Stark and Exposed
It's the Modern Way
The world is dirty, unpredictable, and frightening. It is more than a little bit gross. Instead of facing your fears, why not eradicate all evidence that there is anything troubling out there? That is the modern way.
Apply anti-bacterial foam to all the surfaces of your home—don’t worry, there are many products to choose from. You have a wealth of options. Next, lock that house up tight so that nothing untoward can come in. Having done so, hire experts to ensure that it’s not too tight—alas, we still need some outside air. For now. Don’t let your children leave, lest they see something they shouldn’t, or pick up a coin from the street, or learn how to navigate on their own. Keep that house immaculate at all times, and stark, and bare, the better to see any errant filth that enters.
Don’t like a stark home? Your desire for coziness and color reflects nothing more than antiquated, bourgeois desires. Bourgeois is a dirty word, and you really ought to keep those thoughts under control. They’re unseemly. Trust the experts. The very best and most lauded architects of the 20th century knew that their clients didn’t know what was best for them. Never listen to yourself when you have hired credentialed authorities to do your thinking for you.
Those architects—Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, and the rest—were smiled upon by all who know what is good and right in the world. The previous experts ceded to these new kids on the block, who became the authoritarians we had all been waiting for. The new experts were hired to build housing for workers—and aren’t we all aspiring workers, after all? —but they knew, those esteemed architects, that the workers would need time to equilibrate to their new, spare, cold surroundings. The workers were, in the words of Gropius, “intellectually undeveloped.” (He built similar housing for Ivy League students.) Being intellectually undeveloped as we all are, it may take some time for us—the workers, the students, the clients, the people—to fully appreciate our “pure white rooms, stripped, purged, liberated, freed of all casings, cornices, covings…” But appreciate it we will.
We moderns have moved beyond complexity, and beyond detail. We’re above that sort of thing. We are pure, stylized, and without sin. We may have to be re-educated before coming to love open floor plans, but sometimes re-education is the cost of progress. Why do you want walls if you have nothing to hide?
If you find yourself in such an exalted place—spare, clean, and open—why would you ever want to leave? The world, remember, is dirty, unpredictable, and frightening. It is more than a little bit gross.
Still, sometimes you are called to go out there, for reasons that you can’t quite put your finger on. Suit up! Dress warmly, lest you get cold. Put on thick socks and rugged shoes, shoes with a lot of support for your sweet and tender feet. Is the sun shining? Coat yourself generously with protection from the dangerous sky orb. Don’t forget your ears! What a bliss of technological luxuries we live in.
Step outside. Breathe deeply, but carefully. Ah yes. It does feel different out here. The air moves on its own, and you haven’t even paid a utility company to move it for you! The sun filters down through branches, dappling the ground. How sweet. Flowers are pushing up out of the ground—crocuses and daffodils, reaching for the light. Buds on flowering trees grow larger every day. It is so lovely.
But just when you get comfortable, something changes. The wind picks up. The sun slides behind a cloud. An early spring insect buzzes by.
To protect yourself, to live the life that you deserve, that you have earned, free from all inconveniences and messes, spray yourself down with something that will deter the insect, even if it is not interested in you at all. Perhaps your useful spray will even kill your arthropod stalker. That would be convenient. It will kill you far more slowly, so no worries there.
If you do get a rash, or a burn, or a bite, treat the pain with a pill, or a lotion, or a shot.
Do come in out of that nasty, unpredictable world, where the sun does not always shine, the wind is sometimes severe, and there are all kinds of things that want a piece of you. Do come inside, and revel in your brutal, geometric surroundings. The screens beckon.
Here everything is under control.
Have no fear.
There will be no surprises.
There is no place to hide.
Or try this:
Go outside barefoot. Stand there, toes moving in the bare earth, or grass, or moss, or sand. Touch the Earth with your bare skin. Stand on one foot for a while. Then the other. Jump. Stand with your arms wide and gaze upwards at the sun. Welcome it. Do not cover your skin and keep the sun’s rays at bay.
Learn to craft and to make and to grow and to build. Work in clay or wood or metal, in ink or wool or seeds. Build dry stacked stone walls. Mold forms with your hands and your tools. Add color to walls, to fabric, to food. Throw. Weave. Carve. Cure. Ferment. Fire. Braze. Weld. Create that which is both functional and beautiful.
Get cold every day. Go outside under-dressed or open your windows wide for a spell even sometimes in Winter or take a cold shower or immerse yourself in cold, cold water. You will be shocked. And you will be awake. And you will know that you are alive.
Also enjoy being warm. Be grateful for it. Come inside and find a cozy corner. Wrap yourself in a soft woolen blanket. Have a familiar by your side. Run your hands through his fur. Drink warm elixir from a handmade mug. Be present. Consider the past. Build the future.
This year, the equinox arrived on March 20. The sun is now in the northern hemisphere, so the northern Winter has come to an end. Go outside and be free.
Sometimes Natural Selections explores the sex lives of seahorses, sometimes it’s language, sometimes it’s public health, but there’s always an evolutionary lens.
From pages 25 - 26 of Tom Wolfe’s utterly brilliant 1981 tome, From Bauhaus to Our House.
Heather, you and Bret are almost the only academics that I still respect. Your fieldwork in some pretty unforgiving environments has grounded the two of you in a way that VERY few academics are, and it shows in the way you seem to dig deeper than superficialities in a manner that is as rare as it is welcome.
I love this. We are part of nature. Let's revel in it.