The Craftsman

the craftsman

In The Craftsman, Richard Sennett "gathers case after case in which we see how the work of the hand can inform the work of the mind," writes Lewis Hyde in a New York Times book review (4/6/08). In one such example of the notion that "making is thinking," Richard tells the story of philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, who in the late 1920s, "designed and built a house in Vienna for his sister. He spared no expense, but the project wasn’t about the gold-plated faucets: "I am not interested in erecting a building … but in … presenting to myself the foundations of all possible buildings," Ludwig once wrote.

This exercise included tearing out the drawing room ceiling and rebuilding it "three centimeters higher … to better satisfy his sense of proportion." In the end, Ludwig said the building had "good manners" but lacked "primordial life" and "health." Richard Sennett’s point is that building the house changed Ludwig’s philosophy "away from rigorous logic and toward a playful engagement with common speech, paradox and parable." Hm. So, this is a book for intellectuals, premised on Immanuel Kant ("The Hand is the window on to the mind") and The Enlightenment.

Richard’s assumption is that we all have abilities as "craftsmen" and that pursuing those abilities "enables people to govern themselves and so become good citizens." In so doing, we can learn "how to negotiate between autonomy and authority (as one must in any workshop); how to work not against resistant forces but with them (as did the engineers who first drilled tunnels beneath the Thames); how to complete tasks using ‘minimum force’ (as do all chefs who must chop vegetables) … and above all … how to play, for it is in play that we find ‘the origin of the dialogue that the craftsman conducts with materials like clay and glass’." ~ Tim Manners, editor


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