Reaching the conclusion of Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman, the last section on “Craftsmanship”, there is still much to sort through. But what I found myself questioning is who is the craftsman? I can see craft and craftsmanship as concepts that I can apply in my own work, teaching, and lifestyle – the making and what is made seem to better circulate across contexts. But craftsman, when I tried to similarly move it, seemed to stick as a word on Sennett’s page: craftsman. Sennett works to retrace the “spine” of the craftsman in Western society by describing the ambivalence represented by Hephaestus and Pandora. Sennett explains “Western civilization has not chosen between these persona so much as fused them into ambivalence about man-made physical experience” (293). He condenses views of Pandora and Hephaestus as artificers – one who makes beautiful but malign things, and the other who is flawed but makes good, everyday things. Tracing the fusion of these personae, he writes
“The man-made material object is not a neutral fact; it is a source of unease because it is man-made. Such ambivalence about the man-made has shaped the fortunes of the craftsman. History has conducted something like a set of experiments in formulating the craftsman’s images as drudge, slave, worthy Christian, avatar of the Enlightenment, doomed relic of the preindustrial past” (293).
And I wondered – where are we at now? In history, society, culture… How does that influence who is imagined as the craftsman? Is the craftsman the small family owned carpentry business that has been in operation for generations? Is the craftsman the couple who strive to live on their own labor outside of the city that make jewelry, or soap, or canned goods, etc. to sell at small, local markets? Is it the local artisan goat cheese company? Back home, in Michigan, is the craftsman nostalgia at the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village – as diorama, as historical reenactments? Or is the craftsman in the auto factories? Or perhaps the craftsman isn’t associated with commerce at all, but is my dad, covered in dirt and grease every weekend (unrelated to his job)?
Sennett ends the book with this line, “The clubfooted Hephaestus, proud of his work if not of himself, is the most dignified person we can become” (296). And I wonder who is we?