Craft

Author: joe

Wednesday, 03 November, 2010 - 22:15

- on dwelling in the being of a thing.

Looking for the moment the gap closes: being in the flow of the moment; sincerity; dialogue; thinging. Theoria, praxis and poiesis are the three Aristotelian "activities" of man: theoria - the contemplative, analytical mode; praxis - the mode of action; and poiesis - the conjury, the making, or (after Heidegger) the 'bringing-forth'. But how do these modes play together? Are we entrapped in one or the other, only ever switching between them as we might change gears? Or are they like polyphonic tones, playing together, merging with each other, alternately moving back and forth in dominance and recession, but always humming along at the same time?

I quote Richard Sennet at length here because when I read his account of craft (butchered here), I am thinking of these modes, and noticing the opening and closing of the gaps between thought and action, mind and world, being and withdrawal.

We could find no better guide than Erin O'Connor about how the hand and eye together learn how to concentrate. A philosophical glassblower, she has explored the development of long-term attention through her own struggles to fashion a particular kind of wineglass. She reports . . . that she has long enjoyed the Barolo wines of Italy and therefore sought to fashion a goblet big and rounded enough to support the fragrant "nose" of the wine. To accommodate this, she had to expand her powers of concentration from the short- to the long-term . . .
 
In learning to make a Barolo goblet O'Connor . . . had to "untape" habits she'd learnt in blowing simpler pieces in order to explore why she was failing . . . develop a better awareness of her body in relation to the viscous liquid, as though there were continuity between flesh and glass . . . Now she was better positioned to make use of the triad of the "intelligent hand" - co-ordination of hand, eye, and brain . . . But she still had to learn how to lengthen her concentration.
 
This stretch-out occurred in two phases. First, she lost awareness of her body making contact with the hot glass and became all-absorbed in the physical material as the end in itself . . . The philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty describes what she experienced as "being as a thing". This philosopher Michael Polanyi calls it "focal awareness" and refers to the act of hammering a nail: "When we bring down the hammer we do not feel that its handle has struck our palm but that its head has struck the nail . . . . I have a subsidiary awareness of the feeling in the palm of my hand which is merged into my focal awareness of my driving in the nail." If I may put this yet another way, we are now absorbed in something, no longer self-aware, even of our bodily self. We have become the thing on which we are working.
 
This absorbed concentration now had to be stretched out. The challenge O'Connor met was the result of further failure . . . The problem, she came to understand, lay in dwelling in that moment of "being in a thing." To work better, she discovered, she needed to anticipate what the material should next become in its next, as-yet nonexistent, stage of evolution. Her instructor called this simply "staying on track"; she, rather more philosophically minded, understood that she was engaged in a process of "corporeal anticipation," always one step ahead of the material . . .
 
The rhythm that kept O'Connor specifically alert lay in her eye disciplining her hand, the eye constantly scanning and judging, adjusting the hand, the eye establishing the tempo. The complexity here is that she was no longer conscious of her hands, she no longer thought about what they were doing: her consciousness focussed on what she saw; ingrained hand motions became part of the act of seeing ahead . . .
 
The Craftsman by Richard Sennet

The materials of life require a master to give them form, while dwelling in the being of a thing is anarchic and free-wheeling. Hmmm. Ahhh. Hello, and welcome to the tropes of mastery and freedom . . .

Categories: theoria, praxis, poiesis, Aristotle, Heidegger, Richard Sennett, craft, The Craftsman, flow, absorbtion, concentration, focal awareness, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Michael Polanyi,
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