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corporeal anticipation

For a while I was running posts on a separate personal site, but I stopped and closed it down some time ago. Abler will be my only house for now. And I’ve decided to re-post some of those artifacts and ideas that still nourish me. Hope they might for some of you, too:

From this NYT review of Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman, which has been on my desk forever, only now making its way to my head:

“For it is Sennett’s contention that ‘nearly anyone can become a good craftsman’ and that ‘learning to work well enables people to govern themselves and so become good citizens.’ This line of thought depends, among other things, upon the Enlightenment assumption that craft abilities are innate and widely distributed, and that, when rightly stimulated and trained, they allow craftsmen to become knowledgeable public persons.

And what is it that such persons know? They know 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 their tasks using ‘minimum force’ (as do all chefs who must chop vegetables); how to meet people and things with sympathetic imagination (as does the glassblower whose ‘corporeal anticipation’ lets her stay one step ahead of the molten glass); and above all they know how to play, for it is in play that we find ‘the origin of the dialogue the craftsman conducts with materials like clay and glass.’

The assumption that craft abilities are widely diffused leads Sennett into a meditation on our love of those intelligence tests by which we supposedly single out the very smart and the very stupid so that some will go to college and others go to bagging groceries. Sennett points out that such sorting ignores the ‘densely populated middle ground’ where most of the population is actually found. Rather than celebrating a ‘common ground of talents,’ we tend to inflate ‘small differences in degree into large differences in kind’ and so legitimate existing systems of privilege. Thinking of the median as the mediocre creates an excuse for neglect. This is one reason, Sennett argues, that ‘it proves so hard to find charitable contributions to vocational schools’ while currently the wealth of the Ivy League schools is compounding at an astounding rate.”

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