(John Ruskin, preface to The Nature of Gothic, by William Morris.)
Pleasure in Labour? Power over material nature?
To generalise heavily, what Ruskin and Morris were about was to re-affirm man's aesthetic and spiritual authority over things, at a time when the Industrial Revolution had changed things out of all recognition. They advocated, for instance, the making of books that were beautiful to look at, as well as being informative.
Several of my regular readers will understand this; the idea that in a highly mechanised, electronic society, we feel the need, indeed we must, assert ourselves as people in control of our physical surroundings. Not only that, we crave aesthetic pleasure, whether it be in the garden or the studio or the study. I have recently taken to corresponding with others in pen, ink and paper. I grow my own vegetables, I keep chickens, I make things. None of this I really need to do, since it is not only inefficient but it is quite unnecessary. So, why do I do it? My son collects vinyl records - and he was born after cds hit the market, so it is not just a certain generation. Everyone wants to re-connect with the kind of tactile pleasures that have been made ostensibly redundant by electronic media and its attendant impact on everything we do. It is to take pleasure in labour.
As a child I imagined an future world, quite impoverished, of protein pills and clean walls, stripped of any semblance of humanity. I imagined going to the moon in a rocket, not buying rocket and fifty different kinds of olive oil in a massive shop. We have more choice, and seemingly, the choice is to look at the past and grab it, before it disappears.
What do you think?