October 22, 2004

Longing for Mud

Gerald's latest on the Kerry platform as reflecting a rejection of American culture and an urge to American self-destruction, uses the term nostalgie pour le boue. I've always heard nostalgie de la boue, but in any case the literal translation of this French phrase is "longing for mud."

It's metaphorical, of course, not a Parisian version of

Mud, Mud, glorious mud
Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood!
So follow me, follow
Down to the hollow
And there let us wallow
In glorious mud.

by Flanders & Swann. (When the French get into lumbering beasts they prefer this sort of thing, anyway.)

Having recently googled la nostalgie de la boue and found this definition by the anthropologist Esther Pasztory,

"ascribing higher spiritual values to people and cultures considered 'lower' than oneself, the romanticization of the faraway primitive which is also the equivalent of the lower class close to home."

I was intrigued, as Gerald's definition appears closer to the one stuck in my head from years ago--"a compulsion that comes over people when they have, for complex reasons, a need to immerse themselves in self-degradation."

This definition reeks of absinthe, the demi-monde, "Apache" dancing, and sexual license. Perhaps these concepts meet somewhere near the horizon line, where nostalgics conceive of both the "primitive" and the lower classes as closer to Rousseau's concept of man having been born free, but being everywhere in chains.

This dilletantish "mud" is mostly a creation of the imaginations of the leisured and bored. Whether drumming in the woods, cultivating a fabricated American Indian "spirituality," or traveling around the country emulating hobos like the Beats, or around Central Asia in search of hashish and liberation, we moderns have sought our own "mud" in many ways.

Meanwhile, of course, the "primitives" seek televisions, tube wells, green cards, and Christianity.

If you, gentle reader, know more about the origins and development of this muddy nostalgia, let me know. Meanwhile, I'll see what I can discover.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great post. I have been fascinated with this French phrase and its symbolism for some time now. Very well put when you implied that it is only we who can afford the luxury of mud seeking that seek it out (i.e. bored first-world citizens). I would love to ponder all the various ways in which we partake in this pastime. Even aesthetic things...like wearing the perfectly crafted holes in ones jeans or achieving the perfectly worn and weathered look in ones furniture. ...all expressions of degradation, I think. Meanwhile, second and third-worlders seek to look and feel as expensive and formal as possible.