We have a new essay below by our good friend David Haan, entitled Irony. Ironically, that’s not what it’s really about, except in a sort of indirect way. A very articulate bird told me that he got the idea for the piece from this review of Richard Sennett’s new book, The Craftsman.
Was the writer (Mr. Haan) pondering the art of being a bricoleur? Quite possibly. Was he thinking about improvising with and extending his bag of tricks, his toolbox of sorts? Probably. He may have zoomed in on this particular part of Scott McLemee’s interesting review:
“The notion of the bricoleur exerted a certain charm among the strenuously professionalizing, for it offered the gratifying prospect of imagining a tactile and worldly dimension to one’s intellectual activity. The bits and pieces of various theories or systems could be regarded as parts of a rough-and-ready “tool kit.” If they were incomplete or out-of-date—well, so much the better: To “make do” was a challenge to prove one’s knack. Thinking became tinkering. And while the status-minded protocols of professionalization might seem to demand ever-greater rationalization and bureaucratization of intellectual life itself, the fantasy of bricolage gave one permission to see the accumulation of cultural capital as infinitely flexible and almost automatically self-regenerating.”
How many of us wish we were “handy” at more things? How many of us, even if we have our own craft, wish we could do more things, collect them, connect them, and do all of it skillfully? It’s commonplace to say that modern society has gotten too complex, and the professions are too specialized, and Renaissance men and women no longer exist. But is it also commonplace to admit to yearning for a far less complex time and place in which we could merge the mind with the hands to produce physical things, intellectually? Is it commonplace to believe that we have set before ourselves too many unnecessary barriers between the mind and the body, and that this gets in the way of our finding . . . finding . . . What is it we’re looking for, anyway?
Many of us did grunt work when we were young. Many of us labored in the vineyards. We used our hands, built things, carried them, lifted them up, pushed them here and there, straining in the heat and the sun, sweating all day long. We wore hats and different hats and took them off after work and then went to another kind of job. In a studio or behind a desk. Labored in a different way. Sweated all the same. Perhaps that was the closest we ever came to that merger between mind and body in the act of laboring. But Sennett is talking about something else. He, too, wants a dialogue between the intellectual and the physical, a new dignity attached to both. But I think he wants it to be one and the same, not segregated. A crafted merger for tomorrow and the next and the next day.
What is intellectually physical? Physically intellectual? When I throw my keyboard at the wall, do I get closer to solving the koan?