Monday, July 21, 2008

Where an armoire shall stay... or a dream of a village girl

Rose (Rozia) was young, perhaps 16 or 17 years old, smiling and fresh-faced. She was my grandmother's household help, but sometimes, when my aunt Olga, who was my governess, was away for a couple of hours, Rose played with me.
I remember that Rose loved to play house and she begged, cajoled and bribed me to play it.

I never wanted to, because it bored me silly, but sometimes I let myself be bribed.

To play it, Rose put a large square piece of packing brown paper on the table. On this she drew a floorplan of a cottage - one she dreamed of having when she got married - a typical Lowicz area village cottage with a straw roof and white-blue washed walls. I remember that there were few pieces of furniture in the cottage - a woodframe bed with straw matress, a table and a couple of chairs.

But the most important piece was an armoire, a heavy, ornamental Gdansk style armoire - not something that usually occupied village cottages, but something to which Rose passionately aspired... and the placement of which constituted practically the entire "house" game with Rose .
Since it made it so excruciatingly boring for me, I took my revenge on Rose, hiding her dream armoire in corners, anytime it was my turn to place it. Upon which Rose got flustered and placed it prominently in sight, ideally in full view of a front window.
No, I criticised, yawning, this big ugly thing ( at 6 years old myself I was already "educated" enough by my aunt-governess, to "know" that the object of Rose's dreams, her promised bonus for three years of good service was too petit-burgeois, too heavy to be gracious and too crudely overly ornamentalized to be elegant) should be hidden, not exposed.

Rose, getting redfaced, would then explain to me that nobody else in the village, or the next village, or the next, would have such a grand thing. So everybody passing her window would estimed her as a rich woman, an owner of land and of beautiful things. Sometimes, she dreamt, she would even leave one of the armoire's doors sligtly ajar, so that one wool skirt with its heavily embroidered velvet trim, a skirt from the traditional Lowicz peasant costume - her second most important possesion to be - would be visible.

That was a life dream of one uneducated young village girl. An esteem need - the highest hierarchy of lower level needs, deficiency needs, according to Maslow's famous hierachy of needs . Her esteem was to be based entirely on posessions, silly posessions.

And the same seems to be true about a much richer - but not much more developed - American society or any sufficiently americanized vulgarly consumer type societies.
Maslow was an optimist - he thought that after satisfying basic physiological needs (food, water, shelter, clothes, sex), and - in turn - security and social needs, people would then be free to satisfy their esteem need and - finally - a need for selfactualization.

I don't think he even imagined that a whole society could become so corrupted, so arrested in its development, that it would en masse seek to satisfy esteem needs through more and more material possesions. Not through producing or even consuming "civilization".
What do I mean by that? Let me use a dialogue between a litterati icon of a New York society and his young and eager to learn amanuensis in Claire Messoud's bestselling novel "The Emperor's Children" to explain it: "you're absolutely right. You do need to read them," his uncle said. "that what it means to be civilized. Novels, history, philosophy, science - the lot. You expose yourself to as much as possible, you absorb it, you forget most of it, but along the way it's changed you."

A "War and Peace" instead of a suburbean, anyone? A course of astrophysics instead of a McMansion? Lol, no, I did not really think I would have many takers... After all in America a suburbean or a McMansion will grant you infinitely more esteem from others than your advance knowledge of astrophysics ('eggheads" have no esteem in the American sea of infinite shallowness) or trying to discuss "War and Peace".... but it is a shame.

Maslow envisioned that inside each of us is a musician who needs to write music, a painter who needs to paint, a teacher who needs to teach, a doctor who needs to cure, a programmer who needs to write the most clever code, etc. etc. not just a mindless shopper.

He did not envision us deriving soooooo much satisfaction from silly, most often completely superfluous material posessions, that we would so totally forgo seeking esteem and selfrealization in our accomplishments.... true accomplishments, not just spending money.
A shame.
....And all this musing because my empty bedroom in my new-old apartment in Aguada features prominently a humongous - and also practically empty - closet. My esteem need - checked. Lol.


pixie_dust said...

You have to remember that there's a lot to be said for easiness of access and instant gratification. How long does it take to earn a PHD in astrophysics? How much do you have to exert your brain to do so? How much discomfort will this put you in?

In contrast, how long does it take to save a down payment for a McMansion? Especially if it's in foreclosure?

Minerva said...

Lol, pixie, good point. Ease of access and instant gratification. That's it!