Monday, 11 September 2017

The Spirit in the Machine

Having listened to the talk by the author of the book on knives that I bought at the Ludlow Food Festival has got me thinking. He was talking about objects having a spirit, or what the Japanese call wabi-sabi, being the aesthetic appeal of something worn and shaped by age and use, taking on some of the character of the user. Patina, if you will, but more than that.

The imbuing of objects with a spirit is a form of transference. I wear my father's watch, not so much because it's old and an Omega, but because my father wore it and it is a constant reminder of him. The fact it gains or loses a few minutes a day and is practically useless for accurate timekeeping is immaterial. Despite it not containing a single atom of him, it contains his essence - but that's all in my own mind and not something that's tangible.

Perhaps this is the way religion started - attributing a spirit to something inanimate through its interaction with the person who made it or wielded it. Extending that to objects having no human connection is just the next step. The sacred glade is sacred only in the mind of the human contemplating it and has no innate sacredness within it.

Machine-made knives have gradually replaced artisan-manufactured knives, and they too are expensive, but nowhere near as expensive as handmade ones, primarily because it's almost a lost art and very few people do it anymore.

This got me thinking about how lost arts are back in vogue - anything containing the word craft or artisan can command a high price, despite the tolerances achieved being nowhere near as precise as the machine-made equivalent.

It strikes me that someone wanting to clean up just needs to focus on some activity that has been completely replaced by machines, preferably in a marketable area, such as of one of the current national obsessions - cooking, gin or coffee - and turn their hand to making whatever it is by hand. Of course, it helps to have a ridiculous topknot, some tattoos and a beard, oh, and for you to be called Justin or Piers. It's surprising what people will pay for an imperfect, handmade object in a world of manufactured, homogenised perfection - so long as it's not a jet engine part or a pacemaker...

The key, though, is to stick with trends and not wander into segments that produce no money, such as farming implements, dry-stone walling or thatching. It has to be something that appeals to the middle classes, where trends are quickly adopted, but equally quickly dropped. Anyone for handmade solar panels that operate at 10% efficiency but where imperfections give them wabi-sabi?

When all's said and done, what's the difference between talking to a sky god and your car, to which many ascribe a personality, especially if classic or handmade? Both ignore you most of the time and are insanely capricious.

Kids talk to their toys all the time.

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