A Philosopher Does the Dishes

“The best time to plot a novel is while doing the dishes” –Dame Agatha Christie

We could begin by asking if anybody “does” anything anymore. Is action rooted in consequence, necessity, a primal cause, instinct or an inevitably tragic sense of striving for, yet failing to, achieve an ideal?

Beyond what could be an instinctive loathing of smelly crockery (limited, of course, to those with a sense of smell who are in proximity of the sink), “doing” the dishes may honor presumptions of cleanliness that are determined by personal history, cultural mores, misinformation about “germs” and religious fancy, which begs us to consider how can cleanliness be next to godliness when, an omnipresent deity can have permit no propinquity other than that imagined by the self: there cannot be a hierarchical “nextedness.”

We can anticipate a utility in removing food from a plate, in that a plate without food is more useful than a plate displaying dried, crusty, no-longer consumable organic matter. Is a clean plate the same as an empty plate? Close examination of any object presumed to be “clean” will reveal the presence of microscopic monstrosities that no one, aside from high school biology students forced to examine the contents of “drinking” water. Emptiness, in mysticism or in the physical sciences, is a paradox: the more we observe, the more we notice, regardless of definitions of “content.”

Let us impose an arbitrary limitation on our discussion with a view toward the technological and cultural presence of the contemporary dishwashing machine. We will, therefore, not include definitions and perspectives on soap, brushes, scrubbing pads, gloves, dish towels, dishpan hands, the aesthetic complexities in sink composition and that most fascinating symbol of modern nihilism: the garbage disposal, which has, as its unifying characteristic, that potential (if not actual) ability to transform unwanted refuse (excluing banana peels, onion skins, corn husks,animal bones, metal jar lids, plastic seals, the hard stalks of gourds and vine squash, bottle tops, small dessert spoons, rubber bands and that cell phone that was just too damned slow to load) into a whirl of mechanical noise and darkness worthy of an ancient household god, that then mellows into “nothing” that drains down into the underworld.

We should pause, here and examine–all too briefly–the custom of manually cleaning dishes, glassware, pots, pans and cutlery with warm (if not hot) water, detergent and a scrubbing implement before inserting the same items into the dishwashing machines. Is it that the use of ones hands is remains preminent? Or is the literal cleaning a preparatory rite that leads to a epiphanic return to innocence implied by the machine’s normal cycle?

Here I must digress into the complexity of placement. We will accept as a given that dishwashing machines have two racks, the lower closer to the hottest and most powerful water spray, the second reserved for glassware and a more median spritzenleben. This said, the arrangement of items within the machine must be interrogated for characteristic anomalies regarding gender, historical determinism, applications of power, and structural atavism.

First, research is necessary for the establishment of any claim regarding the masculine necessity for hierarchical unities and the favoring of like items at the expense of the “other.”

We must also ask if the placement of objects is determined by the order in which they are removed from the sink, thus ceding choice to an historical determinism, or could the method be derived as an application of power, i.e., putting items retaining a higher or more visible concentration of food debris in the bottom rack, instead of the top?

A final post-structural consideration regards the use of the racks, as well as other containers for cutlery and smaller items. That these racks exist can be confirmed empirically but not a priori. One can use the prongs and spacers to arrange plates on their edge, but also ignore (and, possibly defy) the expectations within the machine’s deign and balance the plates face down, affording maximal exposure to the hot spray.

And what about placement that is counter-productive, such putting a glass or cup with its bottom down, instead of inverted? The vessel would certainly fill with the first rinse water (if a cycle had been selected with such a feature) and not drain.

Would the cup be any cleaner? And, to add an element of humor to our exploration, would it, at the conclusion of the machine’s exculpatory process, be half empty, or half full?

I see from the clock we’ve run out of time. I’ll save the examination of dishwasher soap levels, rinse additives and the environmental implications of heated drying for our next session.




One thought on “A Philosopher Does the Dishes

  1. Soap Pirate says:

    Industrial Engineering prose. You have created a new category. Should be required reading at Georgia Tech, or M I T. You sir, are a poet.


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