Man longs for purity

August 15, 2000

Man's desire for purity is closely related to their need for order. That is why this desire is most evident during times of crisis when order is under threat. Prof. Arnold Labrie of Maastricht University took this as his basic premise when studying the bourgeois culture of Western Europe in the period from 1870-1914. His project was funded by the Dutch research organisation NWO.

Between 1870 and 1914, society underwent major changes which were perceived as being threatening. For many people, the new major cities - with their large populations, crime, prostitution and lack of hygiene - were proof that the end of civilisation was at hand. It was precisely in this situation that the established bourgeoisie attempted to re-establish traditional standards and values. That aim expressed itself in a desire for purity which took various different forms.

Labrie refers not only to the rise of nationalist and racist movements but also to the importance of cultural and reformist movements and to the ideal of pure art and pure science, which grew in importance precisely in this period. In Labrie's view, one is dealing here with parallel movements which have an underlying cohesion. Purity means order, and in the name of this ideal, the "Other", which threatens that order, is excluded as an impure element.

The Maastricht historian focused primarily on the images used to express that notion of the pure and the impure. He dealt with the literary and philosophical sources, placing them in their socio-cultural context. Amongst those Labrie dealt with were Wagner, Nietzsche, Thomas Mann, Bram Stoker, Emile Zola and Joris-Karl Huysmans. According to Labrie, one cannot divorce Wagner's ideal of pure music from his goal of a purified (vegetarian) way of life and a pure Aryan race. Stoker's Dracula is a perfect example of the Other, threatening to infect the British nation by his presence. In this demonic figure, one can find a number of stereotypes which serve to stigmatise the masses, women, and the Jewish people. Like Dracula, the Other is basically anyone who impairs established standards and values and is therefore viewed as a source of chaos.

Labrie's study shows that the desire for purity is closely linked to the tendency towards asceticism which is deeply rooted in the Christian culture of Western Europe. However, he also shows that this desire generally masks a deep preoccupation with the impure. Elevated ideas and crystal-clear truths are not infrequently born of the most impure motives.
Further information:
Prof. Arnold Labrie (Maasticht University)
T +31-43-388 33 14
F +31-43-388 48 16

Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research

Related Desire Articles from Brightsurf:

NIH researchers identify gene in mice that controls food cravings, desire to exercise
National Institutes of Health researchers have discovered a gene in mice that controls the craving for fatty and sugary foods and the desire to exercise.

Site of male sexual desire uncovered in brain
The locus of male sexual desire has been uncovered in specific regions of brain tissue where a key gene named aromatase is present, reports a new study in mice.

Desire to be in a group leads to harsher judgment of others
In a time where political affiliations can feel like they're leading to tribal warfare, a research team from Duke has found that the desire to be part of a group is what makes some of us more likely to discriminate against people outside our groups, even in non-political settings.

The desire for information: Blissful ignorance or painful truth?
A new study looks closely at why many people are so likely to avoid useful information -- even if it benefits their health.

Scientists shed new light on neural processes behind our desire for revenge
New insight on the neural processes that drive a desire for revenge during conflict between groups has been published today in the open-access journal eLife.

Desire for excitement fuels young offenders to commit crime, then skill takes over
Young burglars are driven by a desire for excitement when they initially commit crime, new research from the University of Portsmouth has found.

Women with a low desire to avoid pregnancy still use contraception
A new study challenges assumptions that women with the highest preference against pregnancy use more effective contraceptive methods and that women who might welcome pregnancy do not use contraception.

Kindness is a top priority in a long-term partner according to a new international study
One of the top qualities that we look for in a long-term partner is kindness, according to new research by Swansea University.

Study reveals how stress can curb the desire to eat in an animal model
Eating disorder researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) have discovered a neurocircuit in mice that, when activated, increased their stress levels while decreasing their desire to eat.

Is Instagram behavior motivated by a desire to belong?
Does a desire to belong and perceived social support drive a person's frequency of Instagram use?

Read More: Desire News and Desire Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to