Search results for "craft "

Heap of sawdust

Author: joe

Tuesday, 09 November, 2010 - 16:46

- on freedom and craft.

Understand this clearly: You can teach a man to draw a straight line, and to cut one; to strike a curved line, and to carve it; and to copy and carve any number of given lines or forms, with admirable speed and perfect precision; and you find his work perfect of its kind: but if you ask him to think about any of those forms, to consider if he cannot find any better in his own head, he stops; his execution becomes hesitating; he thinks, and ten to one he thinks wrong; ten to one he makes a mistake in the first touch he gives to his work as a thinking being. But you have made a man of him for all that. He was only a machine before, an animated tool.
 
And observe, you are put to stern choice in this matter. You must either make a tool of the creature, or a man of him. You cannot make both. Men were not intended to work with the accuracy of tools, to be precise and perfect in all their actions. If you will have that precision out of them, and make their fingers measure degrees like cog-wheels, and their aims strike curves like compasses, you must unhumanize them. All the energy of their spirits must be given to make cogs and compasses of themselves. All their attention and strength must go to the accomplishment of the mean act. The eye of the soul must be bent upon the finger-point, and the soul's force must fill all the invisible nerves that guide it, ten hours a day, that it may not err from its steely precision, and so soul and sight be worn away, and the whole human being be lost at last - a heap of sawdust, so far as its intellectual work in this world is concerned; saved only by its Heart, which cannot go into the form of cogs and compasses, but expands, after the ten hours are over, into fireside humanity. On the other hand, if you will make a man of the working creature, you cannot make a tool. Let him but begin to imagine, to think, to try to do anything worth doing; and the engine-turned precision is lost at once. Out come all his roughness, all his dulness, all his incapability; shame upon shame, failure upon failure, pause after pause: but out comes the whole majesty of him also; and we know the height of it only, when we see the clouds settling upon him. And, whether the clouds be bright or dark, there will be transfiguration behind and within them.
 
And now, reader, look round this English room of yours, about which you have been proud so often, because the work of it was so good and strong, and the ornaments of it so finished. Examine again all those accurate mouldings, and perfect polishings, and unerring adjustments of the seasoned wood and tempered steel. Many a time you have exulted over them, and thought how great England was, because her slightest work was done so thoroughly. Alas! if read rightly, these perfectnesses are signs of a slavery in our England a thousand times more bitter and more degrading than that of the scourged African, or helot Greek. Men may be beaten, chained, tormented, yoked like cattle, slaughtered like summer flies, and yet remain in one sense, and the best sense, free. But to smother their souls within them, to blight and hew into rotting pollards the suckling branches of their human intelligence, to make the flesh and skin which, after the worm's work on it, is to see God, into leathern thongs to yoke machinery with, - this it is to be slave-masters indeed; and there might be more freedom in England, though her feudal lords' lightest words were worth men's lives, and though the blood of the vexed husbandman dropped in the farrows of her fields, than there is while the animation of her multitudes is sent like fuel to feed the factory smoke, and the strength of them is given daily to be wasted into the fineness of a web, or racked into the exactness of a line.
 
The Nature of Gothic Architecture by John Ruskin

Here is the interplay between autonomy and automaticity, or as Ruskin goes on to describe it, monotony and change. It cuts both ways - here, freedom of thought versus the unthinking automaton; there, the paralysis of reflection versus the repeated muscular action of practice. It is the experience of mastery that comes with self-determination in work as against the slavery inherent in institutionalised programming; but equally it is the iron cage of systematic thought as against the solipsism of anarchic play.

I'm not sure, as Ruskin implies, you really can have one without the other. I am a man and a machine; I enslave and am enslaved, as I quick-step or slow-dance between thought and action, between absorption in craft and pausing for reflection. I need the space for free-thinking and the discipline of rigour; I require systems as well as playgrounds; I need to feel human and frail as well as to feel rational and effective.

There is some connection with these desires and my joining the protest against cuts tomorrow.

Categories: John Ruskin, man, machine, thought, craft, freedom, mastery,
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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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