- Exquisite Rot: Spalted Wood and the Lost Art of Intarsia
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This gave Gropius the opportunity to design the now-famous white-and-gray building that would house the school. This may be the last exemplary building he completed without substantial contributions from others. The Bauhaus would only exist in Dessau for a few years. It weathered first the departure of Gropius, then the rise of fascism, which cut off funding.
In , during the leadership of Mies van der Rohe, the school closed. The students and faculty were scattered. Some were exiled for their progressive values, and others, often those with non-Aryan heritage, were sent to concentration camps. Gropius continued to seek work in Nazi Germany, even registering with the new government and submitting designs for public buildings. He had no sympathy for Nazism, but wanted to remain close to his daughter in Vienna and to help his friends, hoping the storm would blow over.
This compromised position was brief: In , he was forced to seek work in London and settled there. The Bauhaus embodied everything Nazis detested about the sexual, cultural, and intellectual freedom of the Weimar Period. It provided a bridge between the eclectic genres held together under the umbrella of Bauhaus and the more monolithic modernism of the s and s.
Gropius also took advantage of the exhibit as a first opportunity to solidify his reputation as the undisputed leader of the Bauhaus and its all-important dean, a small act of historical revisionism that communicated his esteem for education over construction but also his own non-negligible ego. Gropius and Ise made their way to the United States, where he took up the rather grander teaching role of professor of architecture at the Harvard School of Design.
He restarted his own practice, first with Marcel Breuer and later with a collective of young former students known as TAC The Architects Collaborative , but he was more focused on teaching a new generation. Like his students from Weimar and Dessau, these graduates would become leaders in their fields, and, working at the peak of postwar modernist excitement, they would build government complexes, museums, and epochal skyscrapers. Among them were I. Throughout his years at Harvard, Gropius saw architecture as a project larger than any one building, no matter how important, and he encouraged his students to incorporate the more holistic discipline of urban planning into their work.
He was more driven by the broader goal of modern architecture: to internationalize the profession and bring order and rationality to cities. Since World War I, Gropius had believed that the clean forms of modernism could wipe away parochial nationalism, to establish a forward-looking universal aesthetic. By the early s, it seemed the rest of the world finally agreed with him. Lost is the fun of Bauhaus, its social mission, and the air of unfettered creativity.
The by-product is aesthetic blandness, easily repackaged and shifted around global cities by architecture firms that specialize in corporate headquarters. As the Bauhaus turns years old, it stands in contrast to an architecture defined by glass-and-steel towers, emanating little more than an aesthetic of power. Bauhaus is celebrated for the people who flocked to it and created art with verve and playfulness. It has become a reminder of the importance of exciting educational spaces, even those that are unabashedly utopian and outlandish, in which the end goal is social change.
If original in his labors, the artist lacked a collective shield, as the member of a community, against these verdicts. Again there. The most famous goldsmith of the Renaissance, Benvenuto Cellini, confronted these issues in his Autobiography, which he began writing in The second advertisement is for his work. A famous golden saltcellar that Cellini made in for Francis I of France now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna served as evidence for this boast.
Not even that haughty monarch could casually have taken salt from it. The bowl holding the salt is submerged in a golden clutter. This glorious object was meant to provoke amazement and it did. Before inquiring into what might make this a work of art rather than a piece of craft, we should place Cellini among his fellows.
Throughout the Middle Ages there were masters as well as journeymen who, as the. These craft entrepreneurs wanted simply to pay assistants without being obliged to train them. In the material culture of the Renaissance, naming the maker became increasingly important to the sale of a wide variety of goods, even the most prosaic. The very fact that a dish to hold salt had become an elaborate object transcending any mere functional purpose called attention to it and to its maker.
Before this time, the forms of working gold into decorative objects had set the pace for painting and glassmaking, the gold frame orienting the objects within it. About this time, the craft historian T. Cellini kept a certain allegiance to the craft workshops from which his art emerged. He was never ashamed of the foundry, its dirt, noise, and sweat. Moreover, he hewed to the traditional craft value placed on truthfulness.
In the Autobiography he recounts the struggle to extract gold, real gold and lots of it, from masses of raw ore—whereas even his richest patrons would have been content with the illusion of surface. It had to be pure, so that things would look like what they are. He chose not to publish the Autobiography in his lifetime; he wrote it for himself and left it to posterity. Yet, like many other goods, his saltcellar was taken to have public value because it exposed and expressed the inner character of its maker.
So far as we can determine, they were wealthier than their peers who remained strictly within the guild orbit of assay and raw material production.
Authority in the generic sense relies on a basic fact of power: the master sets out the terms of work that others do at his direction. Originality gave a particular importance to face-to-face relations in the studio. In the Renaissance, the appearance of something sudden was connected to the art—the genius, if you will—of an individual. For instance, the immense Salisbury Cathedral began, in —, as a set of stone posts and beams that established the Lady Chapel at one end of the future cathedral. From to , this DNA then generated the cloister, treasury, and chapter house; in the chapter house the original geometries, meant for a square structure, were now adapted to an octagon, in the treasury to a sixsided vault.
How did the builders achieve this astonishing construction? There was no one single architect; the masons had no blueprints. Rather, the gestures with which the building began evolved in principles and were collectively managed over three generations. Each event in building practice became absorbed in the fabric of instructing and regulating the next generation. But originality carried a price. Originality could fail to provide autonomy. Cellini left the guild realm of assay and metal production only to enter court life with all its intrigues of patronage.
With no corporate guarantee for the worth of his work, Cellini had to charm, hector, and plead with kings and princes of the Church. These were unequal trials of strength. Confrontational and self-righteous as Cellini could be to patrons, ultimately his art depended on them. Cellini, as he repeatedly stresses in his autobiography, was not to be measured like a courtier, by a formal title or a post at court. But any person who stands out still has then to prove him- or herself to others. These are irrelevant standards for judging originality.
Again and again in these pages, humiliation at the hands of a patron drives the writer to bouts of introspection. That belief became powerfully grounded in Renaissance philosophy. Touch it and you make a ruin! The work of art become like a buoy at sea, marking out the journey. Unlike a sailor, though, the artist charts his own course by making these buoys for himself. Works of art are the evidence of an inner life sustained even in the face of humiliation and incomprehension—as indeed Cellini sometimes faced. Renaissance artists discovered that originality does not provide a solid social foundation of autonomy.
The scorned or misunderstood artist has a long trajectory in Western high culture, in all the arts. Cellini is the troubled ancestor of. Originality brings to the surface the power relations between artist and patron. In this regard, the sociologist Norbert Elias reminds us that in court societies the bond of mutual obligation was distorted.
They are, next, distinguished by time: the sudden versus the slow. Last, they are indeed distinguished by autonomy, but surprisingly so: the lone, original artist may have had less autonomy, be more dependent on uncomprehending or willful power, and so be more vulnerable, than were the body of craftsmen.
These differences still matter in their content to people who are not among the small band of professional artists. Unmotivated workers like the Soviet construction workers, depressed workers like the British doctors and nurses suffer not so much from the work they do as by how it is organized.
This is why we should not give up on the workshop as a social space. Workshops present and past have glued people together through work rituals, whether these be a shared cup of tea or the urban parade; through mentoring, whether the formal surrogate parenting of medieval times or informal advising on the worksite; through face-to-face sharing of information. The historical turn is for these reasons more complicated than a story of decline; a new, disturbing set of work values was added to the sociable workshop.
In the past the. The Renaissance artist still needed a workshop, and his assistants in it undoubtedly learned from the example of their master. His honor took on an adversarial character. The workshop would serve him as a refuge from society. So here was a concrete limit placed on the long-term viable life of the workshop. In the famous Class 19 conducted by Mstislav Rostropovich at the Moscow Conservatory in the s and s, the great cellist used all manner of weapons—novels, jokes, and vodka, as well as strict musical analysis—to bludgeon his pupils into becoming themselves more individually expressive.
Mountains of cash and endless experiments have failed to prize out the secrets of these masters. Something in the character of these workshops must have inhibited knowledge transfer. When Antonio Stradivari began making violins, he formed part of a tradition whose standards on carving the belly, back, and peg boxes of stringed instruments had been set by Andrea Amati a century earlier. Subsequent luthiers the word represents makers of varied stringed instruments paid fealty to these Cremona masters and their Austrian neighbor Jacob Stainer.
Many trained in the workshops of their disciples; others learned by repairing old instruments that came into their hands. Carving books existed from the origins of lutherie in the Renaissance, but the texts were expensive to produce and few in number; technical training involved hands-on contact with the instruments and on spoken explanation passed generation to generation.
The young luthier would have held in his hands, copied, or repaired an Amati original or prototype. This was the method of knowledge transfer that Stradivari inherited. Labor dominated all waking hours. The workshop operated from dawn to dusk, with the work team literally rooted to the benches, since the unmarried apprentices slept underneath them on bags of straw.
Youngsters at work usually did such preparatory labor as soaking wood in water, rough molding, and rough cutting. Journeymen higher. The master, however, was everywhere present in the production. We know, thanks to the researches of Tony Faber, that Stradivari occupied himself with the smallest details in the production of his violins.
But Cellini might also have trouble understanding it: the master now presented himself to the open market, rather than to one or a few patrons. Supply began to exceed demand. In the general economic decline of the s his workshop had to trim costs, and much of its output went into stock. The market also deepened those inequalities whose seed was planted in the Renaissance branding of craft goods. They were able to trade on his name for several years, but the business eventually foundered.
He had not taught, he could not teach either of them how to be a genius. This is the brief outline of a workshop death. Even while the Stradivari sons were alive, this investigation of originality began. Even so, as the violinist Arnold Steinhardt of the Guarneri String Quartet has remarked, the professional musician can almost instantly distinguish between the original and any copy. In theory the well-run workshop should balance tacit and explicit knowledge. Masters should be pestered to explain themselves, to dredge out the assemblage of clues and moves they have absorbed in silence within—if only they could, and if only they would.
In the seventeenth century the person most alive to the problem of knowledge transfer was the poet John Donne. The masters set an absolute standard, one that often proves impossible to reproduce. But the democratic question just posed should be taken seriously. The modern luthier wants to get on with the business of making violins; the luthier wants to make the best violins possible according to his or her brightenough lights rather than be immobilized, imprisoned by fruitless imitation.
This is the claim of practice against correctness. And yet. The sociologist Robert K. The idea would make sense of the rituals of the medieval goldsmiths; these celebrated the standards set by the monastic founders of the guild as fathers. In practice we do something that is distinctive whenever we solve thorny practical issues, no matter how small. And yet a scientist. The history of the workshop shows, in sum, a recipe for binding people tightly together. The essential ingredients of this recipe were religion and ritual.
A more secular age replaced these ingredients with originality—a condition separate in its practical terms from autonomy, originality implying in the workshop a new form of authority, an authority frequently short-lived and silent. One mark of the modern world is that we have become as worried about paying obeisance to authority in this personalized form as to authority of an older, more religious sort. In his view, people are more capable of freedom. It is therefore the inhabitants themselves who permit, or rather, bring about their own servitude. If correct, then the workshop cannot be a comfortable home for the craftsman, for its very essence lies in the personalized, face-to-face authority of knowledge.
And yet it is a necessary home. Is it a friendly tool or an enemy replacing work of the human hand? In the economic history of skilled manual labor, machinery that began as a. Weavers, bakers, and steelworkers have all embraced tools that eventually turned against them. The seduction of CAD lies in its speed, the fact it never tires, and indeed in the reality that its capacities to compute are superior to those of anyone working out a drawing by hand.
Yet people can pay a personal price for mechanization; misuse of CAD programming diminished the mental understanding of its users. This seems a sad story, but perhaps it can be told in a different way. Might we, in our very comparative imperfection, learn something positive about being human? Workers as much as writers struggled with this philosophical question at the dawn of the Industrial Age in the eighteenth century. Their observations and arguments were based on an experience of material culture that had long predated machine production.
Things that we now take for granted as necessities were increasingly available to ordinary people. Previously—and strangely to us—adults amused themselves with dolls, toy soldiers, and the other artifacts of childhood; such toys were few in number and costly. As the cost went down the number of toys increased. In this process toy objects also became the distinctive property of children. The advent of machines in the eighteenth century only increased.
Age-old questions of deprivation and lack did not go away—the masses of Europeans still lived in a scarcity society—but machine production of tableware, clothing, bricks, and glass added to this other dimension of worry: how to use these goods well, what abundance might be for, how not to be spoiled by possessions. On balance, the eighteenth century embraced the virtue of abundance, mechanically produced, and so should we.
The material quality of life for the European working poor in modern times is in many ways higher than that of the bourgeois classes of the seventeenth century. Even Martin Heidegger eventually installed electricity and modern plumbing in his Black Forest hut. Isaac Newton had after all depicted all of nature as a giant machine, a view taken to an extreme in the eighteenth century by writers like Julien Offray de la Mettrie. But still others thought in a different way about this model, and not as traditionalists refusing the new: rather, the comparison of man and machine caused them to think more about man.
People so minded had a particular interest in craftsmanship: it seemed to mediate between machined abundance and the modestly humane. Socially, craftsmen took a new turn. This mirrors a larger change in nineteenthcentury engineering that has already appeared to us in the history of the blueprint: a movement from hands-on knowledge to the dominant authority of explicit knowledge.
Workshop work of course continued in various forms, in the arts, in everyday commerce, as in the sciences, but the workshop seemed increasingly merely the means to establishing another institution: the workshop as a way station to the factory. As machine culture matured, the craftsman in the nineteenth century appeared ever less a mediator and ever more an enemy of the machine.
Exquisite Rot: Spalted Wood and the Lost Art of Intarsia
These cultural and social changes remain with us. Culturally we are still struggling to understand our limits positively, in comparison to the mechanical; socially we are still struggling with anti-technologism; craftwork remains the focus of both. The Mirror Tool Replicants and Robots A mirror-tool—my coinage—is an implement that invites us to think about ourselves. There are two kinds of mirror-tools. These are the replicant and the robot. In the real world, pacemakers for the heart serve as replicant machines, providing the energy charge needed for the heart to function as it should biologically.
By contrast, a robotic machine is ourselves enlarged: it is stronger, works faster, and never tires. Still, we make sense of its functions by referring to our own human measure. Bach, which is more than any human brain can remember. The robot is like a mirror in a fun fair, enlarging human memory to giant size. Yet this giant memory is organized technically to serve the small human measure of songs or other music of comprehensible length. An ambiguous zone exists between replicant and robot, between mimicking and enlarging.
But, in general, the replicant shows us as we are, the robot as we might be. In a shop in Paris displayed an extraordinary automaton constructed by Jacques de Vaucanson, a Jesuit-educated mechanical inventor. Soon after, Vaucanson created his Shitting Duck, a mechanical creature that appeared to ingest grains with its mouth and defecate in short order at its anus.
The Shitting Duck proved to be a fraud the anus was stuffed , though an interesting one; the Flute Player was genuine. The whole thing was a mechanical marvel. As an artist it was limited, producing only simple loud-soft contrasts and unable to play legato, where one note dissolves liquidly into the next. So this was a reassuring replicant; its workings could be measured by the standards of human music making.
This replicant, unfortunately, bred a robot.
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In he gave the inventor charge of French silk manufacturing. The silk produced in early-eighteenth-century France, particularly in Lyon, was not of uniformly good quality: the tools were poor, the weavers poorly paid and often on strike. Drawing on his knowledge of the replicant, Vaucanson sought to produce a robot that would eliminate the human problem. Vaucanson transferred the knowledge of breathing tension he had gained in The Flute Player to weaving machines that had to hold threads in tension.
His loom in turn increased the number of colored strands of silk that could be held in equal tension during the weaving process, far more strands than could previously be managed by two human hands. In Lyon, as elsewhere, investment in such machines became cheaper than investment in labor, as well as doing better work. Thus began the classic story of displacement of craftsmen by the machine. What kindlier mirror-tools would show a more positive image?
There was a midcentury American Enlightenment whose leading light was Benjamin Franklin and a Scottish Enlightenment composed of philosophers and economists seeking for mental sunlight in the mists of Edinburgh. Many contributors answered his question by invoking progress and improvement. The energy for Enlightenment lay in these words; man could take greater control over his material circumstances. Self-incurred is this inability, if its cause lies not in the lack of understanding but rather in the lack of resolution and the courage to use it without the guidance of another.
Sapere aude! Have the courage to use your own understanding! Freedom in reasoning improves the mind by casting off childish certainties. Reasoning of this free sort has nothing mechanical about it. The eighteenth century, it is sometimes said, took too much to heart Newtonian mechanics. Can free reason degrade, then, to the opposite pole of disorder? As the French Revolution darkened, even political activists like Johann Adam Bergk wondered if disembodied free reasoning played a role in the collective chaos.
In , the Berlinische Monatsschrift shut down the subject. The few sentences above allude to an immense sea in which reason, revolution, and tradition form the main currents. Lost in these. The most Enlightening of these discussions came from Moses Mendelssohn. By origin a poor Jewish migrant to Berlin, intending there to become a rabbi, Mendelssohn came to reject the Talmudic training of the shuls as too narrow; he made himself into a philosopher who read German, Greek, and Latin.
In he wrote Phaidon, a book breaking the faith of his fathers in order to declare his belief in a religion of Nature, a materialist Enlightenment. It celebrated those who are committed to doing work well for its own sake; the craftsman stood out as the emblem of. One trade of the literary hack consisted in feeding the curiosity of the virtuoso, providing digestible bits of information and perhaps a few well-turned phrases the virtuoso could produce as his own in polite conversation. Once launched into the work, he transformed it. Diderot wanted to stimulate the philosopher rather than the virtuoso in his readers.
First and foremost, by putting manual pursuits on an equal footing with mental labors. The general idea had a sharp edge; the Encyclopedia scorned hereditary members of the elite who do no work and so contribute nothing to society. By restoring the manual laborer to.
The pages of the Encyclopedia then look more particularly at usefulness and uselessness. The maid radiates purpose and energy while her mistress languishes in ennui; the skilled servant and her bored mistress compose a parable of vitality and decadence. Diderot believed boredom to be the most corrosive of all human sentiments, eroding the will Diderot continued throughout his life to explore the psychology of boredom, culminating in his novel Jacques the Fatalist.
In the Encyclopedia, Diderot and his colleagues celebrated the vitality rather than dwelled on the sufferings of those deemed socially inferior.
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The Encyclopedia sought to get its readers out of themselves and into the lives of artisan craftsmen in order, next, to clarify good work itself. Throughout, the volumes illustrate people engaged sometimes in dull, sometimes in dangerous, sometimes in complicated labor; the expression on all the faces tends to the same serenity. So, too, in our times, worker warriors appear in Nazi and Soviet kitsch art as titans of the forge or the plow.
Philosophes during the mid-eighteenth century sought to break this warrior spell. The economic historian Albert Hirschmann found the counting house to be one scene that calmed the warrior spirit, the counting house replacing violent impulse by diligent reckoning. Diderot likened the pleasures of craftsmanship more to marital sex than to the excitements of an affair. The question of human limits was posed to Diderot the moment he, as it were, rose from his armchair.
Inarticulate does not mean stupid; indeed, what we can say in words may be more limited than what we can do with things. Craftwork establishes a realm of skill and knowledge perhaps beyond human verbal capacities to explain; it taxes the powers of the most professional writer to describe precisely how to tie a slipknot and is certainly beyond mine. And yet I am writing and you are reading a book about physical practice; Diderot and his collaborators compiled a set of volumes nearly six feet thick on this subject.
One solution to the limits of language is to substitute the image for the word. The many plates, by many hands, that richly furnish the Encyclopedia made this assist for workers unable to explain themselves in words, and in a particular way. In illustrations of glassblowing, for instance, each stage of blowing a glass bottle appears in a separate image; all the junk of an ordinary workshop has been eliminated, and the viewer focuses on just what hands and mouth need to do at this moment to transform the molten liquid into a bottle.
In silence, as in a monastery, communication among people would be reduced to a minimum for the sake of contemplating how an object is made. Zen counsels that to understand the craft of archery you need not become an archer; instead, silently compose its decisive moments in your mind. The limits of language can be overcome through active involvement in a practice. His plunge into manual labor was logical if unusual for a culture in which the ethos of sympathy urged people to get out of themselves, enter other lives. Nicolas Malebranche, for example, imagined the process of trial and error as following a path from many to fewer errors, a steady and progressive improvement through experiment.
In this light, learning by doing, so comfort-. To the social philosopher, the intersection of practice and talent poses a general question about agency: we are minded to believe that engagement is better than passivity. But agency does not happen in a social or emotional vacuum, particularly good-quality work.
The desire to do something well is a personal litmus test; inadequate personal performance hurts in a different way than inequalities of inherited social position or the externals of wealth: it is about you. Our ancestors too often turned a blind eye to this problem. Proponents of this doctrine could easily neglect, in their drive to destroy inherited privilege, the fate of the losers in competition based on talent.
Still, the effort of exposure and engagement has to be made. In a letter, Diderot remarks that only the rich can afford to be stupid; for others, ability is a necessity, not an option. Talent then runs its race. Failure can temper them; it can teach a fundamental modesty even if that virtue is gained at great pain. For Diderot, as for Montesquieu and—oddly—for. The replicant teaches nothing about salutary failure, but the robot—just possibly—can.
The replicant may stimulate reasoning about ourselves, about our own internal machinery. The more powerful, tireless robot may set the standard against which all human beings fail. Should we be depressed by this outcome? Papermaking suggests not. Next, no worker appears on the verge of vomiting, because the illustrator has drawn vats with hermetic seals—anticipating an innovation that in fact came into being a generation later. Finally, in the room where the trickiest human division of labor occurred, the pulp in vats scooped into thin sheets of material set in tray molds, three craftsmen work with balletic coordination, their faces serene, even though this scooping operation was backbreaking work; the laborers have sorted out this task through rational analysis.
This portrait, a narrative composed of a sequence of still images, is.
The general principle for machine use here is that, if the human body is frail, the machine should aid it or supplant it. The robot is an alien body; this stamping mill works nothing like the human arm in stretching, compressing, and stamping the pulp. Alien, machinery superior to ourselves, but not inhumane. If such a machine shows how to overcome human limits, still the productive outcome is successful. Here the relation between human and machine is one of relative inadequacy. Against this model of enlightened inequality, papermaking with its friendly robots, the Encyclopedia probes the craft of glassblowing in order to plumb salutary failure proper.
To understand the relation of human and machine in this contrast, we need to know something about the substance of glass itself. Glassmaking has been practiced for at least two thousand years. Ancient recipes combined sand with iron oxide, which produced a blue-green hue, the glass translucent rather than transparent. Eventually trial and error succeeded in making glass more transparent through the addition of fern-ash, potash, limestone, and manganese.
Even so, glass was not of good quality, and its fabrication arduous. Medieval windows were fashioned by blowing the molten glass through a stem, twirling it rapidly so as to produce a plate shape; this hot plate was then pressed down on a stone slab and cut into small square bits. So slow and costly was the process, however, that it proved uneconomic; because glass panes were so precious, the duke of Northumberland had them removed from his castle windows whenever he took a trip.
In the Middle Ages, as in antiquity, oiled paper usually served instead of glass in the windows of most prosaic buildings. The quest for clear, large windows has been driven by the need to. Whereas the traditional eighteenth-century glassmaker poured his glass into molds, like making bricks, the modern glassmaker wanted to roll his glass into sheets.
This is what the Encyclopedia seeks to portray, drawing on contemporary experiments in Paris. The illustrator presents a study in contrasts. In this latter version, the machine sets the terms of quality, raising the game to a standard the human hand and eye cannot achieve. The apprentice goldsmith imbibed his craft by imitating the master at work; in the new way of making a pane. Not only does the roller function differently than the eye, but it works to a standard that the glassblower could never achieve by visual inspection. The general issue lies in what we conceive the purpose of a model to be.
Any model shows how something ought to be done. But this line of thinking mistakes the purpose of a model. A model is a proposal rather than a command. Its excellence can stimulate us, not to imitate, but to innovate. One of the everyday achievements of the Enlightenment lay in explaining parenting as a craft. Folk wisdom about these matters was deemed inadequate; like all traditional knowledge, it seemed only to pass on prejudice, which in parenting seemed particularly malign since medical advances now made it possible for more babies to survive infancy if parents would only change their own practices.
A generation after the Encyclopedia, inoculation became the focus of debate between parents who refused this medical advance on traditional grounds and parents who accepted the strict schedule of repeated inoculations that medicine then required. As matter of common sense, parents need to accept their limitations, a lesson that, in any event, independent-minded children will teach them. Returning in the direction of the glassworks, this call matters as much in the workshop as in the nursery or the library. The challenge in the workshop is to treat the ideal.
The machined object, like the parent, makes a proposal about how something might be done; we ponder the proposal rather than submit to it. The model becomes a stimulus rather than a command. That connection was drawn by Voltaire. He contributed anonymously to the Encyclopedia, though sporadically. This view Voltaire advanced with panache in his novel Candide. The source of these disasters is Dr. Pangloss, a literary stand-in for the philosopher G. Leibniz, serving as a caricature of the man of reason who has no truck with mere mess. The young Candide, an Odysseus in breeches and a wig, is dull-witted.
Still, he eventually recognizes that the nostrums of his teacher are too dangerous. But the advice is not quite so simple. Of course, neither Candide nor Pangloss was likely to know how to fertilize a garden or even how to hold a shovel; they, too, were creatures of the salon; this novel is no policy brief for vocational training. Even if it were, the Encyclopedia had in any event shown the salonier that manual labor is much more complicated than it might seem looking.
The nub of the advice is to prefer what one can manage for oneself, to prefer what is limited and concrete, and so human. The bubble or the uneven surface of a piece of glass can be prized, whereas the standard of perfection allows no room either for experiment or for variation—and the pursuit of perfection, Voltaire adjures his fellow philosophes, may lead human beings to grief rather than to progress.
By a very different route than the Renaissance celebration of artistic genius, then, the Enlightened craftsman could both celebrate and achieve individuality. Machines stuffed that cornucopia of. More materially endowed, now the Enlightenment idealized human beings as self-empowering, about to cast off submission to tradition; the promise that humanity might cast off these shackles appeared in the pages of the Berlinische Monatsschrift.
Would the machine prove an alternative power demanding submission? And what sort of machine? People wondered at replicants and feared robots, those alien contrivances superior to the bodies of their makers. Engaging in the process of craft labor to inform himself, Diderot discovered a further limit, that of talent; he could not understand intellectually work he could not do well practically.
We should not compete against the machine. A machine, like any model, ought to propose rather than command, and humankind should certainly walk away from command to imitate perfection. Against the claim of perfection we can assert our own individuality, which gives distinctive character to the work we do.
Modesty and an awareness of. The reader will be aware that I have, like Diderot in the workshop, now spoken for him, and this is because the implications of Enlightenment are perhaps evident only two and a half centuries later. Sound judgment about machinery is required in any good craft practice. Getting things right—be it functional or mechanical perfection—is not an option to choose if it does not enlighten us about ourselves.
Steelworkers in the United States represented the change that occurred in many other basic industries. Steel is an alloy of iron and carbon hardening agents.
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The Bessemer converter, which came into use after , mass-produced this alloy by a new kind of giant, oval oxidation chamber. Machinery of a very clever sort was also devised to substitute absolute numbers. In American steel mills by , about half its artisans had accepted this fate, the other half seeking careers as metalworkers of other sorts.
Highly specialized skills represent not just a laundry list of procedures but a culture formed around these actions. Steelworkers in had developed a set of communal understandings that allowed large groups of workers to labor in a deafeningly noisy, poorly lit environment. These ways of working safely did not transfer to small, tight spaces as in a specialized machine shop, where the worker had to focus more on his individual body. Over its long life its various craft unions fought well against their employers: many unions came to an understanding with the largely immigrant, unskilled workers whom employers preferred.
The unions under the AFL umbrella failed to invest in. Mechanical change came to the labor force rather than from within the labor movement. Skilled operatives live with and through machines but rarely create them in modern industry. Technological advance comes in this way to seem inseparable from domination by others. There was no more passionate Victorian protest against such mechanical domination than the English writer John Ruskin, who appealed to his readers to scorn the very idea of a mechanical civilization.
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