Wednesday, January 6, 2016


(This is my addition to an ongoing conversation with Henrik Lutzen, triggered by a post of Michael Langford, and is an answer to Henrik's comment: "If you have any ideas about how some sort of group discussion forum could be set up and how we actually might move a conversation into the thick, let me know." This is how I think we should talk about crafts.)

Talk the truth is a funky business. You can get killed, as Socrates or Jebus, or fired as anyone who tells the truth to his or her boss knows.

If we want to talk about why we do what we do the way we do, we need to be honest. Like in "I work to soothe the pain of my dead mother." Honesty comes only when you talk from your self. You don't put a hat and become woodworker, and talk from that expert position — you need to put your guts into it.

I mean yeah, you can do it, and that's what science is about. People talk about something, but to talk about that something doesn't matter if you are sad, angry, happy or half dead. Knowledge is that thing that doesn't care about us. Permaculture puts first the care of the earth and the care of the people. What's the point of talking about sharp if we cannot talk about the difficulties we have in our marriage, all the bullshit one has to go through when one has cancer,  or how retarded the people of the village is? We are all in the mud, and the idea is to pull each other a bit out of it, while we are alive (and perhaps to keep us alive when we are not there anymore).

And that happens with words. Which is a very magical thing. You read something written in a certain way, or you hear the words of somebody said at a certain moment, and your life changes. Like magic, you know.

Foucault has a lecture at the end of his life where he treats this subject. I didn't finish the book, printed only half of it in Graz and never got to print the second part. But that's not the point. At the beginning of his lecture he makes the difference between this two kinds of knowledge.

I find this distinction very useful. We don't do woodworking for the sake of knowing. It's much more a path of transformation of the self (and care of it) than an accumulation of rules, procedures and methods. We become sharper as our hands learn to feel the stone and the steel. Our eyes learn to see, too see in a new way, and we start living in a new way. Well, at least the crazy one like us. We buy a piece of forest in the middle of an island, we bang metal against metal in order to remove more metal from metal that eventually, if everything goes well, and it will, will help us cut wood more slow than any machine can, but in silence. We burn ourselves, cut ourselves, and modify ourselves such that we can have access to this world that unveils each time the plane passes over the wood. And the sharper you get, the richer the world that's unveiled is.

We are not here for the object, we are not fetishist of the wood. We relate to it, and each according to his ability receive what is there to be had.

Beautiful, aint it? Who would have thought that the funny french knew so much about woodworking.

This is relevant. Not only to us, spiritual woodworkers, but for civilization as such. We have chosen as society, consciously or unconsciously, a path that negates the spiritual capacity of matter, of man, for a bunch of formulas, algorithms and free markets. This path leads to an abyss, and even worse, it's boring.

If we want to talk about what we do, and I think we all want to, we need to talk with the truth and be ready to put our being at play. It may be awkward. Alcohol was a useful lubricant for tears in the days we could meet in the bar for our weekly talk. But here we are mostly sober and far apart, so other methods need to be devised.

Let's speak the truth, let's care for each other.


  1. "...eventually, if everything goes well, AND IT WILL..."
    Manual work unveils truths that give tranquility to the soul. A shaping of character.

  2. Ancient Turkish saying," If you speak the truth, have one foot in the stirrup".

  3. In 1980 I sold my car (an opel, for $700) and bought ww tools. I dropped out of college and rented an old shoe store. Didn't know what I was doing, except I knew I was walking out of the machinery. Not going into debt. I knew America was heading deeper into denial, and going without me.

    Wood became my teacher, friend, reference. Still is. By now, I can see with my hands, understand with my hands. Well, by now, not just my hands, and not just wood, but whole body, and stone, steel, clay, time and space. Money? No.

    A friend who is a bit older, and more connected to growing flora and fauna, looked me in the eye last Summer, while we were making firewood, and said, "the price of freedom is everything". He was a CO during the VietNam thing; never married, or had children. A Poet who never published. Works with the Earth, works more than I do, but doesn't own any property - just some tools. Takes hickory nuts from one place, plants them where hickory trees will do well. Been doing such for four decades now.

    "Follow your Bliss" is a good rule of thumb; each human being has their own inner compass, at least they are not all the same. Most Americans prefer to follow the herd, trade freedom for security/approval. Maybe most people.

    I grieve for all the concrete and asphalt, the nuclear reactors and strip mines. I was born in the Midwest, and it seemed like heaven had graced the earth with Life so providentially. And we desecrate wholeness with "progress", and "efficiency" and "profit". Sell our own lives by the hour. Allow our minds to be colonised by corporatethink.

    But as Marrianne Moore states truthfully, in her poem "In Distrust of Merits": Beauty is everlasting, and dust is for a time"

    I think this is the proper link to MM reading the whole poem, but I need to upgrade Adobe Flash - anyway, try:

  4. Yep, that worked OK. IIRC, back then, I made a mix tape on cassette, and MM was followed by this:

    (Steely Dan - Change of the Guard)

    It was 90 minutes of poetry and music, a back and fourth of dialectic, grieving and joy, male and female. Gary Synder, Cindy Lauper, John Coltrane, Elizabeth Bishope, Wallace Stevens. Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. Bucky Fuller, Winona LaDuke, Louis Armstrong. It disappeared couple years ago.

  5. I think for me part of my love of craft is keeping a bit of hope alive that we can teach ourselves to live a better way and have a better future for our children. I've read a lot of technofuturism where human ingenuity willy overcome all problems with big solutions, my hope has a lot more to do with small solutions and learning to see the world and my life as what I can make, not what I can buy.

  6. Ever since boyhood I have been devoted my thoughts to different abstract objects. I wanted on the one hand as the essence of my liberty to get rid of all accessory concepts. I thought this possibility was more likely to be found in philosophy than elsewhere. But I discovered that to succeed in this task one has to construct a pyramid. I soon found the pyramid shaking, and proceeded to construct plots to keep the pyramid from falling. Having constructed the plots I discovered they were no more secure than the pyramid and i came later to the conclusion than there was nothing I could do in the end of making a minimal set of reliable concepts than to construct an infinite set of pyramids on plots all threatening to fall down, consciously convinced that, however the constructions might be gradually over time extended the satisfaction sought would not be fulfilled. The failure to learn from this undesirable conclusion has its source in emotional limitations. But it is in the air a philosopher breathes. The search for clear thinking. Now if I make informative statements which differ according to the speaker ethical affiliation and point to the defect in the attempt to explain, he who is a philosopher will understand. Because it is in the air he breathes. Because we must correctly add something : when Foucaud tells us the historically context-dependent definition of philosophy, he does this in a way that he feels and wants us to feel, that something wrong has happened. His aims is to break down the fixed categories of thought which have appeared to define and constrain the permissible views on philosophy based on the conventional separation of facts and values. He wants to reconsider the deepest problems in philosophy and to rehabilitate our systems of beliefs as irrational and reppellant to modern philosophy as they have been presented not as inadequate but as essentials in search for truths as a necessary condition of its emanation.
    But here one could go further and can compare "the majesty of scientific truth" with the truth of our opinions and practices, one feels they are of the same kind. it is remarkable that one who is affected by "the majesty of scientific truth" doesn't realize it springs from the same tendency in ourselves, it merely substitutes some symbols for some others, or: some ceremonies for some others. This is what human like is like.

    1. These truths of different kinds, yes it's a good understanding to begin with.

    2. Yes, absolutely, especially the relation between truth and meaning. Truth and composition of sense (which involves a general theory of signification), truth as a priory condition of thoughts, etc...Then as a Foucaud reader it should lead you to the relation between the being and thoughts, yet other targets of his other than metaphysical realism, phenomenology and anthropology.

  7. Shinglemaker, I want a word with you.
    Shinglemaker : what do you mean _ "a word ?" I ain't done nothing.
    Ah, that's just it ! Like you the idea of a rest from the herculean task is not unwelcome. The craftmen, they worshipp a goddess called Liberty, their creed is poetic and romantic but their lineaments are rather vague. They have also daemons which are rather more definite, it is those daemons that can lead them to fight for an ideal of society which by all means makes us anxious that the approach to it should precipitate things in a form which we did not subscribe to. Did not you and me subscribe to a certain democracy as an ideal ? You want the reforming leaders found in the same schools, the top of the great families, only those who have had a classical education ? Or do you think such an ideal is to be helped by a gradual extension of emancipation ? The problem is not confined to the understanding of philosophy at all, we serve a purpose in suppressing the perpetuation of muddle-headness the unformulated habits of thoughts have taken over from common sense, the unformulated habits of thoughts, at best, leave rather quite untouched the hard facts of political and economical nature which dominate our lives. I think one should be more concerned with Foucaud's intentions, the most important of these were that he expressed that it was not possible to offer a tenable theory of truth and falsehood without certain presuppositions, that our truths consist in one sort of development of those presuppositions which lie in history, in the habits of community and intimately mated in ideology. How much about this process, I do not know but it contains some extensions,namely, the hability to manufacture ideas which shall be autonomous from reality, the independence of facts from knowledge, which are doubtfull. What I think of the last paragraphe of Foucaud is that with such central intentions I don't see that kind of man making an excursion into idealism. I see him more chiefly interested in rejecting the whole Kantian apparatus of a priori intuitions and categories moulding experience.

    1. Hi Anonymous

      Thanks for your comments. It's be great if you could add a name to your words. When Foucault in the last sentence I quoted makes a difference between the individual and the subject himself, this is a situated transformation. It happens to Sebastian, or to Mark, or Keiran. Whatever their particular relation with the Kantian apparatus, most probably nonexistent. I'm not particularly interested in what Foucault intended to do, but the description of how truth changes the subject. And here I mean that even simple truths, like sharp is better or planed is beautiful, the truths that you encounter when working with wood, will change you.

      I'm not so much interested in discussing ideas as in knowing people and making friends, hope you catch my drift.

  8. Hi Sebastian anonymous is easier, we don't have to focus on who is who . What are the conditions for the statement "it changes the subject" to be significant ?" bringing in philosophical sentences in a non-philosophical context makes what they are supposed to state problematic. What do we mean by the word "subject" ? Why is the changed subject to be preferred to the other for objective reasons ? And so we find ourselves having to fall back for telling whenever it occurs in non explicit or implicit connection with its philosophical counter-part. Your first post seems to me also now ambiguous since you admit not being interested in discussing philosophical ideas.
    I have nothing against friendship, on the contrary.

    1. don't get me wrong, I'm very interested in ideas, but for me they are not separated from the person.

      The bringing of Foucault's text into the conversation was a very difficult decision. On the one hand I find it useful since it's an historical account of two different moments of knowledge, what he calls pre and post cartesian. This seems a very useful distinction for what craft does and which is missing in the modern world. On the other hand, Foucault is a very strong figure and very important in academia. And that's precisely what I don't care about, professional philosophers with phd, papers and conferences.

      So my problem is, and to answer shinglemaker, that I haven't found any other author or reference to this phenomenon. Foucault's readings are latin classics, of which I'm totally ignorant, so it's him or nobody. I'd be grateful if somebody gives me another reference for this.

      Now, what I'm really interested in —and why the above quotes are here— is what kind of truth you find with crafts. When you work the material world you find non-discursive truths, facts about the world and yourself, and the relation of both. And this changes you. It changes the way you move, the way you are in the world, and also you need to change in order to have access to it. Why is this changed subject preferable to the other one? Because the boxes he makes are better planed, had a more subtle surface, because he has more contact with the world, and thus more fun. Because it feels better in the inside, because I'm happy with myself I'm able to do that. Is that based on a particular history, is determined by ideology? I don't think so. When planing 3microns shavings you are doing something that the materiality of the world allows, and by interacting with reality in such way you are fulfilling its dreams. But to achieve this you need to go through very difficult path. (Did I just say that the wood dreams of being planed? Indeed. Holderlin wrote "Es brauchet aber Stiche der Fels Und Furchen die Erd", and I found this far less crazy than infinite economic growth for example.)

      It's a bit like love. You can write theory about it, wonder about its historically context-dependent definition, and try to define who or what is the subject who (or the thing that thinks that) loves, but at the end of the day it's you who has to do the work. And that's the fun of it.

      Maybe I don't need Foucault to explain all this, or maybe you are right and we should go through all the due clarifications and philosophical technicalities and do a proper job. Don't think I am up to the task though. Ideas for me are a very visceral thing, I guess one can see that.

  9. I can agree with the anonymous one in this sense: why muddy things up with philosophy anyway? Which is not to say I have anything against philosophy - whether I do or not.

  10. If you have your own philosophy, you have something to test how you live - live - in the world. You may find your life is of no benefit to others, that you need to change your philosophy, so you change it. Without a philosophy of your own to guide you, other people will be thinking for you. We need other people, some doing philosophy, to get a start. Let us tolerate some philosophy; patience is such a handy thing.

  11. If you want to think your life, or to think your actions I'm afraid you will have to turn yourself to human ideas in which philosophical ideas is especially appropriate, simply because from your own standpoint ideas are in no place. One perspective is to start to improve common sense ideas, but sooner or later you will feel that the honey-moon cannot last : what you came up with is a result which is smaller than an assigned minimum. Without the philosophical background, although one can arrive at very small regions, one may be unable to arrive further than points such as "truths" which are vacuities. You may not think that this makes any important difference, I do. It is for this reason that in the above account I have pointed to the fact that there is no minimal region.
    So wether, as a free thinker, your failure has been not to distinguish the unformulated habits of thoughts, which may be caused by the penetration of some fragments of philosophy in ordinary life, in which you are stocked and the ambiguities created by their artificial link to ordinary forms of life, wether you must be ready for the puzzles of philosophy, where it is never possible to attest if you're making any progress. New problems arising as soon as you pass to the consideration of what you came up with with a new acuity.
    How words mean in philosophical sentences, they can only acquire significance when they are understood as part of a whole set of philosophical elements, this kind of complex unity as the notion of subject in Foucault, derived from Kant's conception of conscienciousness as much as Durkheim's socio-psychology of collective representations as much as Heidegger's notion of the self in his conception of subjectivation. His view of the pregnance of ideology over habits of thought, a more complexe conception than what we apprehend when we think of ideology, is mostly due to the frequentation of Canguilhem and of Althusser. I did not endeavoure to offer adequate explanations of the last paragraphe of Foucault, which needs more attention than I paid but I felt from the knowledge of Foucaults central aims that it was unduly metaphysical. I may be wrong because most of Foucault's background is highly metaphisical.
    Call me Marc if you like.

  12. You, as your meant in abstracto and include myself - any free thinker going through the process

  13. Anonymous, I find myself curious about your motivations more so than Foucault. For instance, do you practice any form of craft, do you make things? Not that this constant digression into semantics isn't inspiring in its own way! What other good way is there for a poor redneck to engage in the micro language of such technical philosophy?
    I'd love to take you hunting just to hear how you would relate the experience of taking a life, where for a small moment typically no words or ideas are required to form a truth or understanding. Is there any wisdom on the other end?

  14. I'm having fun with craft, craft keeps me outside running my life on materialistic bases which I cannot accept and away from intellectual pretention which is another danger. I'm not especially skilled with craft. I don't think I am obviously wrong in not running for perfection but I am interested in increasing my skills. The most fundamental of my intellectual beliefs are that order, unity, continuity are human inventions and prejudice in the hands of ideology to liberty. You have the chance of advancing precise on that thinking as far as possible, when revoking spheres outside it, or else leave your emotions, your mystic yearnings brought in to muddle up your thinking. Or just leave in a simple reproduction of models, without questioning yourself which is also, perhaps the best, a way to take care of the question but this increase the risk that anyone else will produce your life. You are therefore left with the problem.

  15. Semantics, yes, surely some are inspired by the possibility that such words as idealist, realist, conceptualist, necessity ...will end up by giving them the knowledge of what they are speaking about. But it may be necessary to indicate where different uses of the same words may lead to capital misunderstanding. And of course, the wrong conclusion may be drawn by people from their own examples. Focussing on my motive with Foucault is precisely that the truths of woodworking as just as good as the scientific truths is aping the aim of Foucault. Stating his position so baldly does not make it look silly, it is a contempt for the grovelling microscopic vision of those whose serious attention should be extended to understand the world they are living in in order to spread a better portrait of human flourishing than capitalism does promiss. No woodworker imagines that such a philosopher would have practical utility to say if it is necessary or even possible and that the answer for us to find out can depend on the nature of Foucault's conclusion. I find it very difficult to make up my mind as to the valmidity of Foucault's new interpretation of liberalism and to understand it we must analyse carefully if Foucault is a total cultural relativist in which case all truths are just as good for him and all ideological perspectives are only culture relative. I meant to suggest that ignoring the signs in Foucault's most recent work that he too took a certain defense of liberalism, after all these years of linking our criteria of rationality with capitalism, exploitation, sexual repression and alienation of the self. There can be different meaningfull reasons for that any reflective person has to have a real opinion about such things, otherwise I cannot see what would be left of what has to stand for important matters. That was my conception of the fick and of the light...I won't come back.

  16. Sebastian, I had to look at Foucault's book, and skipped back from the end. (Also wiki'ped MF, where I learned a bit about Post-Anarchism). In Hermeneutics Of The Subject, it seems some of the Greeks used Philosophy to correct their personal behaviour, and others used meditation, in their sense of the word. To put his course in a larger context, HDF Kitto wrote a very readable book, "The Greeks". Part of the scrunch with academic work such as MF, is transferring it to the non-academic. Which reminds me of Eco's book, "The Name of the Rose". Academic work is intended to stay in academia, a universe of its own. The useful drops are always leaking out, however, imparting whiffs of inspiration to the susceptible.