On singularity, creation, repair, and commodity

When the unique is created, it also creates the creator.

The more finished goods become commodities, the fewer opportunities an individual has to generate new creation. The ability to mass-produce removes the opportunity for the great many to learn to produce at all. From such a thought, a future full of consumption-only hobbies might come as no surprise.

If you commoditize toys, you remove the toymaker. If you remove the toymaker, the toy is only an object of consumption. It ceases to be an object of wonder.

as i’m at risk of quoting the entire piece, better to read here in full:

there are so many different resonances here, but particularly about longevity and maintenance/care, modern alienation attributed to convenience/industrialization, and life as a creative act.

63 Likes

Another great reading companion to this is: Alexander’s Timeless way of building

As well as Alienation, Marvelous Pursuits and the New Nomadic Sciences:

The state did not appreciate the journeymen’s associations’ tendency to strike, nor their ability to move as they pleased when work conditions were unfavorable. The state’s response was to take over the management of the construction sites, merging all the divisions of labor together in the supreme distinction between the intellectual and the manual, the theoretical and the practical.

By separating intellectual and physical labor the state took power away from both types of workers. The manual laborers could then only build what others had planned and the planners no longer had the capacity to build anything at all.

The marvelous pursuit is an attempt to find paths out of alienation, by refusing to conceive of human action as divisible into the physical and the mental.

The marvelous pursuit is born from the desire to create playful complexity in a desert of simplistic convenience. A hobby is a form of consumption, the marvelous pursuit on the other hand, is a rejection of commodified convenience, it can’t be bought because it has no price. A marvelous pursuit refuses socially ascribed use. People learn such socially useless things as the names of fern and the grammar of dead languages because they are bored with the mind-dumbing options dished out to them on TV.

Marvelous pursuits are a means to resist alienation from one’s environment because they are a temporary means to make that environment one’s own, by ascribing one’s own, often bizarre, value for things and spaces. The marvelous pursuit often creates complexity but a complexity which is opposed to that of the technician. The master of a marvelous pursuit can never be an engineer because the marvelous is by nature useless to society (and therefore to capital).

The value in marvelous pursuits lies in their self-creation which evades both use-value and exchange value.

29 Likes

And for those pursuits that are not commodified and codified in consumption there is a very strong implicit push towards it.

My impression is that whenever I just make something for myself or for the sake of itself I’m doing it wrong or somehow pursuing a dead end. As if there is a cultural endgame to all creative pursuits that should result in the 1000-fold commodification noted above.

This to me makes it very difficult to sort the conventions and expectations of doing a thing from the value it has to me, not recording music, not taking commissions, not spoiling leisure with obligation.

As an aside, the historical intersection between the abundance of labor and the abundance of stuff did produce a lot of interesting similar-but-unique objects.

5 Likes

There’s a lot to chew on here and respond to later. It for now I’ll just say that I very much appreciate the clarity, brevity, and optimism of this piece. Thanks for sharing.

2 Likes

Walter Benjamin’s essay from 1935 probably belongs in this topic.

I also stumbled on this nice essay which regards Benjamin’s: https://campuspress.yale.edu/modernismlab/the-work-of-art-in-the-age-of-mechanical-reproduction/

For example, Mallarmé’s vision of a “pure” artwork is of something utterly detached from everyday reality or social and political influences (Melberg 100). Much of nineteenth-century art and aesthetics thus represent a conscious attempt to defend the special status of the artwork from the banality of bourgeois capitalism. More specifically, the cult of “pure” art is a response to the mechanical reproduction of artworks that threatens to strip them completely of their aura.

and

The prevalence of film, as well as other mechanical reproductions, also creates a culture of minor experts ready to judge art rather than loose themselves in participatory ritual.

(I think about the above item in relation to the “internet hand model” youtube/instagram gear catalog genre; no moral judgement, I’ve participated in the genre as well)

7 Likes

@tehn , this piece is deeply resonant. it gives language to things I’ve been living out.

(the following is autobiography and you should feel free to skip it)

two years ago, I was firmly in the business of making thousands of a thing. I was a hyper-specialized unit of productivity. I was tasked with finding the exact parameters of the thing we would build thousands of that would find a toehold in people’s minds and cause them to want it. it was my job to ask questions that necessarily had to presuppose axioms that I increasingly took exception to.

so, probably a bit later than would have been best, I left.

I found someone who would teach me to build pianos and I moved my life across the planet to learn. I found myself in an entirely different space. pianos are anything but convenient. in piano world, longevity and mending are a given. even if you make one thousand pianos, they will not, cannot be exactly the same and you will not know in which way each one is singular until it is finished.

and yet, commoditization is still an issue. the instrument has increasingly become a sign of class divisions. a surprisingly large barrier exists between menders and builders, perhaps even as large as the barrier between menders and the instrument owners.

so I’m left trying to craft some vision on how I might play a role in sowing some small part of the forest in a better way. how can I create something lasting that encourages people to mend and maybe even someday to build? how can I create something which is unique and also doesn’t perpetuate existing conditions by only being available to those few with the resources to possess it? how do I create an object of desire without the further fostering of that desire seizing the reigns of the entire effort?

I don’t have answers for any of this, just my imprecise intentions and instincts. I feel like this community reliably provides for me some vision and faith that this is somehow doable, and for that I am immensely grateful.

25 Likes

The concept of the Marvelous Pursuit hits home with me and brings clarity to my relationship with playing music. Over the past few years of playing drums in various bands I felt an internal struggle between pursuing bands rooted in popular-music genres or groups engaging in free improvisation, free jazz for lack of better classification. I pursued both types of groups and had enjoyable and meaningful experiences in both. However, my internal motivations for pursuing popular-music groups were often rooted in a desire for success, to produce value to others, to be recognized, to continually one-up myself with a bigger crowd, better performance, more social connections. All to serve to strengthen the pursuit of success. As I’m reflecting on this now I can see how circular that is internally. At the same time I was also pursuing purely improvisational free jazz groups. Playing with these groups felt different, like you are a conduit of universal energy, merely observing the fabric of consciousness pass through. This experience can’t be captured, reproduced and commodified. Not even the audio recording of this can provide a glimpse because it is not the actual sounds made by the instruments that manifest the experience. Rather it is facilitated by the internal rejection of standard musical norms, in essence denying societal alienation caused by the indoctrination to produce value and be a success. When I started modular around a year ago the same dualistic desire was present. I thought of how I could commodify modular and be a success, perhaps with techno bangers or modular hip-hop. Though recently I recognized this and felt a calling to pursue drone music as it resonated with me on a familiar level to playing free jazz. It is a marvelous pursuit. I can finally articulate that.

12 Likes

This resonates very much with my experiences of playing free improv and eurorack… I’m looking forward to combining them in the new year!

2 Likes

You’re on a roll with reflection and introspection. I’m listening to gnostics (while I read that link, and while typing this) and enjoying. Thank you for sharing both the album and the link, by the way. I often think about creation vs. consumption (for many reasons). Convenience is important, and drives progress, but there is a cost, or, at least, there are a lot of side effects that are troubling. The single-use, disposable, 10-pack, buy in bulk world is convenient and weird to me at the same time. We know how to make 10/100/1000 things, but not how to make one.

This quote is quite interesting to me, as I’m an Engineer by trade. Perhaps this is close to the root of why I sometimes feel conflicted in my career. Creating utility is still creating, right? Lots to think about, which has lately become rather common.

5 Likes

Yeah, that bit rubbed me the wrong way, tbh. It’s an awfully dogmatic view of creation. Discussions about creative pursuit that include the words always and never miss the point entirely, in my opinion. I have a very reverent attitude toward my own creative process and its importance in my life, but it does not carry a stick anymore.

Creation for creation’s sake is beautiful. Creation with specific intent is beautiful. You can create a Rothko or you can create an armchair. Is the world worse for either?

Also, I am hungry right now and should reassess after lunch :grinning:

14 Likes

Several years ago I made this diagram to help clarify the differences between these things.

16 Likes


– from What Are People For, by Wendell Berry

A creature is not a creator and cannot be. There is only one creation and we are its members.

11 Likes

That’s some heavy duty wisdom that I feel most Americans are not ready for. Understanding it requires maturity beyond narcissism.

Even being aware of this wisdom, I still have to work hard at understanding it. I feel I have only been partially successful learning the lesson. I’ll keep trying.

4 Likes

Kintsugi (金継ぎ, “golden joinery”), also known as kintsukuroi (金繕い, “golden repair”),[1] is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by mending the areas of breakage with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum, a method similar to the maki-e technique.[2][3][4] As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise

dd2bc85e4aec909463d4756038ded4f9

Collectors became so enamored of the new art that some were accused of deliberately smashing valuable pottery so it could be repaired with the gold seams of kintsugi.

In Japanese folklore, tsukumogami (付喪神 or つくも神,[note 1][1] lit. “tool kami”) are tools that have acquired a kami or spirit.[2] According to an annotated version of The Tales of Ise titled Ise Monogatari Shō, there is a theory originally from the Onmyōki (陰陽記) that foxes and tanuki, among other beings, that have lived for at a hundred years and changed forms are considered tsukumogami.[3] In modern times, the term can also be written 九十九神 (literally ninety-nine kami), to emphasize the agedness.

13 Likes

This feels profound (I love Wendell Berry). A thought that, like a scalpel, can heal or hurt depending on the hand that holds it.

I know that it comes from a place of humility and good will in this case. My favorite description of Berry (and I forget the source) was that he is “the only conservative left who actually wants to conserve anything”.

8 Likes

I’m also an engineer by trade and have constant confusion by the field. To engineer is to create, no? Though on average many of my colleagues do not embody the spirit of creativity. It often feels like engineering is the modern day, slightly more intelligent version of an assembly line, specializing in a single repetitive task. Engineers exist because companies need them to develop, support, maintain, and translate technology to be used for their profit. This view of an engineer is diametrically opposed to the marvelous pursuit and likely what the author of that article meant. However, despite the lack of creative flexibility available to most engineers working at large companies (like myself) I do believe that many engineers chose the career path because of a genuine interest in the technology and the pursuit of knowledge. Many do personal engineering projects at home and would do so despite their employer.

What would you call it when an engineer’s Marvelous Pursuit turns out to be profitable for their company? A better definition of the term is needed. I interpret the Marvelous Pursuit as being defined in context of your intrinsic intentions for engaging in an activity. In this definition an engineer can engage with their Marvelous Pursuit while their company profits from it. Additionally, in the context of art, two separate artists could conceive of the same painting, one motivated by status, and the other by an intrinsic drive to create for the sake of it.

3 Likes

Make some soup.

8 Likes

wow, these writings + the resulting conversations hit deep. thank you all.

the theme that struck me most from the Marvelous Pursuit piece is the idea that isolation and fundamental loneliness are ultimately what drive us to pursue unmarvelously in the other direction:

from the article:

…the development of technological means to increase communication between people that are far away has corresponded to a growing distance between those that are nearby. From this growing alienation grew the desire to overcome it. Milan Kundera has written about a phenomenon called graphomania: the desire to see one’s writing in print, the desire to gain recognition and fame from one’s writings. He views this a being directly related to the alienation between people who are physically near to each other. Lacking connection with those nearby we crave recognition from those far away.

from Kundera:

…everyone is pained by the thought of disappearing, unheard and unseen, into an indifferent universe, and because of that everyone wants, while there is still time, to turn himself into a universe of words.

and echoes from Mark Fisher:

…in Britain, depression is now the condition that is most treated by the NHS. In his book The Selfish Capitalist, Oliver James has convincingly posited a correlation between rising rates of mental distress and the neoliberal mode of capitalism practiced in countries like Britain, the USA and Australia. In line with James’s claims, I want to argue that it is necessary to reframe the growing problem of stress (and distress) in capitalist societies. Instead of treating it as incumbent on individuals to resolve their own psychological distress, instead, that is, of accepting the vast privatization of stress that has taken place over the last thirty years, we need to ask: how has it become acceptable that so many people, and especially so many young people, are ill?

the soup that’s boiling for me is the idea that the natural byproduct of having been alienated to those near us, through the psychological impact of having to internalize the values of a consumptive system, is to invest in the promise of recongition from those far from us. if we cannot be intimately known by few, we transfer this basic need to being generally known by many. in essence, it’s a survival technique.

this thread has provided a necessary reflection point, thank you all :sparkles:

25 Likes

The (lack of) intentionality to be intimate with, life (ecology). Tim Morton is talking about the intimacy with the stranger, L. Margulis referers to intimacy as the basic process of evolution…

I am not sure about that, It might sounds a bit religious to me. We might be both creatures and creators, a process that blends in both and all in between.

2 Likes