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   Anasayfa arrow Medyadan Seçmeler arrow The new masters of our universe
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Yazar ROGER SCRUTON   
10-02-2008
The new masters  of our universe
                                              ROGER SCRUTON
Richard Sennett's The Craftsman continues an argument begun in the 19th century, when writers such as John Ruskin and William Morris extolled the crafts remembered in our surnames (Smith, Cartwright, Thatcher, Mason, Fletcher) while lamenting the mindnumbing and soul-destroying labour of the industrial process which was replacing them. A long line of thinkers, from Hegel and Marx to Sennett's teacher Hannah Arendt, have sympathised with the argument. But Sennett does not think that craftsmanship has vanished from our world. On the contrary: it has merely migrated to other regions of human enterprise, so that the delicate form of skilled cooperation that once produced a cathedral now produces the Linux software system. Linux, for Sennett, is the work of a community of craftsmen "who embody some of the elements first celebrated in the (Homeric) Hymn to Hephaestus".

The quotation illustrates the range and boldness of this book. Sennett defines craftmanship as "an enduring, basic human impulse, the desire to do a job well for its own sake". His interest in the subject arises from his work as an academic sociologist, but this says only the barest minimum about his expertise. He is at home in historical, philosophical and psychological literature, and has a lively interest in music, architecture and urban planning, all of which have influenced and broadened his conception of craft. He believes that craft is as vital to the healthy functioning of modern societies as it was to the medieval guilds lauded and romanticised by Morris and Ruskin. And he chooses modern examples to illustrate his thesis. He criticises computer-aided design as the enemy of the eye-guided craft of architectural composition, in terms that recall Ruskin's assault on neoclassicism. He praises Nokia's way of innovating through free cooperation in terms that might have been applied to the drafting of the Rule of St Benedict. His argument moves with consummate ease from the anecdotal to the theoretical and back again, and whether he is reflecting on the origins of the scalpel, on the technique of jazz piano, on disgruntlement in the National Health Service, on Diderot's concerns in the Encyclopédie, on Schiller's theory of play or Raymond Tallis's theory of the hand, his thoughts are always lively, engaging and pertinent. A lifetime's learning has gone into the writing of this book, and it is not surprising if its argument eludes any simple summary.
 
Craft, as Sennett sees it, belongs to the category of "social capital": knowledge and skill that are accumulated and passed on through social interaction, and which are easily lost when social customs change. He gives the illuminating example of the Stradivari and Guarneri violin workshops, whose secrets have not survived the death of those who exploited them — not because the secrets were known to the few, hidden from the many, and then carelessly lost, but because, in an important sense, they were not explicitly known. Social capital of this kind is an example of what the scientist and philosopher Michael Polanyi called "tacit knowledge": knowledge that exists a
 
in social practice, but is not detachable from it, like the knowledge of the human heart that is contained in the practice of good manners. Such knowledge confers authority on the one who possesses it, and, as Sennett illuminatingly argues, craft traditions have been as much under threat from the modern suspicion of authority in all its forms, as from the industrialisation of the productive process. Originality and "doing your own thing" have replaced obedience and perfection as the standards to live up to, and this is everywhere to be observed in the de-skilling of modern societies and in the marginalisation of those who truly know their job, and know it as something more interesting than themselves.
 
In various places, Sennett points to the importance of religion and ritual in the transfer of tacit knowledge, and he recognises that the great craft cultures of medieval times, in which the legacy of tacit knowledge was kept in place by the self-policing guilds, went with a form of life that we can no longer recuperate. The household of the medieval craftsman was not a place of domestic love, but a place of authority, in which the relation of master and apprentice was more fundamental than that of father and son. Civic pride counted more than domestic contentment, and the crafts themselves were fully incorporated into the religion of the town, taking their place among the rituals and sacraments whereby the community renewed its sense of legitimacy and its devotion to God. Sennett does not linger over what this means for us, who have lost all forms of tacit knowledge that depend upon a shared public faith. And for some unaccountable reason (unaccountable in a man of such broad culture), he does not mention the greatest of all artistic presentations of the phenomenon that he is describing: Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Had he looked to that exemplary source he would, I think, have recognised more clearly that craftsmanship is more than the desire to do a job well for its own sake. It involves the desire to make a gift of the result, a gift to God, and to the community that has sought God's protection.
 
That is the burden of Ruskin's argument in The Seven Lamps of Architecture, a source that Sennett respectfully discusses. For Ruskin, architecture serves the community only when approached in a spirit of piety and sacrifice. Architecture must set effective boundaries to public space, and it does so by relinquishing the desire to show off, to stand out, to record the artistic flair of some temporary ego. Architecture succeeds in its public task through humility and devotion, of the kind that can be observed in the moulding, firing and laying of a properly proportioned brick, but which is violated at every point by Frank Gehry's bombastic Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. Sennett writes beautifully of bricks and their manufacture. But a residual sympathy for modernism leads him to praise Gehry's costly extravaganza. He is entitled to his taste; but he should be clear that Gehry's building is not an exercise in craft but an attempt at art, and exemplifies the same kind of "look at me expressing myself" that has led everywhere to the death of those virtues — humility, piety, obedience — without which no tradition of craftsmanship can really survive.

(Sn. Dr. Ahmet Çetinbudaklar'dan alınmıştır)

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