Sunday, January 15, 2012
Author Bår Stenvik gave a lecture in Oslo yesterday, presenting his newly published book "Skitt: Mennesket, møkka og kulturen" (Shit: The person, the dirt and the culture). In the course of an hour, he described his own experiences with dirt, as well as many philosophical and cultural views on shit (which in Norwegian can mean faeces, but also any other type of dirt). Bår grew up on a farm - and later spent much of his young adulthood trying to escape the stygma of being a dirty farm boy. But while studying at The New School of Social Research in New York, he came to the same conclusion that Mary Douglas had written about long ago in "Purity and Danger" - that "dirt is matter out of place". Cleanliness and filth are primarily social constructions, not physical properties.
Stenvik's book contains nearly 300 pages about what we think about shit, together with stories about the "clean lines" of architectual modernism & kitchen design, social rituals, morality, shame, loathing and disgust. Great stuff!
However, my favorite example in this genre still remains the TV episode in Seinfeld where George attends a dinner with his girlfriend's family, and can't resist finishing off the leftover dessert: