Forward to the past - a new renaissance is the expression of man's pleasure in labour; that it is possible for man to rejoice in his work, for, strange as it may seem to us to-day, there have been times when he did rejoice in it; and lastly, that unless man's work once again becomes a pleasure to him, the token of which change will be that beauty is once again a natural and necessary accompaniment of productive labour, all but the worthless must toil in pain, and therefore live in pain. So that the result of the thousands of years of man's effort on the earth must be general unhappiness and universal degradation; unhappiness and degradation, the conscious burden of which will grow in proportion to the growth of man's intelligence, knowledge, and power over material nature. 

(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?


Jim Baxter said...

The real pest with any form of digital music is fitting it onto 2,400 feet of magnetic tape running at 15 ips in such as a way as to balance optimal tape usage with leaving a few feet for wind-round, lead-in, and lead out. It's taken me ages to transfer all the damned CDs around here onto tape since I got the TEAC 3440 and the Sony TC 366-4 working again (although the latter runs ay 7 1/2 ips and 7" reels, max, of course).

I keep the CDs as back-up but that's all they're good for. Who wants to watch a CD player working? Watching big TDK, Scotch, TEAC, British Ferrograph, AMPEX, EMTEC, etc. alloy reels going around complements the trance that true musical involvement requires.

sugplum said...

This is a curious site... I'm glad I happened upon it. Nice post! Lovely, lovely image. Ruskin was certainly prolific when speaking about painting and painters... maybe less potent in his marriage. Heyho, too much to expect perhaps.

Wouldn't it be delicious if all the books one owned were lovingly illuminated with ancient pigments and gold leaf by a dedicated monk or nun (did nuns do such work?).

As a poet, I have consigned myself to the realisation that even if I were Laureate, I would not make a Dan Brown's ransom purveying my slim collection. I have decided, therefore, that when I have an encounter with a doubtful punter but a sale doesn't look likely, it's more promising to press one of my precious volumes into an eager hand using it as a luxurious business card... the recipient can stroke its luxurious glossy cover and contrast that with the different tooth of its pages. In an ideal world I would craft every copy individually; THEN I would be less cavalier with my babies.

Jim Baxter said...

I aint kidding neither:


Tapestry said...

I find a similar pleasure in spending time in the Philippines. Everything is slow and it's hard to achieve much as a result. Yet in what is achieved, people find a great satisfaction. I would try to bottle some of their culture and bring it home, but it's not possible. The modern is instant and holds onto little of its true value.

Politics is very much the victim and our ability to reach wise decisions. Yet through blogs and writing we can reach out to find other ways of being, as you have done.

Dave said...

Vinyl records appeal to more than just the sense of hearing. The joy of holding the sleeve, of studying the artwork, reading the lyrics...
It was a thing, a manufactured object. Another human loaded the vinyl into the press, checked the disc for imperfections, place it into the inner sleeve and then into the outer. There is a physical connection both in the manufacture, delivery, retail, and finally playing it on your system. Even the sound is produced by a physical connection between stylus and disc.
Digital music has none of this. Coincidentally it is now seen as being valueless, now that digital music is so easy to copy and pirate, and newspapers give music away for free.
Is it the lack of a physical product that has contributed to the devaluing of music?