Eco, discusses the need for people in general, but Americans in specific, to fill every space in their home with an object, especially an object that of itself represents something, usually glorious or revered, from the past.  Eco demonstrates his disdain for this practice in very clear terms, especially when the collections contain mostly fake or faux objects of antiquity.  He understands why someone might want to visit a house with objects d'art from various points in history but considers the homes themselves as unlivable, garish and pathetic.

Betty Friedan Reads the Labels from The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan is a remarkable reflection by Friedan concerning women as housewives.  Friedan, who cofounded the National Organization for Women, kept house and raised her children while taking freelance writing jobs on the side.  As the result of a questionnaire from her alma mater, Smith College, Friedan found that many of her college educated classmates were similarly dissatisfied by the lack of opportunity for women with brains, as well as the societal assumptions that women were still defined by the upkeep and appearance of their homes and children.

What is especially interesting about this essay is Friedan''s research into the marketing methods of the business world which had determined that women purchased a majority of their products.  Her investigation into how these companies perceived women, how they manipulated advertisements to present women with products and services that would provide the satisfaction that their lives lacked was fascinating.  Ultimately, women were separated into three groups; the True Housewife, the Career Woman, and the Balanced Homemaker, each targeted with a different marketing plan to produce more sales.  I have never read the Feminine Mystique, but if this is the type of information contained, perhaps I should.

At Grandmother's House, from Home Comforts by Cheryl Mendelson would interest anyone who spent any time visiting or living with their grandmother.  It touches on the the differing cultural attitudes towards housework, (in Mendelson's case, one Italian, one English/Scottish/Irish), as well as the "feel" that a home should or shouldn't have, depending on one's tradition and experience.  She also makes a wonderful point about how some consider housework a never ending chore while others find a gratification in daily housework in that routine tasks can be determined and completed.  A closed circle as opposed to the tasks of the business world that can last for weeks and months.

The Old Neighborhood, from Pseudo-Lot, or Concerning Patriotism, by Karel Capek is an interesting take on the bible story of Sodom.  Capek's version features Lot as unhappy that God is going to destroy his home, to the point where he attempts to convince the angel tasked with warning Lot that there is good in Sodom and that perhaps God might reconsider his decision.  Capek's Lot indicates that his love of the Lord is connected with his love of Sodom and its people.  In light of the extreme partisanship of our politics today, where it seems that party is more important than country, I found it interesting that Capek seems to value patriotism over religion.  The fact that Capek died soon after the Munich Agreement granted part of the original Czechoslovak Republic to Nazi Germany, and that Capek was number three on the Gestapo's arrest list demonstrates that he put his money where his mouth was, so to speak.

Lastly, Whistling in the Dark, an essay by Renata Adler discusses the flow of refugees and immigrants into Germany from the viewpoint of a woman whose parents fled Nazi Germany in 1933, who was born in Italy, then moved with her family as a child to New York in 1939.  The essay touches on many aspects of the decision by Angela Merkel to accommodate tens of thousands of people from the Middle East.  It recalls Adler's trip to Germany to visit one small town that had been assigned a consignment of migrants, detailing the wide reaction of the townspeople, the preconceptions and disappointments of the migrants, and, Adler's own opinions as to whether such a plan could work.  It is a compelling essay in that Adler does not sugarcoat the problems, does not demonstrate prejudice against the migrants, does not convey the all or nothing reporting that seems so common in the media today.  Unfortunately, there is not a happy ending, in that those consigned to the small town she visits are determined not to qualify as refugees, and must leave Germany. Additionally, there is an air of doom about Adler's final paragraph which reflects the opinion of some of those asked to take in people from a completely different culture, a doom aptly reflected in the title of her essay.

For much of our early history, men did not establish homes. as much as shelters.  It has only been the last 10,000 years or so that we began the slow cycle away from hunter-gatherers to a rural, agrarian society to, just in the last few hundred years, more urban in our settings.  During such a journey, home has meant a myriad of things to humans.  Today, with the prevalence of instant communication, the sense of home is both less important and more critical to our self perception.  We change homes multiple times in our lives, sometimes even changing citizenship.  We are so much more global, yet at the same time, a nationalism has taken hold of the world.

If home is still, "where the heart is", let's hope that are perception of home continues to expand so that one day we will all consider Earth our common home, and treat it, as well as each other, with the love and respect that coincides with the sharing of the place where our heart resides.                      

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