Blue-and-White Porcelain" by Jiàn Jiāng
A craftsman's love of his southern lady
Painted onto the glaze
His soul fired in the kiln
The other day on facebook, my little sister Ting-Jen reminded me of the scene in an old Zhang Yimou film, The Road Home, when a traveling potter arrives in the heroine's village. Asking whether anyone has something needing repair, he is asked to mend a broken ceramic bowl. Even though it would cost less just to buy a new one-- and hey money was tight-- still in those days people knew that tending memories and taking care of things was a virtue（美徳). And so he skillfully repairs the bowl. That scene had struck me too, and I told my little sister that in Japan, I thought the spirit of craftsmanship is still alive and well. Having a heart to take good care of things (物を大切にする心) is related to concepts of divinity in things and to a natural piety. My best friend’s husband, for example, is really adept at repairing ceramics using gold lacquer and the repairs he lovingly labors over add to the interest or fascination of the the ceramic pieces themselves.
After all, once upon a time ceramic vessels were not just things for storing water or for putting food and flowers in, but they were places where people could put their dreams and shared imaginings. Vessels were places for storing memories and in which to put your metaphors. They were even places were great jars were used in which to bury the dead. Like in Borneo, the dragon jars had characters and destinies like any Greek hero. They had charisma.
Craftsmanship is something Hubert Dreyfus (my intellectual hero) has written about for twenty years. Contrasting craftmanship with technology, he says:
To the extent that technology strips away the need for skill, it strips away the possibility for meaning as well. To have a skill is to know what counts or is worthwhile in a certain domain. Skills reveal meaningful differences to us and cultivate in us a sense of responsibility to bring these out at their best. To the extent that it takes away the need for skill, technology flattens out human life. (All things shining)
I think it is true that if technology aims to make things easier more convenient and efficient; craftsmanship--in contrast-- generates embodied skills, discernment and care; all things which used to be very central to the way people lived their lives. This still can be found in japan where 職人文化 (craftsman culture) is alive and where people continute perhaps to value quality. The existentialist--like the Confucian or daoist-- prioritisizes embodied know-how, and this is predicated on a worldview that does not emphasize a mind-body divide so that-- (as the brilliant Wang Yangming suggested) to know is to do and to do to is to know. This is what Dreyfus called embodied know-how. And he is bringing forth heidegger's old concept--borrowed from the Greeks-- of Poiesis, which itself harkens back to a world where sophia means both wisdom and skill and where poetry was thought to be a form of craft or a practiced skill which not only warms the heart but sheds a special radiance on the subjects it celebrates (Bowra)
Steven posted on facebook, I wonder who will repair the stuff we have now, if they will repair it, and how they will do it.
I really think, sadly, the stuff we have today is not meant for repair--it is 使い捨てる (totally disposable). And, in the end, this is what Dreyfus--following Heidegger-- has been concerned with--as he frets that in the end, we begin to treat even our own selves as resources to be used and consumed, instead of being grounded in those things that really matter.
--Translation above with Jan Walls on FB (last line probably inaccurate due to my own 不足)
All the images from Andrew Baseman's amazing blog, Past Imperfect: The Art of Innovative Repair.
T.S Elliot below:
Only by the form, the pattern, / Can words or music reach / The stillness, as a Chinese jar still / Moves perpetually in its stillness. / Not the stillness of the violin, while the note lasts, / Not that only, but the co-existence, / Or say that the end precedes the beginning, / And the end and the beginning were always there / Before the beginning and after the end. / And all is always now. .
-T. S. Eliot Four Quartets