译者：郭嘉宁& 何翔宇& 张力文
Is it better to be a coal-heaver or a nursemaid; is the charwoman who has brought up eight children of less value to the world than, the barrister who has made a hundred thousand pounds?” asks Virginia Woolf inA Room of One’s Own. Woolf comes to no conclusion. But if we wanted to finish her argument, how would we do it? Woolf herself found certain aspects of domesticity easier to recommend than others. She took pride in her slowly growing knowledge of basic cookery, but doing the dishes she found hard to bear: “I’ve been washing up lunch—how servants preserve any sanity or sobriety if that is nine 10ths of their lives—greasy ham—God knows.”
Woolf’s private consternation reflects the problem with any merely public evaluation of housework. Cleaning is mindless work, we say, and a task we are happy to leave to others; should we have the money, there are maid services or one of the many “Uber for housework” services to take the work off our hands. The repairman, the electrician, the carpenter, and so on, earn our respect because of the intelligent skill they put into their labor; but the sting of domestic work is that it appears to require no particular skill: doing the floors, the dishes, doing the corners, picking up all the things strewn about the house; taking out the trash not once, but again and again, on down into the grave.
Such work, when it is paid for at all, is among the lowest of the low, economically speaking—we have more civic and monetary respect for garbage collectors. But worse, the very character of the janitor or the charwoman is suspect. Their grumpiness and meanness of spirit is catalogued from the fairy tales of the Grimms to thelyrical dialectics of Kierkegaard. In the grip of mindless, endless repetition, the temper and even the soul are said to suffer permanent distortion. The best that can be said for housework is that it is unavoidable, and so someone or other will have to decide to do it.
But I’m suspicious of the infamous mindlessness of housework. Having been persuaded that our best thoughts are at their best when most rooted in the world they profess to describe, I find I’m very muchinterestedin it. I suspect we can do more than praise its necessity, and that our inability to make a better case reflects an impoverished understanding of the nature of work, and of thought itself. Housework is a job in which our things and possessions become unavoidably concrete. So why should the work that forces us to reckon with things we usually ignore be mindless? Why would the most concrete work be the most absentminded?
In Martin Heidegger’s later essays, he turns to the notion ofdwellingto consider the nature of things and houses and work in all their concrete, present glory. For Heidegger, what we are as humans, the way we are in the world, is manifested in our dwelling; we are gathered into being by the houses we raise up for ourselves, and by the things we make and hold on to; these things allow the world to be present to us as world.If dwelling is what we are, then surely the daily care of the houses we inhabit is important.
But when Heidegger has occasion to speak of housemaids, he appears to make the same accusations against them as everyone else. He tells the story of the famous accident of Thales, the first person to philosophize, who, out walking one evening and looking up at the stars, fell into a hole. The Thracian maid standing nearby burst into laughter, because, as she said, “while he might passionately want to know all things in the universe, the things in front of his feet and nose were unseen by him.” Heidegger considers this moment to be decisive: “Plato added to this story the remark: ‘[Her] jest also fits all those who become involved in philosophy.’ Therefore the question ‘What is a thing?’ must always be rated as one that causes housemaids to laugh. And genuine housemaids must have something to laugh about.”
The housemaid, the genuine one, who knows her trade and has all its virtues and vices, is perhaps all too at home in the house. Such a one is forgetful of being, lacking something to jolt her out of the ordinary, lacking the sort of anxiety that would allow the house to become uncanny, and thus a matter of question.4The presence of things is old hat, and so the philosopher looks foolish in his childish questions. Thought and housework remain distinct and opposed.
But Heidegger remarks that we can learn from the housemaid this much: When we set out to inquire, we should first “look around thoroughly in this round-about-us.”Instead of looking off into the stars like Thales, we have to recover a sense of both heavens and earth together. We dwell as humans in the very immediate sense of the sort of buildings we put together to live in and around, that mark off the horizon; we dwell with things, the beds and tables and chairs that keep us up off the dirt. We take our fundamental orientation as humans by our residency in the world, between the temptations of the stars and the holes we might fall into. What we arenotis something infinite, immortal, limitless; we are mortal, temporary, in the sense that even Achilles is temporary. Our thoughts may leap beyond mere things and dwellings into godlike musing, and so leap beyond our mortal plight; but if we could turn our thoughts back around and give attention to what is near and to dwelling itself, we might pause in our restlessness and find some peace in our day.
Now, Heidegger is accused of many things, some justly and some perhaps unjustly. The most dangerous charge, for our purposes, is sentimentality or nostalgia; that by praising dwelling, he praises old ways of living without a better reason than their antiquity, and so is not a trustworthy source on houses that we, these days, would hope to live in. But Heidegger’s careful attention to language and things can help us refocus our attention on what’s in front of our noses.
Take, for instance, the difference between saying “domestic work” and saying “housework.” “Domestic work” is the official name for what I’m trying to talk about; it’s more accurate in that it encompasses the whole field, albeit in a rather impersonal way. But this impersonal quality—achieved by the substitution of the Latindomusfor our Englishhouse—is suspicious, because it obscures the problem’s immediacy. Domestic work is something that many people do in and around houses that may or may not be somebody else’s; as such, it turns into somebody else’s problem. Housework, by contrast, is the daily problem I have to solve, either by myself, or by persuading someone else to do it, either out of long-suffering affection or for pay.
To speak of housework as domestic work obscures our dependence on houses: that all of us, unless houseless by misfortune or by choice, have some specific building where our bed sits, right now, made or unmade; the place where we are, at the end of the day, housed. It obscures our dependence on other human beings, the necessity that someone, somewhere, is doing what it is necessary to do (the laundry, the dishes, the floors, the toilets) for all the houses and for the residents who require their houses to be in working order. When both the house and the workers are hidden in this way, our dependence on dwelling is hidden indeed.
You might think that “housework” sounds too much like something women, particularly those long-suffering women, do; to frame the problem as domestic work sounds like an attempt to discuss the work as that to which either sex might turn its hand. But this is just the problem with such abstraction; for beneath our agreed-upon terminology rests the truth that nearly all of the work we officially classify as domestic in America is done by women: the cleaning, the care of the very young, the care of the very old.6And so, to have a little Heideggerian attention on hand will not lead us too dangerously near nostalgia; for it’s hard to be sentimental about the fact that someone has to scrub the floors.
The moral of the marriage of second-wave feminism with quasi-Marxist logic is clear: Housework is something to be liberated from, and something to liberate others from in their turn. The house itself is an oppressive structure, from which we hope to be free. Such reasoning certainly influenced the principles on which I was raised: Women can do whatever they want, and so there were certain tasks (traditionally relegated to women) that I shouldn’t have to do, professions I should avoid because my talents and education fitted me for better. The impracticality of these particular principles became immediately apparent once I lived in a place of my own, with dishes to do; there was no escaping the domus after all.
But beyond impracticality, the first and second principles contain a more troubling contradiction: What do we do about the women who nevertheless find themselves at work in the so-called traditional tasks? And if women can do whatever they want, what if they say they want to do something that looks neither properly liberated nor ambitious? This was a real problemfor the second wave, and the contempt for the housewife-by-choiceevinced by many of its passionate voiceswas no less infamous than unsisterly—or rather, all too wicked-stepsisterly, considering the movement’s forgetfulness of the women among the poor and women of color,as well as the poor, at home and abroad,in their own right.
But perhaps the oversight or even distaste might be justified. Consider the difference between making a dish and doing the dishes; betweenmakinga bedand making a bed, which is to say building it; or even the difference between a thorough spring cleaning and the endless daily picking up of the out-of-place. While a certain hardship is involved, skill, for the most part, is not.
When Mike Roseargues inThe Mind at Workon behalf of such skills as waiting on tablesand carpentering, we understand that these tasks require the intelligence which, given a moment to consider, we immediately recognize as such: theremarkable memory for ever-mounting details, the quick ordering andnesting of tasks that the waitress possesses, or the carpenter’s profound grasp of spatial geometry. Rose succeeds in resurrecting the honor of these professions for us becausehe can show the familiar intelligencewe somehow (appallingly) have overlooked.
Matthew Crawford’s argument inShop Class as Soulcrafttakes such thoughtfulness a step farther. For it seems thatnot only do building and fixing require intelligence, these stand to be rather more intelligent than the sort of “postindustrial” jobs we’ve been, probably disastrously,shaping our economy around; more intelligent, in fact, than theflimsy abstractionsperpetrated by those whoanswer to thehideous coinage“knowledge worker.”Indeed, Heidegger’s own thoughts about human house-dwelling and human “giving-thought” often turn to the builder, the poet who makes the poem, the artisan: “All the work of the hand is rooted in thinking. Therefore thinking itself is man’s simplest, and for that reason hardest, handiwork.”11But here’s my worry: If we make skill such afar-reachingmeasure for work, we still stand to forget the house, and perhaps something of thought as well. Whatever the thoughtfulness of housecleaning involves, it is different from skill; but to honor the builder of the house without respecting its maker—that is, its keeper—is to see less than half of the whole.
But perhapswe could still find respect for these domestic tasks—if it were not forthe final sting of the business. For not only is domestic work mindless, it also appears torequire the absorption of mindlessness; it may even make youlose your mind. It’s not that hard to mop the floor; what’s hard is to mop the floor again, and most of all, when it’s just been mopped. Simone de Beauvoir has it: “few tasks are more like the torture ofSisyphus than housework,with its endless repetition: the clean becomes soiled, the soiled is made clean, over and over, day after day.”
若非商业的最后一击，也许这些家务活仍受着我们的尊敬。家务活不仅无需头脑，似乎也正需要这种无意识的投入，甚至会让你最终失去理智。拖地板并非难事，令人挣扎的是再来一次，尤其是在刚刚拖过一遍之后。西蒙娜·德·波伏娃（Simone de Beauvoir）说：“没有什么比家务更像西西弗斯所遭受的折磨，需要无休止的重复：干净的变脏，再清理干净，日复一日。”
Such Sisyphean motions make thenotorious ill humor, grumpiness, personal slovenliness, even the spite of the charwoman intelligible enough; the charwoman being employed by several to do the rough work of floors and lavatories, going in and out of many houses and rooms.17Kierkegaard, writing pseudonymously inFear and Trembling, counsels us to wish alwaysto be more than the charwoman in our posture and wordswhen we attempt to speak humanly of the great; we are tobe happy to bow before them, but—unlike, it comes out, that charwoman of the intellect, the scholar—we are always to have dignity, confidence, and freedom of spirit.The grumpy charwoman, it seems, drags through even the halls of a king without care for man or beast. Needless to say, sufficient pay could soothe but nothumor such a worker; as Virginia Woolf implies, in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Britain, at least, those who hold these jobs were known to turn to drink.
Some of our thoughts come in moving parts, sentences, phrases we skillfully move around to make a point—in a word, they are discursive. Other thoughts, however, are rapt upon one thing at a time.Best of all, in the phraseology of Heidegger, is the thing we do when we turn our attention to thethingly-ness of things in service of our dwelling.I’d argue that what the lady is really experiencing—the one who works in the house, who governs the house, who keeps the house and perhaps in some sense isthe house as it dwells—is thought, or being, in its immediate sense.
Consider again the laughter of Heidegger’s housemaid. In Plato’s story, the maid is not bad tempered at all, but “graceful and witty.”What if, in our confusion over the proper task of thinking, in the temptation to behave like Thales and look only at the stars, we have gotten the nature of housework wrong? If we can only really understand ourselves as humans whenwe think on our dwelling, then the laughter of the maid is perfectly reasonable, because her thoughts were already resident there. The view of thinghood available to the housemaid has the potential to be deeply satisfying; and she laughs because the philosopher displays willful ignorance of what ought to be intuitively obvious.After all, the housemaid isn’t laughing because Thales is trying to philosophize; she’s laughing because he’s doing it wrong, and, notably, is wise enough, and generous enough, to offer advice to the profession in its infancy.Housemaids and philosophers are not distinct as opposites, but in a sense as rivals; and it is only when we are confused about what philosophy ought to be working at, that we confuse the thoughtfulness of house-mindingwithmindlessness pure and simple.
See before you the messy house, with your possessions and the possessions of all who live with you littered about the floor, piling on the sofas, spoiling the chairs, making the desk invisible. All our human ends, recorded by our things, in all the visible failure of half-done purposes; the book you put down, the toy abandoned, the bill not yet paid; the thing you wanted, lost. To face all this, with the intention of somehow setting all in order, of separating the tangled strands of purpose back out into a working household, brings upon us nothing less than a spiritual terror.
Such a terror is not born simply of lethargy, or the anti-momentum of procrastination, but spiritual terror at the spiritual energy required to set things up once again out of the dusty scatter. To clean the thing is to care for the thing; to clean well is neither giving it a flick that leaves the edges obscured in dirt, nor scrubbing the thing away into nothing. All of this work raises up the house out of the confusion of its strands back into one single thing, the bulwark, the thing that makes the rest possible, both leaving and coming back; the sort of place where you could consider resting your head. Housekeeping doesn’t just enable us to dwell; housekeeping is dwelling, and also it is thought.
这种恐怖不只是源于嗜睡或者拖延的反动力，而是对需要从飞扬的尘土中把东西再次摆好所花费的精神力的精神恐惧。清洁东西是要料理东西; 好好清洁既不是仅仅轻掸表面而边缘上还留有尘土，也不是使劲擦拭甚至把原物弄坏。所有的这些工作将房子从杂乱无章整理成一个事物，即屏障，它使包括离开和返回的其余部分成为可能; 一个你可以让大脑休息的地方。打扫屋子不仅使我们能够居住，它更是我们安居的过程，它是一种思想。
There is anguish in looking at housecleaning as a thing apart from us, something that we’d rather not do, a task that from the outside looks almost infinite in scope. I suspect that much of it is born of the distance that comes simply from paying (or getting) others to do it. This is the very distance we put in place in order to busy ourselves with the centrality of the adult world; the life that is after all interesting, the places where we have all the clever arguments with each other about the public affairs of the day. I think our sense of the mindlessness of housekeeping comes about because we see it as that which makes these so-called important life-things recede before the immanence of our daily tasks like eating and sleeping—not to mention the immanent reminder that children and parents present, that we once were very young, and only with luck will be decently old.
My own grumpiness, I suspect, comes from the sense of being half in, half out of the adult world, that I’ve been distracted needlessly from my proper work and proper thoughts. Putting an end to spite and recrimination involves understanding just what it is that I am doing: allowing the world hell-bent on worldliness to world. My hopeless devotion to thought comes to light as something of a tragic flaw. It’s not a coincidence that in our attempt to liberate ourselves from houses and indeed from all bounds, we have become, if less careworn, more anxious and depressed. In depression, we become careless of things, and lose our rapport with them, Heidegger writes; in anxiety, we no longer feel at home in the world.When I recover my respect not simply for domestic work but also for the task of keeping a home, I have taken a step toward ending my homelessness, not as modern, as thinker, or as woman, but as mortal.
Thinking of the ladies and men of Bloomsbury, who never lived a day without others arranging those little but crucial things of their lives, I think they missed something, perhaps the very thing they sought—something of life, something of freedom. To leave the ordering of our house to others, I think, is not merely to leave behind an interesting opportunity for reflection, but to abdicate the very ground of thought. It risks leaving behind our thoughts’ very integrity. And so I for one counsel you to take up the mop, or at any rate to make your bed, not as nostalgia or from sentiment but, lest you in the rush of days lose your mind, the thing you wanted, after all.