Sunday, 6 February 2011

Lucinda's Reading Challenge 2011: Psychology


I'm fighting jet lag but just had to
pen a couple of thoughts about
Richard Sennett's ace book
The Craftsman. Even the cover
is fab (and drew the custom
official's eye when my bags
were searched at the airport!)
The good news is that this is the
first of a trilogy that Sennett is
writing about the philosophy of
material culture. This first
instalment is all about how we
perceive craftsmanship and
the lengths we go to to improve
the things we make. Richard Sennett
sees craftsmanship everywhere: in the honing of a piece of Linux code as much as in a piece of Ancient Greek pottery (where makers' marks started to become an important aspect of the finished article).

There are specific discussions about how we experiment and engage repetition to improve our craft - including some really interesting sections on violin fingering techniques, left and right hand jazz piano practice and glass blowing. It's fascinating to consider that the Craftsman will change his physiology through practice to perfect technique.

Biology and science in general, however, don't have all the answers. I found it rather romantic that science still can't come up with an answer as to why a Stradivarius sounds so good and why musicians can spot a replica every time. This intangibility of expertise means that the demise of the craftsman often means the demise of the technique. Richard Sennett ironically (as an author) shows how language is totally lacking when trying to communicate how to make something: the myriad micro-decisions that must be made when boning a chicken for example can never be written down in an accessible style - although one of our fave cookery writers Richard Olney is given praise for his gorgeous prose!

The mixture of history, practical information and thought means that this book is never dull and I reckon it's a must for anyone who has ever made anything using care and attention! Richard Sennett's references to craftsmen throughout history (be they artists, philosophers or scientists) are all intriguing. With one eye on the biography shelf - which I will be visiting in the near future - I think I've found a soul mate in John Ruskin. He's the Victorian artisan who championed individual hand made items over the homogeneity of industrialised mass production. I'm keen to find out more about him. Now, back to the zeds.

1 comment:

Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

Great review and an interesting book. It's true, science can't explain everything. It would try to explain some but not all.