Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Quick Takes

1. Swedish Death Cleaning and the Anorexic Home. A good take on the recent trend of de-cluttering and tidying up.
Four years ago, when Marie Kondo’s four-million-selling The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing was first published in English, the initial reaction to its extreme form of home minimalism was predictable enough. To her readers, Kondo’s endearingly animistic ethos (famously, she writes that rolling up one’s socks is cruel to the sock, that socks should be lovingly folded, so they can rest after a long day “trapped between your foot and your shoe”) and punishing principle of nothing extra, was a welcome reprieve against the excesses of home-related consumerism. Even though it was an instant best-seller, the book came across as a cult object, countercultural in the way that becoming a monk is countercultural. With Kondo, the key to a happier, more fortunate life is to throw nearly everything away, even useful things, keeping only the very few items that “spark joy” when held. In Kondo’s world, one might only need four teacups and two dishtowels. After so much bullying Nespresso-and-thread-count lunacy, the sort of thinking that could make a temp office worker making $15,000 a year believe a dual climate-controlled wine locker (available at Wal-Mart for less than $400) is a “home essential,” entering Kondo’s ladylike realm of precious spareness, where you always know where your keys are because there is nothing else on your hallway table, ever, could feel like tip-toeing into a quiet patch of sanity. You had been choking under an avalanche of stuff, and look! All you’d ever needed was a single river rock in the palm of your hand. 
It can sound healthy enough, even sensible, with living space shrinking, and open-plan architecture (which does away with those useful clutter containers called walls) still inexorably on the rise. But the problem of a Marie Kondo in a shopaholic consumer society is that even the best-intentioned minimalism turns into more consumerism, just of a more demanding, neurotic sort. The relentless paring down is a convenient and ongoing clearing of the stage for some fresh, as-yet unmet, un-acquired object which—unlike those other familiar ones grown boring or distasteful with time—has the box-fresh ability to give jollies. And neurotic it is; Kondo herself admits that her need to organize and strip down does not come from a place of great mental health. She writes how, by the age of five, she could not help but compulsively clean not just her personal spaces, but those of her siblings and parents as well; how she was once traumatized—to the point of crying at the very memory—by a shampoo bottle that had developed a slimy bottom in a humid bathroom. “From the fact that I spent my recesses alone, tidying, you can guess that I wasn’t a very outgoing child,” she writes. “Because I was poor at developing bonds of trust with people, I had an unusually strong attachment to things.” No amount of quasi-religious your-socks-have-feelings pillow-talk can turn “It was material things and my house that taught me to appreciate unconditional love first, not my parents or friends” into anything but a good reason to seek therapy. Photos of Kondo’s own apartment show not just a white sofa and rug, but white everything, an anorexic space meant to be viewed as the apex of serene livability that no average person could—and, I would add, should—possibly feel comfortable living in.

2. The Weird Mouths of Finch Chicks. 

3. Brandon with a fantastic post on Structures of Fantasy.
In her excellent Rhetorics of Fantasy, Farah Mendlesohn identifies four major forms of fantasy literature, by looking at the way in which the fantastic enters into the story, which might be roughly characterized in the following way, using Mendlesohn's labels:

(1) Portal-Quest: The characters enter by some means into a fantastic world.
(2) Immersive: The story occurs in a fantastic world treated as the real world.
(3) Intrusion: The fantastic enters into and disrupts the real world as something foreign to it.
(4) Liminal: The fantastic enters into the real world as if it were part of the real world.

I think we can generalize this a bit, and a notation would be handy in doing so. So let's take a standard set-up, the contrast between the mundane and the fantastic:


There are a few things that need to be recognized about this distinction. It will be important for later that the contrast between the mundane and the fantastic is relative, not absolute; the mundane is the 'rest state' or 'reference point' in the narrative. 'Mundane' here is not a synonym for 'real' and something obviously real can be fantastic relative to someone else. (And both are common parts of human experience. If you fall asleep and dream and then wake-up, you've from mundane to fantastic to mundane again. If you walk through a dark wood and get creeped out, you're in a fantastic state relative to your usual state.) Despite its possibly counterintuitive sound, the fantastic is also the more fundamental of the two notions -- nothing in a narrative is recognizable as mundane except in contrast to the fantastic, but the fantastic in a narrative is fantastic directly to the hearer or reader. While it's tempting to talk about 'the mundane world' and 'the fantastic world', in many situations we are not talking about worlds, but just states or contexts.

The notation we have so far doesn't of itself constitute any sort of story at all; it's just the contrast between the mundane and the fantastic. To get a story we have to do something to that contrast. There are several things we can do.

A mundane element can move into a fantastic context.

A fantastic element can move into a mundane context. 
A context recognizable as mundane can turn out also to be fantastic. 
A context recognizable as fantastic can be treated as mundane. 
These correspond to Mendlesohn's four major kinds of fantasy (portal-quest, intrusion, liminal, and immersive, respectively). However, again, I want to understand these at a more general level; this is not an empirical classification, but a kind of narrative movement. To these four, I think we need to add a fifth: 
It can be deliberately ambiguous whether we are dealing with the mundane or fantastic. (This is often how writers try to handle Christmas stories in movies and television shows -- everything is mundane and not fantastic, but there's that one strange thing, so that maybe you were dealing with the fantastic all along? That department store Santa couldn't have really been Santa Claus -- and yet....)
4. The kids went on a Harry Potter binge over Christmas, reading all the books and watching all the movies. Of course, we had to watch these as well:

5. It's also a good time to watch this... or did we lose an hour, and so there's no time?

6. Now you can own Ruth Bader Ginsburg's crocheted collar in metal lace form:

7. Amy Welborn writes about the Prosperity Gospel:
You might see and hear some of this: 
Through faith, I came to understand my purpose and look at the success I’ve found because of that. 
Through faith, I came to see and accept how beautiful I am, and what true beauty is. 
Because of faith, I feel great about myself and affirm my life as amazing and accomplished. 
This is hard, this is tricky, and I hope I can tease this apart correctly. Because I’m sure this might be striking you as just wrong. Because isn’t that  part of what faith is? In accepting Jesus as Lord of my life, aren’t I opening myself to a re-orientation, a proper understanding of myself and my relationship to the world that’s going to bear this fruit? 
True. All that is fruit of a relationship with Christ. 
Plot twist: But it’s really not that important, either. 
And it’s certainly not the center of the spiritual life, as traditionally understood. It’s irrelevant to the core of it and, in the end, is a distraction, and – if used as a selling point evangelization tool, only part of the way to that core.
 8. And Bearing responds with a post about consolations as a form of Prosperity Gospel:
Consolations are, in the writings of the saints and in the writings of the magisterium, the opposite of affliction.   These are free gifts of happiness, contentment, felt blessings, confidence in the presence of God, strong feelings of conviction. All bestowed by God on some of the faithful, and occasionally understood to be withdrawn from them by God, as a means of increasing their (or someone's) growth in faith. 
Numerous saints have warned Christians against mistaking the consolation for something it is not. It is not (necessarily) a reward or a punishment; it is certainly not a reliable indication of the holiness of the individual, such that holier people receive more or fewer consolations; and while we may hope for consolations, we are expressly warned against making the consolation the end that we seek. 

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