Saturday, September 27, 2008

Construction and the Glass Factory

I spent the last three days working on a public art project, as an unskilled assistant to the artist and craftsman who were making the sculpture -- a large concrete, steel, and stained glass arch spanning a bicycle path in Connellsville, PA. My duties consisted mostly of digging, lifting, fetching, and cleaning.

It was a memorable experience that left me with several strong impressions. One was the craftsman Jeff Dardozzi's mastery of materials such as wood, metal, and concrete. His comfort with the material world was inspiring and humbling. I have always felt a sense of helplessness when confronted by large material objects, having not the experience or knowledge of tools necessary to bend them to my design. There was no error that Jeff couldn't think of a way to rectify, using an oxyacetalene torch, hammer drill, cold chisel, or some other tool I'd never heard of.

I pondered the reasons for my somewhat partial engagement with this material world. Could it be connected to my long-standing resistance to joining the Project of Civilization? I am not pleased with my material ineptitude, nor do I find anything noble or spiritual about it. I do not advocate any kind of dematerialization as an alternative to civilization's attitude of domination. We can respect materials and use them as they wish to be used. I imagine that the concrete and steel liked the use we put them to. I think everybody, inanimate objects included, like to be a part of something beautiful. I think my ignorance of material skills is due to my having "thrown the baby out with the bathwater". I rejected the good with the bad, and I want to make friends with matter again.

Even my body reflects a rejection of materiality. I am extremely thin, with delicate bone structure and a very youthful appearance. It is as if I am not fully embodied, not solidly in this material world. I wonder if my body will change when I become more comfortable with materials. I hope to learn from Jeff and others, if they are willing to have someone around who is so unskilled. If I acquire even a tenth of his skills, I can fulfill my dream of building a simple house.

One of the high points of the trip was at the stained glass factory. I am always moved by industrial machinery. It is a miracle that human beings of mere flesh and blood could create such a thing. The giant furnaces, rolling equipment, and so on embody hundreds of generations of accumulated knowledge. For a Stone Age person, to create even a simple component like a steel rod would be an unattainable achievement. This glass factory, and the stained glass it makes, was nothing short of beautiful. The company founder put his entire life into creating it, even designing and building the kilns himself. He developed many new stained glass variations. I thought, as I have thought before in reflecting on various technological achievements, there is surely a place in the world for such a thing, such a factory. Surely an Age of Reunion must have room for something like this. The feeling I got there is, to me, sufficient answer to the primitivist ideologue who, citing the wreckage of civilization and culture, calls for their abandonment. The journey of Separation has not been in vain. In my heart I KNOW that there is a way to separate the gift of technology and culture from the curse.

41 Comments:

At September 27, 2008 at 9:54 PM , Anonymous Sean FitzGerald said...

Hi Charles. Whilst I accept I'm currently a "brain on a stick" and probably need to spend more time developing practical, physical skills in order to get back into my body and become grounded physically and psychologically (not to mention becoming more self-reliant in preparation for the collapse/descent) I think it's ok to have certain strengths and weaknesses. I am not good with my hands and never have been. I reserve the right to be a clutz - my other skills more than make up for my clutziness! :-)

Some might argue that this is just a rationalisation to not develop my skills in areas I may be weak in, but, we don't all have to have the same skills. In the body of civilisation we play different roles - some play the head, some play the heart and some play the hands. Does your friend have the same level of mastery of ideas, language and communication you do? I think it's okay to celebrate our diversity and interdependence and not try to take on all of the functions of heads, hearts and hands. :-)

Of course the survivalists amongst us will argue that when the collapse/descent comes we will all need to know how to repair fences, rebuild engine blocks, and slaughter our own cows. I haven't read the Ascent of Humanity yet so I don't know how far down the collapse/descent scenario you think we will have to go to reach sustainability, but I'd like to believe we still have enough population in our communities (and the collapse hasn't been so sudden it's plunged us into barbarism) that some specialisation and interdependence will continue to exist. (Quite frankly, I don't think I'd want to live in a world that doesn't.)

I also agree there must be a place in our sustainable future to appreciate and conserve some of humanity's incredible achievements in technology, culture, art and architecture. The primitivist's apparent hatred of human civilisation and it's products doesn't work for me either. This is another form of "throwing the baby out with the bathwater" I think we are seeing in the discourse.

 
At September 27, 2008 at 10:35 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it's the head/hands separation that's been inculcated in civ. Some people do head work, others are consigned to grunt work. It's a big false separation, just the way arts and humanities are separated from math and science. Left brain from right brain and so on and so on.

However, Charles, I'm a little confused by your latest blog posts. I was just going with the flow of water, all fired up about it, really, and now I'm back with the furnace and kilns. I guess that means the age of water won't throw out fire?

But thinking material stuff likes to be used for beautiful things? Likes to be shaped by humans? You lost me there. How would steel and glass or marble like being formed this way or that without consciousness to be aware of beauty? Or do you believe these materials are somehow capable of awareness?

I think the religious admonition to be "in the world but not of it" can also lead to denial of the material world. I think the truth of that idea is to not follow the ways of the world that are false, yet it can lead to a sort of asceticism. Wacky out of balance stuff.

Ursus Maritimus

 
At September 28, 2008 at 10:11 AM , Blogger thailandchani said...

I understand exactly what you are talking about.

It takes a lot to put up with what's "out there" and many of us have retreated.

The primary difference between us is that you are extremely thin.. whereas I have a more heavyset body, almost as though I've insulated myself with fat - to protect myself from the onslaught.

My material skills are minimal. I consider myself lucky to know how to do basic housework.


~*

 
At October 17, 2008 at 2:25 PM , Blogger 3brainer said...

I am trying to balance myself in these regards. I think civilization moves as a pendulum, and we have swung far far in one direction. We as individuals can try to center, balance and in doing so help mankind come to a more balanced place.

Good blog. Thought provoking.

 
At October 23, 2008 at 7:21 AM , Blogger Andrew said...

This is a little about of nowhere but I was wondering if you could comment on or give me a good link that regards to my question. You've mentioned things about the afterlife before. I remember in one of your speeches, you mention people with near-death experiences saying that they think that we are not our ego. I was wondering if you could go a little further into that and maybe even explain what you think a soul is exactly. A reply or just a link to something interesting would be appreciated. Thanks!

 
At October 28, 2008 at 7:42 AM , Blogger Arty Em said...

our bodies do reflect our spirits, and I loved the way you explain this in yourself. I am a sort of earth mother, and even have the body type of the Venus of Willendorf - this is actually a beautiful thing for me, but for lots of the world, they think me very much out of the very thin ideal. Your entry made me realize this a bit more clearly - thanks!

 
At November 21, 2008 at 11:47 PM , Blogger m_astera said...

I'm coming a bit late to the party and just happened upon this blog, but the subject under discussion interests me.

Sean in the first comment writes "Does your friend have the same level of mastery of ideas, language and communication you do?" which to me betrays his assumption that one cannot have all three and still be skilled with their hands.

I've always been drawn to balance, though essentially I'm the cerebral type. I've never liked being dependent on others, so I learned survival skills like cooking, building, mechanics, and gardening. I found them all to be interesting and worthwhile, and found many people doing those things who were excellent communicators with mastery of language and ideas and their trade or avocation.

If it comes to real survival post-industrial civilization, the needs haven't changed in recorded history or before then. They are food, water, clothing, shelter, and warmth. In a survival situation there will be little use for someone to intellectually organize survival if they are unable to participate in the execution. One is fooling one's self if one thinks differently.

 
At January 12, 2009 at 3:39 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just be EXTREMELY, I repeat EXTREMELY careful of one Mr. Jeff Dardozzi! I can tell you stories about him that would make your hair (bodily, or otherwise) stand on end...and NOT in a good way!

Ever hear of Jim Jones, Sum Yung Moon, Hare Krishna or David Koresh?

 
At April 14, 2009 at 10:09 AM , Blogger Robert said...

hi Charles, i know this may not be the proper place, but...

im trying to read The Ascent online, and for some reason can only get to chjapter two before it takes me right back to the start

just thought you should know, in case it's a site issue

great stuff...nd im using every means at my disposal to spread the word about this book :)

 
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At March 23, 2011 at 2:01 AM , Anonymous Radialabs said...

They are food, water, clothing, shelter, and warmth. In a survival situation there will be little use for someone to intellectually organize survival if they are unable to participate in the execution. One is fooling one's self if one thinks differently.
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