George Steiner, a certain idea of knowledge

Trees have roots; I have legs. And believe me, that is a huge advantage. […] Is it possible to read Plato while wearing a Walkman? […] Books are a great bulwark for private life. […] Imagine a world where neuro-chemistry could explain Mozart… It is conceivable, and I find it frightening.

From Telerama, via Presseurop (local archive).

Ink or keyboard? (Revisited)

I was just sitting there, just now, reading the natural navigation book that Mum gave me earlier this year, and I was struck by just how nice it was to hold something physical, something nice, in my hands. I wanted to have more of that. I wanted to be a woodworker, making my house nice all over, and having things that are good and real. But then, it all seemed pointless, as well. Why have nice things? For what purpose? Just because they’re nice? Well, yes. That’s it, really. Nothing more. It’s about the present, and the personal, immediate experience of them. It’s not about the future, and how these things will fare in the coming decades and centuries. It’s also not about how sensible and efficient and practical these things are. The book, for instance: this afternoon Tristan and I popped in to the bookshop near the Stock Road markets, and it was lovely. Nothing special, just a normal second-hand bookshop — but it was real and immediate and did not look to the future or the past; it was just for now. I bought a couple of paperbacks, thinking to add to my growing collection of Penguin Classics. Now I feel like that’s all wrong: I can’t have these temporary, poorly-made paperbacks! Why not get an ebook reader?! That’s what a paperback is aiming to be! The simplest thing, least concerned with aesthetics and the feel of the thing in the hand. So paperbacks are superceded; but well-bound hardcovers aren’t. They’re objects of beauty in their own right. I should collect them, because they’re worth more than the sum of the words they contain. But I should not collect them, because there’s just no need.

There’s no need to have these things that are nice! They’re satisfying, in the moment, but if that for which they’re being used — and now I’m thinking more about books in which one writes, journals, than published books — is not a thing that is about the current moment, then what’s the point? No, worse than that: they’re detracting from the real purpose! I write, to get words down, and be able to re-read them in years to come; this is better done on a computer (which is backed up, and the words are printed, and in other ways assured to live on) than in a paper journal. I read, to hear the author, and not to be happy with the heft of the cardboard case and the smell of the pages; these are incidental. There are lovely things about the phsical objects, and using them; but if the loveliness blinds me from getting better quality in the features that the objects exist for in the first place — exchange of ideas over time — then I’m losing out.

It’s a hard decision, and turn after turn I think I’ve made the wrong one… but ultimately, words are better off in digital form (remembering that they can always make it back on to the paper, and in multiple copies) than as ink in books. There are so many other objects that can be nice to hold, and physically satisfying to use; kitchen knifes, for example. Amazon aren’t going to replace them any time soon.

Documentation

The documenting of how we live, where we live, what we do — that’s what I’m interested in. And it’s a waste of time, really, in that it doesn’t contribute to any of those things (oh, of course that’s simplifying it too much; oh well). It’s also necessary to live, to be of the world, to construct and do.

Being an observer is quite entertaining in its own right. Sitting, looking, writing; it’s a nice enough way to pass the time. I used to do it, alone and with fountain pen and Moleskine, on a street corner; that was good, but around 2001 I found this whole world of people doing and thinking similar things with ‘description’, out here on the web. Such excitement to be found in this throng! So now, I work at documenting and recording, editing wikis and building catalogues — not failing to recognise the recursive, self-modifying way that these activities impact how they’re done, but still aiming at something called ‘neutrality’, or ‘objectivity’ — and slowly watching things take shape. I’d give up, convince myself that this is actually stupid, if it weren’t for the many other people — the bloggers, Wikipedians, urbexers, hipsters — working in a similar vein. It’s the community, engaged with or not, that makes it worth it. (You should, of course, laugh at me for saying this; it’s cliqué and daftness, I know.)

But that’s not always enough, so I step back from the digital agglomeration: being an observer is exhausting, and seems to dull one’s concern about how one’s own life is lead. So, making steps in, for me, and I sew and work wood and brew beer and bake bread; worldly things, bringing sanity.

Anyway, I’m just once again trying to muddle through this dicotomy, and what I say probably isn’t quite on the mark. Unfortunately, the more I think about it, the less I can see a way through; probably not unpredictable, that. Oh well.

Fake World DOES Contain Humans

All has gone well, since my last post, with my intra-office carlessness. My announcement (“I don’t go in cars; don’t ask me to.”) has been met with near universal acceptance (or silence), to my great relief. I had wondered whether the conversations in the tea-room about various cars’ power-ratings and other such motorcar trivia would mean some expression of distain towards one who rejects all that. But no, nothing has come of it. They’re nice chaps, and I needn’t have worried.

So, with that bit of excitement out of the way, I’m left pondering the far-off hills and wishing that I could be in the workshop, at my bench, and writing in ink and not at a keyboard. The computer-reality is basically two-dimensional: we, the IT people, strive to make everything the same. Documents can never show age; photos must be as bright forever as they day they were taken; we care only for content, and never for context or media. A rotten state of affairs! I want my pages to yellow and my photos to fade! A world in which nothing is old gives us nothing at all — despite what Wikipedia would have us believe.

But I wont go on about that. I can’t bear to think about it, not here, in this place.

This office has begun to pall my spirits, now the novelties of The Commute and Being A Man have worn thin. I just want to run! (Well, run for a little ways, and then sit and sew my shirt, or write in my Moleskine…). I can’t dream about my workshop.

Homeward Bound

Every evening as I head home on the intertown, the view west from the bridge reminds me of all that I love most about Canberra. The sun setting behind Black Mountain, with the ANU tucked in amongst the trees and the lake there, all still and calm, and I wonder what more I could ask for. It’s a pretty unique place, this, and sometimes I forget it, and forget too to notice that lovely feeling of order and belonging that I used to get (quite often) in my first year here; it’s still there, sometimes.

What could be better than a quiet beer at University House, or a food co-op meeting with chapatti and dahl?

Sigh… and still I want to rub my feet in the sand at south beach…

Ignore the caterpillars, get back to work.

I have just returned from my customary post-lunch walk around the lake. It’s lovely, strolling through the hundred meters of bush that lies between the shore and the highway — I’m not being ironic, it really is lovely. I went across the bridge (the one over the weir) and turned south, along a vehicle track, and sat upon some mossy granite boulders up from the water. So lovely looking at the grass next to me tickling my cheek in the breeze; so horrid, when I raised my eyes to the skyline to see that dastardly rotten square box called Bunnings! I’m beginning to think that’s the way to find beauty these days: observe the minute, and cherish it, and ignore completely the massive, ugly, human constructions.

Nothing to say

(So why am I saying this?) I am looking forward to the day when I will again have something worth writing about (and I’m thinking here of woodwork: one of the happiest times of wood/tech union was back in 2003 when I was working at the art school wood workshop. The web then was a motivation for me to keep working with wood, not the distraction that it’s now become. All I wanted was a workshop, wood, digital camera and computer, and I was happy.

Of course, that was in the sheltered bubble of the art school, and it was coming out of that and finding no similar space elsewhere that turned me to geek school last year—seeking the same solace, with different materials. But can code and computers really do for me what wood and words did once? I doubt it.

A Catalogue, I Think?

I have not posted for ages, and I didn’t really think I would be again until next year. But here I am, and very inspired about woodwork, uni and all that is going on: hooray (and what a relief)! I have much to report from the last couple of weeks but I may never get around to telling you because I want to meet G. and L. at the street theater soon.

Firstly (or lastly if one is to be chronological), I am working on the catalogue for the workshop exhibition. I am learning heaps about InDesign (especially its faults!) which is rather exciting. It does not do signature imposition of pages by itself, so this afternoon has seen me scrabbling around the web looking for a script that will. I found one (at ScriptBuilders.net) and so I think tomorrow will be fun.

It is strange that I am focusing more on the web/technological side of my proposal at the moment, given that it is a minor part of what I will be doing next year. I feel like I want to get it sorted though: get the encylopaedia working and also a couple of other things that I have been considering recently. I will be making a reading log to keep track of what I read, a project management script with which to track all of my ideas about things to make and write etc. I also have been doing some work with the style (CSS) of my site. I am constantly thinking about what I want to do next year and how I will go about it, working on a ‘manifesto’ or ‘modi operandi’ thingy… hmm… more thought needed…

I was on 2XXFM yesterday (Thursday) talking about the Walking With Water project that I did earlier this year. I’ll put the MP3 of it up soon.

— I really am rather excited about all this!!!

[UPDATE 2007-06-12: After nearly four years, here’s the MP3.]

Keepin’ It Local

I’m so excited!! Last night I couldn’t sleep for the thrill of what I’m planning on doing. I’m feeling excited about facing the utter enormity of global manufacture from a standpoint of low-tech and beautiful dumpster diving! Take that door jamb from the week before last (let’s just forget about last week, eh? Apart from Monday I was singularly unproductive), a rough length of ash replete with nail holes and weathering — and what potential! A box made from such a waste item, even with a lot of attention, will never be quite the same as a box made with new material — and that’s the point! It is the thought, the love, and the time that goes into a thing that makes it speak, more than it’s raw material. I believe that this works both in terms of a) gaining spirit by putting more hands-on time into a piece (ripping boards by hand for example) and b) also losing spirit through increased alienation and disconnection of the material (shipping things half-way around the world [see The Fable Of The Cop Car]). Hmm… I’ll think about this a bit more…

I have been working on the encyclopaedia code for the last few days (because I didn’t go to the Major’s Creek Folk Festival) and it is now nearing test data entry stage. I still have a lot of work to do with the stylesheet of course — I’m no graphic artist!

This strange, apparently discordant, confluence of the high-tech web world and slow, intuitive woodworking that I am embarking on is a thing which is going to require great concentration on my behalf. It’s a matter of balance, and I know how easy it is going to be to lean more to one side than another. To spend so much time coding that I throw my hands up in disgust and want to never look at another computer. Or to force myself to continue with cutting a joint past when I can see why I’m doing it, and inevitably stuff it up.

It’s Okay (I Guess).

I have begun dressing the ash, but am quite disheartened today; I don’t want to be doing it. I feel like my work is not ‘good enough’, too rough, or ugly… Why this society, myself included, is so hung up on the smooth, square, fair, straight, even and ‘perfect’ I do not know! I like things to be neat, orderly, clean, structured, yes — but why does that mean I should feel this incompetent when I struggle to make things so? Aagh…. As usual when I am in this state I have come to find solace in the internet (please note irony!), and at least the quiet of the library is nice…. I have been reading about the Inaccessibility of Visually-Oriented Anti-Robot Tests. Fascinating.

I love the physicality of woodworking, the way that it engages my whole body and soul — but not, alas, my mind. What I mean is that I don’t turn to wood to be challenged in a cerebral way; rather, I find with wood a calming and a satisfaction that is on a wholely other level, more in my hands than my head. The problem solving inherent in woodworking is entertaining, but it’s nowhere near the level I find in programming. Thus is the eternal division in my life… sigh…