Ordinary Lifestyles: Popular Media, Consumption and Taste

By David Bell; Joanne Hollows | Go to book overview

4 Recipes for living
Martha Stewart and the new
American subject

David B. Goldstein

Entertaining, by its nature, is an expansive gesture, and demands
an expansive state of mind in charge.

(Martha Stewart, Entertaining, 1982)

There is nothing innocuous left.

(Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia, 1974)


Georgic and American culture

Since its inception, georgic poetry (from the Greek ‘to work earth’) has blended moral and political concerns in a didactic framework. The classic example of this tradition remains Virgil's Georgias, a four-part poem about farming and animal husbandry, written between 37 and 30 BCE. The poem presents itself as a meditation on simplicity:

What makes the crops joyous, beneath what star, Maecenas, it is
well to turn the soil, and wed vines to elms, what tending the
kine need, what care the herd in breeding, what skill the thrifty
bees – hence shall I begin my song.

(Virgil 1986 I, II: 1–5)

An urban dweller with limited farming experience, Virgil points his thoughts toward the city from rural retirement. ‘The poem's public urgency,’ writes one critic, ‘strikes us long before its practical advice on tilling the soil’ (O'Loughlin 1978: 59). While the poem does provide farming advice, the instructions serve primarily as allegories for the labour of human relationships: cultivation teaches culture. For example, in the final book, concerned with beekeeping, the character of bees is described in emphatically anthropomorphic terms:

They alone have children in common, hold the dwellings of
their city jointly, and pass their life under the majesty of law.
They alone know a fatherland and fixed home, and in summer,

-47-

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