Thursday, August 21, 2008

Cathedral vs. Bathroom

From A Piece of My Mind (1956) by Edmund Wilson:

A certain kind of European overrates the comparative importance, in the present age of the world, of a good deal of his cultural tradition, and often of his own real interest in it. For myself, as an American, I have not the least doubt that I have derived a good deal more benefit of the civilizing as well as of the inspirational kind from the admirable American bathroom than I have from the cathedrals of Europe. I do not, of course, deny the impressiveness or the many varied beauties of these monuments, nor their usefulness to the people in their time; I have enjoyed their delightful coolness and their shade from the glare of the sun on broiling days in France and Italy – though in cold weather they are likely to be unbearable. But I have had a good many more uplifting thoughts, creative and expansive visions – while soaking in comfortable baths or drying myself after bracing showers – in well-equipped American bathrooms than I have ever had in any cathedral. Here the body purges itself, and along with the body, the spirit. Here the mind becomes free to ruminate, to plan ambitious projects. The cathedrals, with their distant domes, their long aisles and their high groinings, do add stature to human strivings; their chapels do give privacy for prayer. But the bathroom, too, shelters the spirit, it tranquillizes and reassures, in surroundings of a celestial whiteness, where the pipes and faucets gleam and the mirror makes another liquid surface, which will render you, shaved, rubbed and brushed, a nobler and more winning appearance. Here, too, you may sing, recite, refresh yourself with brief readings, just as you do in church; and the fact that you do it without a priest and not as a member of a congregation is, from my point of view, an advantage. It encourages self-dependence and prepares one to face the world, fortified, firm on one’s feet, serene and with a mind like a diamond.

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