Mess is beautiful.

I’m thrilled to find there is so much love for Messy Tuesdays. All these photos of mess have a defiant, celebratory dimension that puts me in mind of Toni Morrison’s writing in The Bluest Eye. For those of you who haven’t read the book, you must, if only for the amazing rant against the over-sanitisation of life that occurs in one of the chapters near the start of the book. Describing a certain kind of woman, Morrison writes of a fear of ‘funkiness;’

…The dreadful funkiness of passion, the funkiness of nature, the funkiness of the wide range of human emotions. Wherever it erupts, this Funk, they wipe it away; where it crusts, they dissolve it; wherever it drips, flowers, or clings, they find it and fight it until it dies.

The women of whom she writes are disassociated, ultimately, from the funkiness of their blackness. Housework is used here allegorically as a means to articulate a self-destructive means of control. Funkiness must be contained because underneath the funkiness lies the terrible and righteous rage that is the result of racial oppression. Morrison redeems this anger throughout the book as a positive force for social change, but begs for it to be turned not in towards the self, but out towards the oppressor. In many ways her book is a passionate plea for funkiness. And for anger, rightly channeled.

There is a sense of being in anger. A reality of presence. An awareness of worth.

Now it would be utterly ridiculous to try and elevate the impetus for Messy Tuesdays to the same level of social commentary, literary genius and political importance as Toni Morrison’s book, The Bluest Eye. But the rant against the sanitisation of life is true for all people and the mechanisms for dominance and over-control are definitely a destructive social element, whether racially directed or not, and Messy Tuesdays can certainly be taken as a move towards embracing funkiness and against over-control.

Morrison is an expert on articulating meaning through very ordinary instances. Her characters mostly live in small communities and engage in the same mundane activities and vast politics that take place in such places everywhere. But she invests her characters’ ordinary lives with a rich symbolism, a poetry of the everyday rendered extraordinary through her awesome perceptiveness. Her books are generous and terrifying because she does not allow you to dismiss the importance of commonplace decisions and situations. You are always close to the main issue in her works. There are no vacillations and no wasted words. In this way the life of the home, its functions and needs, its processes and the things that happen inside it, form a rich basis for many of Morrison’s stories.

Morrison is part of a massive legacy of writers/activists/commentators/artists whose work communicates richly about the world through the language of the home. From the Womanhouse project of the 1970s to Louise Bourgeois’ ‘cells’ to Bobby Baker’s performances to Toni Morrison’s books and far, far beyond, The Home and its depiction are closely linked to the imaginative lives of women. In extremely generalised terms the creation of mess, the revelling in mess and the lack of tidying up mess often have something to do with freedom. On the other hand, domestic perfection (again in extremely generalised terms) is rarely used as a creative means to describe liberation. In House Wife, High Value – Low Cost, Ann Oakley argues that

Housework is work directly opposed to the possibility of human self-actualisation. The same job requirements are imposed on all kinds of women with all kinds of skills and abilities but the basic activities of housework require little aptitude of any kind, save for dutiful application to the goal of carrying them out… Work can only be self-actualising when it provides motivation for the worker… Housework lacks any motivating factor. Essentially what this means is that the housewife cannot get any information about herself from the work she does. ‘When the person feels he is performing well in the work itself, it is “satisfying” in a very deep sense of the word; it confirms the self. The struggle to attain this through work is what is “motivating”.’ In housework there is no possibility of growth or advancement: feelings of achievement are transitory, enjoyment of work itself is a rare experience, and no opportunity for earned recognition is offered.

Now in quoting this I don’t aim to devalue housework so much as to point out the lack of reward for the self that housework involves. A lack of confirmation for the self is exactly the thing that Morrison aims to address in The Bluest Eye. The freedom of the self is what is attained when Bobby Baker sprays tomato sauce all over a pristine white sheet. Though it is simplistic to say messy = liberation, tidy = oppressed, this approximation of ideas would certainly explain the extreme ire that books like The Gentle Art of Domesticity invoke with their blithe eschewing of the difficult politics surrounding domesticity and the home.

And indeed such references are inevitable for Messy Tuesdays. Purejuice has set up a flickr group for messy Tuesday photos dubbing Messy Tuesdays ‘anti pinny-porn‘ and thereby adding a political angle to the project that is bound to spark debate… (remember that Ravelry thread, folks?)

From other corners of the blogosphere we hear from Thomasina Knits of piling-up teacups and from Moothings of messy post and unfinished ironing. Scullyknits talks of essay detritus piling up and needled, as usual provides insights into the life and possibilities of mess;

Mess is archeology.
Mess is pleasure, and the memory of pleasure:
And it is the stuff of potential:
Mess is good because it is stuff in the process of becoming.

…All this creative potential of mess, its significance and possibilities, the legacy of our creativity and our freedom are bound up somewhere in mess. I love the generosity with which people have shared their mess on Messy Tuesday; I hope the number of people joining in with the joy of Messy Tuesdays will only grow…

People’s posts about mess affirmative and richly descriptive in ways that edited domestic perfection never are. Pictures of mess evidence the beautiful, 3-dimensional, mortal, ever-changing, transient nature of life, its detritus and the way it is really lived. Mess is the result of eating and drinking, of making love, of writing, of drawing and making and being. Mess describes the self-actualisation that Tidy never can.

Thank you everyone and here’s to many more Messy Tuesdays.

One Response to Mess is beautiful.

  1. Shan says:

    Dropping by to leave a link to my inaugural Messy Tuesday post….thanks again for getting the ball rolling.

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