Does craft a craftsman make?

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?

The Craftsman

Tomorrow we are discussing the first chapter “The Troubled Craftsman” in Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman (which I will facilitate discussion on – a thumb in the crease of this post to return with a more holistic focus).

In this moment though, I am struck by the book’s prologue. For one, just having finished Aristotle yesterday, I am seeing his influence come through in the making of things for the good as a cultural matter in conducting a particular way of life (8) – connections! And while we have yet to read Bruno Latour, knowing that we will be reading pieces of Pandora’s Hope (which I have not read), and having a personal interest in Latour, I am captivated by drawing connections between Sennett’s use of Pandora, “Pandora’s Casket”, and Latour’s Pandora’s Hope in what I have read on it in his piece “An Attempt at Writing a Composition Manifesto”. Sennett writes

“If in this way culture’s time is short, in another way it is long. Because cloth, pots, tools, and machines are solid objects, we can return to them again and again in time; we can linger as we cannot in the flow of discussion. Nor does material culture follow the rhythms of biological life. Objects do not inevitably decay from within like a human body. The histories of things follow a different course, in which metamorphosis and adaptation play a stronger role across human generations…Material culture provides in sum a picture of what human beings are capable of making…Nature might be a better guide, if we understand our own labors as part of its being.” (15)

With Aristotle’s definition of nature still fresh in mind, I’m wondering what Sennett is eliciting with nature and if it is functioning as something to push against man|technological makings?

This makes me think of Latour’s compositionism as a way of envisioning progress not as forward looking, progressing in creating new materials (ideas and things), but at what is made – composed and decomposed. He explains

“compositionism takes up the task of searching for universality but without believing that this universality is already there, waiting to be unveiled and discovered. It is thus as far from relativism (in the papal sense of the word) as it is from universalism (in the modernist meaning of the world — more of this later). From universalism it takes up the task of building a common world; from relativism, the certainty that this common world has to be built from utterly heterogeneous parts that will never make a whole, but at best a fragile, revisable and diverse composite material.”

and a more explicit Pandora connection

“The thirst for the Common World is what there is of communism in compositionism, with this small but crucial difference that it has to be slowly composed instead of being taken for granted and imposed on all. Everything happens as if the human race was on the move again, expelled from one utopia, that of economics, and in search of another, that of ecology. Two different interpretations of one precious little root, eikos, the first being a dystopia and the second a promise that as yet no one knows how to fulfill. How can a livable and breathable “home” be built for those errant masses? That is the only question worth raising in this Compositionist Manifesto. If there is no durable room for us on Pandora, how will we find a sustainable home on Gaia?”

In what ways are Sennett and Latour invoking Pandora, materials, making|composing, and nature for what we craft? Is Aristotle’s “good” as a function of our making still pertinent? Or is there something more sinister, a loss of connectivity between head and hand, at (mass) play?