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