The Practice of
| DOMESTICITY |
in a State of Emergency
Biba Bell, Maya Stovall, Michael Stone-richards
The great English aesthete Adrian Stokes once said that modern art had accomplished much but that there remains a powerful need for an aesthetics of domesticity. What a remarkable thing to have said! For we do not normally go to art or aesthetics to talk about …domesticity! We go to art, it is said, to be lifted up, to be made to feel the spiritual, to be taken out of oneself, indeed, to forget domesticity. (Is it an accident that in the Detroit art scene there has never been any sustained reflection on domesticity?) Stokes, however, was onto something for one of the great accomplishments of modern art in its avant-garde practices - practices most readily associated with Surrealism, the Situationist International, and Judson Dance – and shared with ordinary language philosophy and critical thought from Wittgenstein to Cavell, from Heidegger to Erving Goffman and the Feminist ethic of Care tradition is the recovery of the everyday as the ground of all human existence. When Heidegger made Care (Sorge) central to Being and Time, central that is, not only to philosophy but to the comprehension of existence, he also made the everyday central to philosophy and existence. When Heidegger said that Care is the response to the radical anxiety experienced when confronted with the collapse of familiarity, he meant the collapse of the everyday, of the ordinary, of all the things that we take for granted – the habits, routines, unexamined practices – that make up our social identities. The collapse of familiarity rips these away from us and leaves us exposed and vulnerable but also as a result able to be-alongside others (strangers as well as environments) without the social masks that we inhabit and through which we project our fears as means of defense of our social roles. At the same time, the collapse of familiarity is the collapse of the domain of the domestic sphere: the home with its rituals and manners of welcome and sheltering; the home and practices of domesticity that we take for granted, whose securities and memories are the background of subjectivity and our ability to face the world – as Rilke wrote “Whoever has no house now, will never have one. / Whoever is alone will stay alone” (“Autumn Day,” trans Stephen Mitchell). In the time of COVID-19 – the desolate time, the destitute time, the meager time, the distressful time – there is much talk of economics (“re-opening the economy” is the phrase) but little to no attention to where the real damage is being enacted: in the sphere of domesticity. What happens when the domestic is no-longer-at-home? Your reflections are welcome.
- Michael Stone-Richards