Sunday, February 20, 2011

Cleaning Is Finding

Gutian Ziggurat, Sumer, ca 2000 BC

        Several years ago, when we were engaged in a long round of strenuous and sweaty house cleaning, she said to me:  “Cleaning is finding.”  I don’t recall what valuable object or memory token had just been uncovered, but I immediately recognized and acknowledged that this was correct.  Cleaning does invariably lead to finding long-lost, valuable (by some measure) treasures.  This provides the impetus for doing more cleaning and also for inevitable nostalgia and (not as inevitable) self-examination.  


Man Ray, Dust Breeding, 1920

        Two weeks ago, cleaning and finding again (I uncovered a pair of lost hiking boots that went neglected and then missing for a decade for want of replacing a single broken shoelace), she said that this current period of our lives, with its constant and acute tensions, is really no different from earlier periods, which we tend in retrospect to see through “rose-colored glasses” as being somehow happier, more ordered and logical than they seemed when we were actually living through them.

Rendering of Babylonian Temple, ca. 1800 BC

         The act of putting our estates’ various Augean stables in order, turning over pieces we had let lie dormant for so long, confirms this.  If I were to draw pictures of the process, they would progress from an initial stage showing a kind of dusty, weedy, unpopulated Mesopotamian bluff to one where the archeologist (beginning  with rough energetic spadework before moving on to finer digging and analytical tools) is finally able to capture and render clearly in several types of schematic views an ancient temple mound in successive chronological states, identifying with precision the evolving activities that occurred in all of the structures' rooms over millennia, as thinking turned into re-thinking and, of course, slings were shot and arrows flew.

Catacombs (l'Ossuaire Municipal), Paris

        I am grateful having a partner to parse through all the layers and the rubble because my own tendency is to help other people parse through their messes (I do this professionally), simply adding new layers to my own.   I haven’t been out of those hiking boots since finding them, by the way.

Statuettes of two worshippers, from the Square Temple at Eshnunna (modern Tell Asmar), Iraq, ca. 2700 CA. 2700 BCE. Gypsum inlaid with shell and black limestone, male figure approx. 2'6" high. Iraq Museum, Baghdad

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