Crafting Awareness

Skeins of various threads spiral around me. Their common center may be craft.

Craft. It’s an interesting word. It seems straightforward enough at first glance but once we start to look more closely it expands. There’s a broadness to it.

It means making. It also means a vessel that transports us. It denotes a variety of disciplines and an attitude towards making. It hovers around technique and technology, but I’d say that in most cases –perhaps every case? – these references are misplaced. Craft and technique may sail along parallel courses at times, but their relationship is not as direct as it might seem.

I’m also beginning to suspect that its roots are not with civilization, or its proto-influences either. That this is a case of civilization bending something entirely outside its purpose to meet its own ends.

Craft, crafting as a process, are intertwined with awareness. As Andrew Taggart pointed out recently, there are two types of awareness broadly speaking: phenomenological awareness and self-awareness. Craft touches on both. The ultimate craft might be life. Both as an attitude towards making and as a vessel that transports us. A well-crafted life has meanings that reach across all of craft’s implications.

An insight, hovering, just out of reach, hints at craft’s origins and our pursuit of a well-crafted life by relating it to a sense of responsibility we feel towards the World. Our awareness exposes us to the intricacy and quality of every aspect of creation, of Being. This sets up a desire? A need? to reciprocate. If at every scale, every level, we are surrounded by impeccable quality – not perfection; a lie, a fantasy promoted by the desire to avoid awareness by burying it under distractions, like knowing…. If there is such quality filling the World, this hallmark of craft, then it is up to us to respond, not with an endless series of acts of despoliation, but to respond in kind.

As with craft, quality is another category that has been bent by civilization to its own ends. The capacity to distinguish has been twisted into the willingness to make capricious judgments. Quality has become a characteristic assigned to that commodity which has the most powerful clique behind it, claque-ing endlessly to extol its glamor. Glamor, a societal force driven by envy. The accumulation of the envy of others as a currency of worth. A method of capturing value as if it were something that could be wrested from its context and still maintain its worth.

If quality exists outside of any particular social construct. If it is there as a characteristic of the World that is apparent in every act of awareness by every creature to its abilities, then craft is not bound by civilization but is a characteristic of our relationship to the World – as creatures of that world.

Looking at the dreams of Gilgamesh, I’m struck by the grieving in them. First for the loss of his individual self in a mania for the accumulation of power, and then for the loss of the very quality of the World. He watched as it was destroyed at his behest, as the forests of the middle east gave way to the axe-men he unleashed. This archetype for the Fall of Adam puts grief and loss and guilt at the foundation of civilization. Not surprising since at that time its costs, internal and external, were fresh; and their awareness was untouched by the numbing effects of millennia of alienation from the World. It’s easy to see how quality, craft, the whole panoply of the virtues of an active awareness of our creature-hood; would be re-purposed – at whatever cost – to fill this aching void.

This alienation created a new category of human, the adult child.

When the pathways of maturity were choked off, along with every other pathway of life within this growing worship of power and death, we come to Gilgamesh, the prototype of this new creature. Older pathways to maturity were blocked by our organism’s unwillingness to face the horrible responsibility for what we had wrought – or what was being done in our names – and as a result, as adult children, we fell back on the same mechanisms that lead traumatized children anywhere to claim supernatural powers and externalize the shadow of their complicity by generating Fate. Techné swept in as The Way to “answer” this problematization of life, and craft was bent to fit these means and those ends. The abused child was the parent of the abuser, all rolled into one in our Gilgamesh, and the rest of us, his descendants.

This thread; running through from craft to quality, from a relationship of reciprocity with the quality inherent in the World to our alienation from that World, and on to the horrifying Fates we’ve conjured into Being; confronts our existential questions head-on. It leaves a trail, a continuity of causality and consequence, that could lead us – not back, that’s never a possibility, but towards the contiguous side of our spiral course that is closest to where we were before things went so horribly wrong.

My awareness makes of me a witness to the quality of craft that is the World, and that can be life. My approach to craft, to the making of things, to my relationship with vessels of transport or transcendence, to the crafting of a well-crafted life that fits with the greater structures and miniscule grandeur of Being at all scales; will lead me to practices that hone my abilities and increase my awareness of what can be done, but also of what it all means. It may allow me to lay aside the traps of civilization and suspend my surrender to its dramatics.

Crafting awareness crafts us. It creates us, as potential expressions of quality that fit into the celebration of quality that is the World, that is Being. We craft an ability to distinguish. That ability uses the touchstones of quality and value as it can be seen in the expressions of the World in ways that counter the toxic simulacra civilization has accustomed us to. It fulfills the multivalent need to integrate our awareness with the conditions of Being. It removes the insulation that civilization has provided to our sense of control and power that has led us further and further from an engagement with what is. This disengagement bred by civilization’s purposes means to protect us from the hazards of our human condition. Instead, they block the pathways of our awareness so that we have lost sight of the checks and balances that are at the heart of evolution, of the process through which living things maintain contact with their reality.

Crafting awareness, an awareness of the centrality of craft – not as it has come to be accepted, but as it was first seen, as a reaction to our awe at the wonder of our World – is a way forward.

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15 thoughts on “Crafting Awareness

  1. I like this post very much. There’s a short piece I’m posting tomorrow about good taste being the perception of thing’s being made well. And I think you’re right to hit upon the metaphysical implications of craft: in us, in the well-designedness of good lives, and in the objects we make.

    I wasn’t clear, though, about your account of the loss of craft concomitant with the onset of civilization. Hegel’s account of loss is one of diremption; Webber’s the ‘disenchantment of the world.’ I like also Louis Dupre’s from Passage to Modernity; Charles Taylor’s from A Secular Age; and so on.

    I couldn’t get straight in my head about yours. Care, at your leisure, to elaborate?

    1. Andrew,

      Thank you!

      I’ll be posting on that topic in the next few days. This piece, as an exploration, as notes from the field, slips lightly over much that needs to be looked at more closely.

      Diremption, that’s the second time I’ve seen that term today. I thought it was a misprint the first time! Would you care to give those of us here a short description? If I encountered the term reading Hegel, it was long ago….

  2. Tony,

    You familiar with the work of David Pye? I’ve been working at Richard Sennett’s book the Craftsman doing something well for its own sake.

    1. Ben,

      Yes on Pye. Probably THE source for the Twentieth Century take on the subject wouldn’t you say?

      I read Sennett’s book “Respect in a World of Inequality” last Summer. Here are three posts referring to Sennett: https://horizonsofsignificance.wordpress.com/?s=Sennett

      What I’m after here is finding a source for that impulse that goes back beyond the influences of civilization. I think it can be identified with the instinctive awareness for quality and, as Sennett would put it, our need for reciprocity as a way to put us into relationships of equality.

      I expect to be writing much more on this subject, both here and over at Boats for Difficult Times.

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