I recently picked up Ivan Illich’s book H2O and the Waters of Forgetfulness. It seems the subtitle of the book is “reflections of the historicity of stuff,” though my copy makes no mention of this. I have only begun to work my way through it though this passage, which appears within the first few pages, demonstrates some of the books main concerns regarding water as a symbol of purity:
The intertwining of urban water and the nude constitutes one of the strands of a taboo woven to protect the symbolism of public water use from analysis. We may, for instance, debate quite openly our selection of the architect who will dress up the stuff that runs through Dallas pipes. We feel free to criticize the way he displays it, makes it dance or sparkle. But we do not feel free to question the natural beauty of water itself because we know, yet cannot bear to acknowledge, that this “stuff” is recycled toilet flush.