Saturday, May 07, 2005

A rough draft (or a beginning of one.) Nothing new.

Design annoys me. I make things for a living: carpentry is making. But what is design if not directing how something is made by others? What does it mean that at this point in time designers are so distinct from builders?
And when did the defense of craft become the defense of the ‘crafty’?

This never became the case with writing. Writers are craftsmen. What book review does not discuss both the author’s ideas and her craft. Would any literary critic ever think to separate the two when discussing a work of fiction; and isn’t it considered a compliment when the language of a non-fiction book is described as being wed somhow to the subject? Especially in the case of a novel the ideas by themselves as divorced from the language mean little; the question hinges more on whether the author has the skill to communicate the nuances of one particular experience, fact, or example. What’s the difference between one love story/murder mystery or another? How many plots are there in the theater? Even in autobiography, and let’s raise the stakes, what’s the difference between one holocaust memoir and another?
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How did design, the poor cousin of art, ever get to take itself so seriously? Why did design become the paradigm for culture in the 20th century? If you do not understand how this is so then consider modern politics.

Design is joined -wed- to the modernist fantasy of intention and predictive value. Its abstraction and intentionality are seen still by some as strengths. It’s good to have an idea of what you want. It’s good to know the value of things. It’s good to have assumptions. But the failures of modernism in politics or design, are the failures of intention. As Eric said in a recent exchange while I was workig on this piece: “socialism is design.” But socialism is a failure, at least as design. Whether it is a failure as a methodology of action or of life is another matter.
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I have one Italian suit. The jacket has been been tailored tightly around the waist and the pants cuffed and cut to a full break. I picked it up it after working on the importing agent's showroom. In spring I like lightweight shoes with leather soles; and I try not only to think good thoughts but to write well.

My argument is not with style in the sense that intellectuals disdain the superficial, but with the defense of design as an intellectual act, with the teleology of the market and unalloyed desire for the new. I’m disgusted with the false dichotomy of form and content, as if one were a package and the other a commodity. I’m bothered by design because it is a secondary form which in a technocratic world has become for many the definition of art itself. If we agree that the biggest questions are scientific, that they can be answered by means of logic and analysis, then there’s nothing left for art but simple pleasure (and triangular glasses and an ugly but rigorously constructed haircut are not what I’d call ‘complex’.)
The place was a cockpit of magnificent art and appalling kitsch, glutted with waltzes, whipped cream, chocolate cake and high culture. The grimmer the political climate grew, the more relentlessly frivolous the city became. “In Berlin”, remarked the Austrian satirist Karl Kraus, “things are serious but not hopeless. In Vienna they are hopeless but not serious.”
Terry Eagleton writing about Wittgenstein’s Vienna, in the TLS.

All communication involves both logic and seduction, and only a fool or a mathematician who sleeps alone in his office would argue otherwise. A courtroom is an arena wherein two people who have been hired for this purpose argue viewpoints they may or may not even give a damn about. If all communication were not fraught with ambiguity we would find such a system as this not only cruel but barbaric.

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