Misery Loathes Company
18 hours ago
One place where so-called spiritual values, driven from the face of a brutally pragmatic capitalism, have taken refuge is New Ageism, which is just the sort of caricature of the spiritual one would expect a materialistic civilization to produce. Rather as those with hearts of stone tend to weep at schmaltzy music, so those who would not recognize a genuine spiritual value if it fell into their laps tend to see the spiritual as spooky, ethereal, and esoteric . . .
Romanticism, as Marx himself pointed out, is among other things the flip side of utilitarianism. Those who are in every other way worldly, cynical, and hard-boiled (Hollywood superstars and the like) reveal a truly bottomless gullibility when it comes to spirituality. Nobody is more otherworldly than the worldly, nobody more soft-centered than the hard-nosed. Spiritual matters must naturally be as remote from their lawyers, minders, agents, and hairstylists as one could imagine, in order to provide some fantasy alternative to them. This is why people who are in every other respect urbane and streetwise believe that affairs on earth are being controlled from an alien spaceship parked behind a cloud. They would probably not believe this if they had only $38 in the bank. Money is a great breeder of unreality. The idea that spirituality is about visiting the sick and fighting injustice would no doubt strike these Kabbalists, necromancers, and chiropractors of the psyche as intolerably prosaic. Even their minders and hairstylists can do that.
My name is Ruth. I grew up with my younger sister, Lucille, under the care of my grandmother, Mrs. Sylvia Foster, and when she died, of her sisters-in-law, Misses Lily and Nona Foster, and when they fled, of her daughter, Mrs. Sylvia Fisher. Through all these generations of elders we lived in one house, my grandmother's house, built for her by her husband, Edmund Foster, an employee of the railroad, who escaped this world years before I entered it. It was he who put us down in this unlikely place. He had grown up in the Middle West, in a house dug out of the ground, with windows just at earth level and just at eye level, so that from without, the house was a mere mound, no more a human stronghold than a grave, and from within, the perfect horizontality of the world in that place foreshortened the view so severely that the horizon seemed to circumscribe the sod house and nothing more.
Thus finely did our house become attuned to the orchard and to the particularities of weather, even in the first days of Sylvie's housekeeping. Thus did she begin by littles and perhaps unawares to ready it for wasps and bats and barn swallows. Sylvie talked a great deal about housekeeping.
Sylvie in a house was more or less like a mermaid in a ship's cabin. She preferred it sunk in the very element it was meant to exclude. We had crickets in the pantry, squirrels in the eaves, sparrows in the attic. Lucille and I stepped through the door from sheer night to sheer night.
I sat down on the grass, which was stiff with cold, and I put my hands over my face, and I let my skin tighten, and let the chills run in ripples, like breezy water, between my shoulder blades and up my neck. I let the numbing grass touch my ankles. I thought, Sylvie is nowhere, and sometime it will be dark. I thought, Let them come unhouse me of this flesh, and pry this house apart. It was no shelter now, it only kept me here alone, and I would rather be with them, if only to see them, even if they turned away from me. If I could see my mother, it would not have to be her eyes, her hair. I would not need to touch her sleeve. There was no more the stoop of her high shoulders. The lake had taken that, I knew. It was so very long since the dark had swum her hair, and there was nothing more to dream of, but often she almost slipped through any door I saw from the side of my eye, and it was she, and not changed, and not perished. She was a music I no longer heard, that rang in my mind, itself and nothing else, lost to all sense, but not perished, not perished.That's what it means to keep house, to be always reminded not of what we are keeping, but of what we are losing, have lost. To have before us, or behind us, or somewhere just out of reach, the knowledge that we will certainly, one day, be unhoused for good and all.