At the Wellcome Collection’s fabulous exhibition on Dirt in London, I recently discovered the source of my lifelong, low-grade housewifely guilt. The show’s first room was dedicated to the 17th century Dutch notion that cleanliness was integral to godliness.
The upside of my ancestors’ belief that cleaning the house was akin to cleaning the soul? In 1683 Antonie van Leeuwenhoek inspected his own tooth-scrapings under a microscope and discovered “animalculae,” aka bacteria.
In Purity and Danger Mary Douglas argues that “There is no such thing as absolute dirt: it exists in the eye of the beholder.” This is, most definitely, not a concept I grew up with. But I’m learning, I’m learning.