Tuesday, April 04, 2006


The other night as I lay in bed reading, I had a wonderful idea for a piece of art. Later, as I worked it through my head, it become a series of artworks, ultimately germinating into a basic though somewhat revolutionary ethos.

The acorn idea planted in the soil of my imagination which gave rise to the forest of a new and better day was this: a hand-made typewriter, constructed completely of wooden parts. Simple enough. Gears and wedges and hammers, all made of wood, all pieces expertly crafted and assembled with care. It would be interesting, I think, in the same way that any painstaking reproduction of a regular object is interesting. The reason the idea of a wooden typewriter appeals to me is because of its purity, its separateness from the mass-produced world of trinkets and machines we find ourselves living in, an object with no equal or at the least no clone, whose value is derived not from its ability to lessen the burden of work from our shoulders but rather, inversely, from the incredible amount of human labor invested in its creation.

I continued to think and decided that it would be interesting to fashion a ream of handmade paper and a significant pool of ink and, using the wooden typewriter, write a story from purely handmade materials. The story would be unique, as all stories are, but would also have the added dinstinction of being expressed through the only wooden typewriter I have ever made, typed onto paper that I had made, with ink that I had culled.

But as with all things, the need for perfection does not lessen but rather intensifies as you near your quarry. It became clear to me that in order for the typewriter to be pure, the tools with which I used to create the typewriter would have to be of my own creation. And the hard hammer and rock used to fashion those tools would have to come from my hands as well. Likewise, the timber and bark used to created the typewriter and paper would have to come from my efforts; naturally, this would mean that I would need to construct an axe to fell a tree, that I would have to find some way to sand the wood down, that I would need to fashion instruments to gently carve and break apart the material necessary to construct a typewriter.

Where, though, would I fell a tree? If I purchased property simply for the purpose of cutting down a tree, then that land would be tainted - obviously I had purchased the land with money made by means not directly related to working with the land, i.e., I did not create the land myself. The only option would be to steal the tree from someone else's property. In turn, the entire production would have the element of theft and proprietorship - an interesting additional nuance that may, someday, be played out in our country's courts. Who owns the wooden typewriter that I so painstakingly labored over? Me or the man who's property formerly held the tree whose timber I stole?

Ultimately, the question posed is this: why do we work? The modern (wo)man specializes in a field and gains knowledge specific to that endeavor. The more precise the knowledge, oftentimes the more compensation he or she derives from their work. What has happened to the generalist, the handyman, the jack of all trades? The man who can not only create a wooden typewriter from a piece of lumber but who can also create those tools needed to create the typewriter, and the tools needed to create the tools. Let us draw it back to the beginning and ask what the value is of the man who understands the importance of an ethos of self-reliance in an age of societal safeguards. Is he a loon or is he a savior? Will the world forget that he once existed or will they find the necessity and value of his work?

That's all.

Interestingly, not two days after my epiphany, I read this quite good short story.


Trevor Jackson said...

I'll read the Millhauser later because, yet again, you have linked to a genius, but first:

What about the intelligence you've gained through technology and time in a modern education system that gives you the savvy to fell that illicit tree?

The only answer is simple: You have to let a gibbon chew out your frontal lobe. Then you can get to work.

Mathis said...

It's a good question if the question is, "why do we use the technology and time gained through our modern education system to gossip amongst strangers and post frivolous nonsense instead of creating for ourselves wooden typewriters."

T.S. Farmhand said...

This is a very confused argument.

It seems that you are fetishing the means of production and not the production. When you observe a work of art, do you wonder where the brush came from? If the novel was written on a Mac or PC? Of course not, fool!

Further, could you not achieve some sort of similar "home-made" effect by writing by hand?

But even if I brush this aside, I cannot follow your idea of the pure vs. impure. It appears to mean that pure materials--and thereby the materials pure materials make--are made pure by the touch of your hand, or in the abstract, made pure by the fact of your "owning" them. If I were a more religious man I might accuse you of blasphemy, but as it is, I shall settle on the term, "narcissism."

Finally, I ran into a jack of all trades today. I found him in the yellow pages. He was a plumber who came to unclog my kitchen sink. As he worked, he proceeded to tell me more than I could ever hope to remember about pipes (and also about his childhood on an army base in Japan). And then he went around the house to show me how the electricity works, how the floors were made, where the water comes into and out of the house, and what problems my foundation might be up against. As he left, he gave me his card and told me to call him anytime if I had any questions about pipes, construction, or wiring. I can assure you I did not throw away his card.

T.S. Farmhand said...


Mathis said...

I certainly wouldn't claim that the piece would not be fetishistic and the act of creating it narcissistic.

I do think it would be impressive.

T.S. Farmhand said...

Maybe in a kind of art school way. You keep sidestepping the larger issue--why not create the authentic work of art, instead of obsessing over the authenticity of the tools? It's like people who get caught up in antique fountain pens and Moleskine notebooks.

Mathis said...

You keep sidestepping the larger issue--why not create the authentic work of art, instead of obsessing over the authenticity of the tools?

There's hardly a larger issue. I think it would interesting to make all of those tools. Additionally, to give those tools a purpose - that being they will be used to create a wooden typewriter for the sake of writing a story on it. If you're looking for utility you've come to the wrong place. Yes, it's interesting in an art school kind of way. That's bad?

Analogcabin said...

Ah, the dream of doing something. It's one close to your heart but apparently far out of your reach.

What happened to Concept 2?

Mathis said...

I resent that comment. Why, just this morning I made a bowl of cereal.

Anonymous said...

Are we to be led to infer from your statement that you fashioned a bowl (presumably of wood, per your story), proffered milk from a large mammal (we'll assume it was bovine, though I wouldn't doubt any affinity you might have for goat's milk), carved a spoon (again, from wood) using tools created by yourself, seperated wheat from chaff and baked the oats, grains, bran, etc. when you say you I made a bowl of cereal.?

Because if so, that kicks ass.

Anonymous said...

Please forgive the exceptionally ridiculous grammatical errors in the foregoing. I will try not to hold the magic marker so close to my nose next time.

Mathis said...

If you must know, I fashioned a spoon from the ivory tusk of an African elephant, which is softer and more malleable than wood.

And yes, I killed the elephant with tools I fashioned myself.

I'm like a pre-Renaissance man.

Trevor Jackson said...

All right. I've read the Millhauser and the coincidence is noteworthy, but you should pay close attention to that story's end paragraph. The miniaturist is utterly alone, incapable of expressing his greatest efforts to the world, only satisfying himself.

That's not art. That's masturbation. Farmhand is right. Your idea leads toward narcissism.

Mathis said...

Just because you can't see it doesn't mean it's not there.

Trevor Jackson said...

I agree, but that's so lonely. Don't you want others to see it? There's something to be said for job satisfaction. Don't I know it. But when it comes to art . . .

I don't know. I guess the tools you fashioned and the typewriter and paper would be awesome, and I would see those. So, it's not quite the same thing as the miniatures. But you'll never be completely producing independently of outside factors. You'll always owe a debt to society: your parents, school, luxury.

Ian said...

It's a well-known fact that the original manuscript of "A Million Little Pieces" was written in exactly the manner you described. So FTBSITTTD, my friend. FTBSITTTD indeed.

Ofc. Krupke said...

This is a brilliant idea.

I see a high-concept movie, complete with mass-market merchandising tie-ins and tiny plastic wooden typewriters in Happy Meals.