11.27.2015

Cleanliness, Stench, and the Seams of the Social, or Living Amidst Yourself


I spend a lot of time at home, alone. I work from home so am here all day, for the most part. I don't really like going out and seeing people very often so, most nights, I'm home alone. Two nights a week, my son sleeps here. Otherwise, not many people enter my house. (I suddenly feel like I'm writing a distinctly ill-advised dating profile.)

As I spend a lot of time here, the house literally becomes an extension of me, and me of it — a nuptial, as Deleuze and Guattari might say. I love that figure of the nuptial. It's not desire that brings these things together, although there is desire to be sure. Nuptial articulates a more technical coming together that is still sumptuous, with a hint of the unruly within the union-that-is-not-a-union (a nuptial is not a merging, a becoming one; it is a 'bloc of becoming' constituted by multiple bodies. Their 'famous' example is the wasp and the orchid). It's an odd word to say. Nuptial. It feels like it should be dragged out longer, have more syllables. For all those vowels, it's somehow slurred, that t at times becoming a ch as the finale alternates between an upward swing — nuptOOal — and a collision of consonsants, nuptchl. The concept and action involves both, not without a certain eroticism running alongside and within other intersecting economies of connection and interaction, a more or less involved intertwining along the limits of bodies that is intimate, fundamental, even if tangential). Where was I? Oh yeah: so my house and me, a nuptial, yes. The smells of my body, my sweat, my soap, my cooking, my whathaveyou pervade the space as the space affords opportunity and architectures of engagement. I wear this house like this while it bears me like this. Visually, there are signs of me everywhere — scraps of paper, uncashed checks, old receipts, scribbles of my work, my writing, the bureaucracy of everyday life. There are tidbits of food, crumbs of gluten-free bread, stray leaves of baby arugula, lost peas, a dusting of coffee grounds.

Which is to say, I live thoroughly with myself. Sometimes, it feels like I've peed on the walls and in every corner, marking the space unquestionably as mine — both a proud planting of a flag and a desperate, weak and sad attempt to claim a piece of the world. (Actions and things are multivalent.)

There is a tipping point, of course, a juncture at which my residue turns fetid. Rather than articulating my vitality, the delicious leftovers, they become malodorous markers — and progenitors — of my disease.

Some people are very clean. They eradicate every sign of every event that transpires in their house. They make the bed after they wake; they fold the towels after showering; they wipe the counters clean, put the dishes away, sweep the floor after every meal. They even put their clothes from the day away. This last one confounds me. Clothes that are worn but not dirty need a weigh station, a purgatory, some place to linger, to air themselves out, to ready themselves for the next wear. You can't fold them up and put them in the drawers; they have too much of the the city and me on them. But leaving them about on the floor just means they'll accumulate more schmutz (without the benefit of even wearing them). And yet they're not so dirty that they need to be washed (not to mention washing wears clothes down). So I strew them — strew is an awesome verb! — in a laundry basket.

Anyway, the will to clean so fervently seems to me like a kind of self-loathing, a will to wash oneself away from the world. On the other hand, stewing in one's own fetid self isn't exactly a sign of vitality. It usually speaks to a certain malaise, a self-immolation by one's one stink.

This becomes more complicated once people start to enter the house for this or that reason. When friends come to stay, I am sure to clean the bathroom and kitchen; it'd be rude to inflict them with my various stenches. But I don't scrub, dust, shine, and polish. What about when my son's friends come over? I don't want to scare them with my filth. We all remember being in certain people's houses and knowing a cleanliness and filth limit. On the other hand, these kids are 11 so what do I care?

Women are another matter all together. I briefly dated a woman once who kept her place spotless — and commented upon it repeatedly. She actually asked me that were she ever to visit my place, would she be grossed out? It made me see my house in a whole new light, tidbits of my grotesquerie everywhere. Rather than face this, or feel this, I stopped seeing her.

One's clothes and house mark these practical, palpable junctures — seams, to borrow Lohren Green's word — of the private and public, the personal and the social. Words do, too, of course but in a more abstract way. Home and clothes are borders that have more borders — walls, doors, closets, drawers; underwear, pockets, wallets, purses — all marked with our mortality. They involve a fine and relentless, if unnoticed, patrolling.

I definitely enjoy living amidst myself. Yes, it sometimes — well, often — goes too far, turning my life into decay. But I like the faint smell of my sweat in the pits of my shirts; I like the crumple of the blanket that warmed my feet on the couch the night before; I like the books I'm reading out and about, transmitting their promises and possibilities. I don't want to put my life away after using it. I'm just not sure anyone else wants to see — and smell — all that. And so I spend a lot of time at home, alone.

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