I wanted to talk about dirt, London’s dirt. When I say “dirt” I not only mean dust, filth, grime and soil, I also mean clutter, mess, tangle and disorder. I mean squatters, homeless, sex workers, refugees, imprisoned, some of queers and all of those who represent the unprivileged side of the social order. Those who are being piled in various corners or the city or dispersed in it forgotten and despised. Those whose appearance and values don’t fit into the domesticated diversity of London. Dirty, messy us.
Dirt always exists in comparison with cleanness, as its negativity. This is the example of how the devilry of social domestication turned the multiplicity of life into the limited binary sets. Thus, heterosexuals are cleaner than homosexuals, white people are cleaner than people of colour, the rich are cleaner than the poor, the educated are cleaner than the uneducated, the healthy is cleaner than the differently abled. Men are cleaner than women as the sperm has a vital force while the menstruation is a symbol of death. People are cleaner than animals because the conditions of the conquered and enslaved don’t deserve to be respected. I am always cleaner than you because we exist in alienated community of capital where people think that spit is disgusting, shit stinks and pee makes inappropriate sound. Your pee, not mine.
Binary strategy has been a handy tool since the human body became the main vessel of the social order and thus a productive and profitable device. Productivity is discipline, discipline is legibility, legibility is binary oppositions. Later, basic biological features of human species were transformed into the object of political strategy. Dichotomized, bodies were captured by such prisons as gender, physical capacities, health, origins, skin colour. Intellectual capacity and diligence become the extension of body features and was also subjected to binary sets. Those who had been left behind due to their abnormal sexuality, non-hierarchical relationships and unprofitable trade structures were disclosed, colonized and violently forced to be legible. Those who had disagreed were hidden, tortured and killed. Newborns were actively introduced to binary organization of relations and knowledge. Family, prisons, fabrics, schools, hospitals are based on binary logic of inclusion and exclusion. If you are not with us you are against us.
Hygiene standards greatly illustrate how private was transferred to political sphere in binary categories. XX century health care propaganda divided people on those who pushed forward into the future and those who slowed down the progress. For example, on Soviet Union posters miners who have just finished their job look cleaner than any unemployed citizens, “parasites”. In Nazi Germany traditional notions of public health abruptly evaluated in racial hygiene. McCarthyist’s repressions caused the wave of sci-fi films where Communists prototyped bugs-looking aliens. Immigrants have been often represented as a swarm of locusts which invades Europe. Transgender people have been being described as artificial Frankenstein monsters who aim to destroy your family, seduce your husband and demoralize your daughter. Indeed, they will do sooner or later and you’ll be the only one who won’t enjoy it.
More significant, mental hygiene developed in Western countries set up not only the standard of “normality” but also a negative side of it: mental diseases. All of the sudden, most people have OCDs, schizophrenia, phobias and other conditions which being struggled with both psychologically and physically. What was a kind of wisdom during the Renaissance became a deviant behaviour nowadays therefore giving a reason for any undomesticated actions to be immediately subjected to treatment and isolation. Like, if you are screaming at the cop who broke your front car window to check your ID, you are mentally ill. If you find it strange and scary that helicopters fly around your house after an action you participated in, you are mentally ill. If you have a breakdown and hit your boss who’s been sexually harassing you for years, you are mentally ill. You are mentally ill anyway, because normal people would never question their normality.
At the same time, “passive” mental illnesses caused by the social order itself such as depression or anxiety are being discussed everywhere and by everyone therefore becoming a type of “healthiness”: “all of us feel depressed sometimes, right”? However, if you do feel anxious and do go to the doctor, you will definitely be asked about your “sexual orientation” and “problems at work” and will finally be shamed as someone “abnormal”. “Oh, no doubt you have problems having such lifestyle”. Lifestyle. So you go home, turn the TV on and watch another episode of the series about “hoarders”, people with more fashionable disorder than yours. Being presented as weirdos, they are publicly humiliated and laughed at. You change the channel where celebrities show off with their 1001st pair of shoes, famous and happy them! Their “excessive acquisition and an inability or unwillingness to discard large quantities of objects” worth TV time, your time: when the objects are expensive hoarding is charming . You turn the TV off and go to sleep, I hope you do.
Homogeneity is intrinsic to domestication process so among so many types of dirt and mess there is always only one universal level of cleanliness. It’s always imaginary, futuristic, unreachable. Cleanliness became the indicator of social class, wealth and well-being. Here, in London, it’s seen as much as in any other Western capital, and even more. Posh city centre and newly gentrified areas attract tourists, rich youth and investors. On another side, subcultures, identities and political movements are are being constructed as an opposition to the London logic of capital. People struggle to built their own communities, fight gentrification, save social housing, continue squatting and create illegible areas free from the neighbourhood watch. That’s how the situation is seen from the outside, the rich and the poor, the privileged and the oppressed. That’s the simplified, liberal point of view. In reality, even the inequality is not proportional as dirt and mess is also appropriated by those who claim to oppose it.
Let’s have a look at the biggest London attraction: hipsters and their rich culture. London hipsters are mostly white middle class people living of creative professions, renting a room in Shoreditch, Dalston, Brixton, connecting through numerous Iphone apps and visiting a vast number of colourful, expensive and senseless events in their areas. Their clothes are clean, their homes are tidy, their politics are superficial - all the social order desires. However, they are a mess, but what kind of mess? The mess which consists of ideologically-shaped and mass-mediated disorder of artefacts developed by outsider and overpast groups, combined in postmodernist random manner. This mess is clean, this dirt is organized. That’s the next step of domestication: the creation of facilitated negativity which hipsters themselves called “alternative lifestyle”, alternative to any forms not captured by capital yet. Hipsters’ culture uses the mess to drill into the future by reterritorizing commodities which already exist. They destroy and play Lego with wreckage; capital encourages and invests in it. The best way to control mess and dirt is to create it.
Thus, the question with mess and dirt is who can actually afford it. Hipster can afford being messy as a way to stand out of the crowd while a person who gets their clothes from a charity boxes tries to blend into it. Hipster can afford being a property guardian to exercise their creative mess while a person evicted from their demolished council estate struggles to get any housing. Hipster can afford being gay or random gender queer, depends on the party, feeling safe among their liberal alternative friends who also think that being straight is no longer cool while a silent queer person suffers from gender dysphoria and works on three jobs to save up and see a doctor. Hipster can afford not to be too settled in one identity switching from one to another and having no connection to any of them while a politically dissatisfied person fights to be recognized as a political subject. Hipster can afford an unlimited combination of culturally appropriated items in their outlook while a non-european person is being harassed for their traditional clothes on the street. Hipster can afford to take pictures with “dirty” homeless person and send them to the next art show while a homeless person stays a homeless person. Etc.
Genuinely, the situation goes way beyond the hipsters scene. In London, where Home Office operates like a factory sending hundreds and thousands people to detention centres or “home counties”, where invisible immigration raids destroy people’s lives, to be dirty or messy is an absolute privilege of any white middle class people. You can’t be dirty if you have to go to Job Center to beg for another Allowance. You can’t be dirty if you have an appointment in Home Office to prove again that you are a person of a good character and deserve to be in the UK. If you are a person of colour, you can’t have your house dirty because neighbours can see, elaborate and call the police. You, a person of colour, can’t be dirty on the street because everyone will look at you with disgust or pettiness. And if, being on the street, you ask for help when you don’t feel fine, if you fall down unconscious people will just pass by thinking that you are simply drunk because of your miserable poor or non-white existence. And if you do have such existence you can’t even bask or rough-sleep, being a person of colour you’ll be kicked out within seconds. You can not afford being messy or dirty. Just learn it.
There is one more type of mess you can’t afford: the violence. Here the list expands as we talk about more direct interaction with the social order which, together with successful middle class white men, has a monopoly on violence. Because if you are a person of colour, your anger might cause you years in prison for throwing a plastic cone to the attacking you during the protest police dog, your white friend will probably get away with a fine. If you are a refugee and go to make a graffiti against borders and you are caught, you’ll never get a UK citizenship, your UK/EU friend will plead guilty and forget about this case in a week. If you are transgendered person and get arrested for any disarray you’ll experience the level of harassment you wouldn’t even know existed, your binary friend will be let out home soon where they will spend hours talking about the abuse they had having been forced to give their fingerprints. If you a differently abled person or have a mental issues, you probably won’t even go out to express your anger, your “healthy” friends will express it for you. If you are depressed enough, you probably don’t even have friends because they prefer people who are more fun. If you are a single mother, you also stay at home and your friends will talk between themselves that “it was your choice to have a baby”. In other words, if you are unprivileged and angry and don’t believe in the political representation, you are fucked. So you’d better stay still giving an example of clean, organized, legible well-being. Maybe one day you’ll feel well enough to resist.
I brush my domesticated dog and he is forced to like it, he doesn’t have an option. He chooses to think that it’s the way I care about him. The social order cares about us, keeps us clean, let us be a bit dirty and messy, we don’t have an option. Unless we decide that we do. Hygiene is a self-discipline based on shame and exclusion. Legibility is a fear of partial objects and I am one of them. Cleanness is a white man who tells me that I am a partial object. It’s confusing, I get anxious and go to clean my room to release stress. Cleaning my room I’m thinking that I should never forget that I’m a trash, have always been and will always be and I’m proud of it as nobody managed to domesticate me otherwise. It gives me hope. I wish you the same.
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: STRIKE magazine: Issue 17: Cities, 2016