Jul. 15th, 2017

osprey_archer: (shoes)
I discovered, FAR TOO LATE, that it is actually possible to stay in the old Oneida Community building: they have converted part of it into a hotel (and an even larger part of it into apartments). IF ONLY! But they seem to get booked up far in advance, so probably even if I had popped over to their website when the idea of a road trip first occurred to me in June, I still couldn't have stayed there.

Still. MAYBE SOMEDAY. Upstate New York is so beautiful - I've never been here before, but I love the mountains - and so full of history: I just happened to stumble upon L. Frank Baum's hometown today. They have an Oz museum, which I did not visit, but if I come back...

Mostly I spent the day visiting the Oneida Community Mansion House, where the three hundred odd members of the community lived from the 1860s to 1880, when the community broke up. (They were in the area since 1848, but it took them some time to gather the resources to build that stately brick house.) I took the guided tour, which was really wonderful - we had a thoughtful and well-informed docent, a former English teacher, who not only knew everything about the house but had read most of the books in the gift shop and helped me decide which one to buy. (I ended up with Pierrepont B. Noyes' memoir of his childhood at Oneida, which is delightful so far.)

The Oneida Community was a Christian perfectionist cult - perfectionist in the sense of "We can achieve sinless grace on earth!", not its modern meaning. They practiced:

1. Bible communism. Everyone in the community holds all goods in common; the community takes care of everyone and everyone does work for the community, and all kinds of work are held to be holy.

2. Complex marriage. All the men and women in the community are heterosexually married to each other. People at the time often figured that there was a constant orgy going on in the mansion, but in fact sexual contact had to be carefully negotiated, usually through an intermediary, and anyone had the right to say no. (Charles Guiteau, who later assassinated President Garfield, lived in the Oneida Community for five years and could not get laid.) You'd think women would be getting pregnant all the time, except the community also practiced

3. Male continence. Men were not to ejaculate during sex. This apparently worked really well - there were only forty pregnancies in the group's first twenty years of existence - possibly because incorrect ejaculation would come up during Mutual Criticism, which would be totally mortifying and also limit one's future sex partners.

4. Which brings us neatly to Mutual Criticism, during which people were allowed - nay, encouraged! - to tell you all your faults so you could try to correct them and thus approach nearer to spiritual perfection. This sounds excruciating, but Pierrepont Noyes, in his memoir, comments that "because members had the opportunity to criticize each other openly, Community life was singularly free from backbiting and scandalmongering," so perhaps it's a case of ripping off the bandaid all in one go rather than taking it up millimeter by excruciating millimeter.

And also everyone except John Humphrey Noyes, the founder, underwent Mutual Criticism, so any impulse toward harshness much have been tempered by the knowledge that the criticizer might soon by the criticized.

I have no idea if the Community owned this many portraits of Noyes when it was active, but now they are everywhere. It reminded me a bit of the omnipresent Lenins in the Soviet Union, although this comparison is unfair to Noyes: he seems to have been about as benevolent a patriarch as it is possible for any human being to be, spoken of with love and respect even after the community fell apart.

Although I do think the comparison does serve to show the limits of the Oneida community, as enticing as certain aspects of the experiment seem. (I for one like the idea of living in a mansion full of like-minded people with a well-stocked reading room and an endless round of entertainments: the Oneidans, no ascetics, played croquet, put on plays, read novels aloud to each other, and fielded a full orchestra.) Communes seem to need a charismatic leader to succeed - hence the mayfly nature of most nineteenth-century commune experiments - and there's no guarantee you'll get a benevolent Noyes rather than someone voraciously power-mad.

Profile

osprey_archer: (Default)
osprey_archer

July 2017

S M T W T F S
       1
2 34 5 6 78
910 11 12 13 14 15
1617 18 19202122
2324 2526272829
3031     

Most Popular Tags

Page Summary

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Jul. 26th, 2017 02:45 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios