Blog From my library

Are you a crafts(wo)man?

I’m reading Richard Sennet’s The Craftsman. I’m intrigued by the idea he explores, “The desire to do a job well for its own sake-as a template for living.” It hasn’t been easy reading, very heavy in philosophy with frequent meanderings through personal experience but I’m determined to get into the meatier bits of the book. So far, I’ve especially enjoyed the following passage:

All craftsmanship is founded on skill developed to a high degree. By one commonly used measure, about ten thousand hours of experience are required to produce a master carpenter or musician. Various studies show that as skill progresses, it becomes more problem attuned…whereas people with primitive levels of skill struggle more exclusively on getting things to work. At its higher reaches, technique is no longer a mechanical activity; people can feel fully and think deeply (about) what they are doing once they do it well….

The emotional rewards craftsmanship holds out for attaining skill are twofold: people are anchored in tangible reality, and they can take pride in their work. But society has stood in the way of these rewards in past and continues to do so today. At different moments in Western history practical activity has been demeaned , divorced from supposedly higher pursuits. Technical skill has been removed from imagination, tangible reality doubted by religion, pride in one’s work treated as a luxury. If the craftsman is special because he or she is an engaged human being, still the craftsman’s aspitations anf trials hold up a mirror to these larger issues past and present.

Soon after copying this into my notebook, I came across a status update from Mr. Habib saying:

‘takes 10 000 hours to achieve mastery in a field,based on studies of masters in their field.’ Malcom Gladwell on @radio702′

And this morning while chatting to another friend about something altogether different, we somehow got to a point where my friend said, “It just takes willpower (spread over 10 000 hours) to create an original through craft.”

It’s a freaky set of co-incidences that prove all the world is a text. And the process of meaning of one text is shaped directly, or indirectly, by a number of other diverse texts.

Blog From my library

“There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we spent with a favorite book.” Marcel Proust

Nooj, excuse my tardiness. It’s not quite a list of my favourites as much as the twenty most memorable books I’ve read:

  1. The Wishing Chair by Enid Blyton
  2. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carrol
  3. The Sherlock Holmes Mysteries by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  4. The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  5. Sula by Toni Morissen
  6. Ake by Wole Soyinka
  7. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (not my favourite Auestenian but one of those books that come to define you)
  8. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (by far, Austen’s masterpiece)
  9. Persuasion (personal resonance)
  10. Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte (Shatteringly beautiful descriptions and high scores on personal resonance)
  11. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  12. County of my Skull by Antjie Krog (No South African can understand what this country is about without reading this)
  13. Letters to Alice by Fay Weldon (A brilliant book on everything from literary theory, love and Jane Austen)
  14. Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger (Holden Caulfield is a hero)
  15. Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (Beautifully written)
  16. For whom the bell tolls by Ernest Hemingway (I was twelve when I first read it, not exactly appropriate reading but it taught me what fascism is and moleskin or not, Hemingway was a sexist despot wielding a well attuned pen)
  17. The journals of Sylvia Plath (My hero)
  18. Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton (Quintessentially South African, schmaltzy liberalism yes, but as a window into another time it’s precious)
  19. The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald (Another novel I may have read too young, West Egg, East Egg. Good times)
  20. You just don’t understand by Deborah Tannen

    It’s quite jarring to realise how much there still is to read.

Blog From my library

Towards the construction of a new identity

…date stamped 31 August 2002, … 25,000 supporters of the APF, LPM, and many other organisations marching from the poverty of Johannesburg’s Alexandra township to the steps of the UN’s Summit for Sustainable Development in wealthy Sandton. The world’s leaders, safe in air-conditioned luxury, are protected by South African police and troops, and a minister representing the local mediators of globalisation is booed off the demonstrators‘ stage. Most of the protesters have dark brown skins, but some are lighter in complexion, and some are quite pale. There are men and women, young and old, people who are HIV-negative and others who are Positive, gays and straights, communists, Christians, Muslims, Jews and Hindus. Many languages are spoken, but almost everyone understands the English of the platform speakers. Most of the marchers are poor and unemployed, but among them are many workers, some of them are union members. There are representatives from other countries, and there is even a sprinkling of students and lecturers from local universities. This is a new identity of difference, and with one voice it loudly proclaims: ANOTHER WORLD IS POSSIBLE!

Peter Alexander