Category Archives: comfort

The past — get me out of here!

Behind every great man-made work of beauty lies some ugliness

The ages in which the greatest works of Man were created were characterised, writes Dalrymple, by

  • dirt
  • misery
  • smells
  • disease
  • vermin

Anybody transported back to those ages would at once seek asylum

in our hygienic and deodorised world without artistic grandeur. For modern man, comfort is the highest good, and perhaps it always would have been had it been a possibility.

On complaint

Portrait of a dead child, c. 1650. Flemish Portrait of a dead child, c. 1650. Flemish

Dalrymple points out that no-one

is comforted by the idea that others were worse off than he, which perhaps explains why complaint does not decrease in proportion to improvement in general conditions.

In search of sordor

Nostalgie de la boue: The romantic appeal of filth, violence and vomit

Dalrymple writes that it is today not uncommon

for children from good homes to seek out a squalid existence rather than a decent one. I have had as patients more than one middle-class girl who ran away from a comfortably bourgeois present and a bright academic future in order to join crack-addled prostitutes.

Why?

Why would anyone run away from a rich and cultivated home…to seek out and allow pimps to ply her with heroin?

Screen Shot 2014-02-16 at 23.50.03The answer is that squalor

seems more exciting, authentic and real, especially to those who have known nothing but security. Some achieve squalor as some kind of guarantee of authenticity. They wear squalor as a badge of honour won against the odds in the battle against respectability. A respectable career is tame and boring, at least for those who seek excitement and strong sensation. A squalid life is seldom without crises and drama, which keep the adrenalin pumping and ennui at bay. Women who repeatedly have relationships with violent men may quickly reject a man who treats them decently.

Bohemianism of an especially sordid kind becomes a sign of moral election,

as once a scrubbed doorstep was a sign of working-class respectability. Leading a comfortable existence may seem like injustice, the perpetuation of unearned privilege or a betrayal of the poor. Although living in squalor will not assist the impoverished in the slightest, it shows that one’s heart is in the right place.