03 February 2012

Two Craftsmen

Since sustained dialectics are uninteresting, this thought will be divided into three short parts, and completed in subsequent posts. First we revisit the classic distinction made by Levi-Strauss in The Savage Mind, between the bricoleur and the engineer:

The bricoleur works from incidental material burdened with its own diverse history to create something whose form is limited by its matter.  His very ability to imagine the result of his labors is curtailed by the fact that this steel has been plated with chrome and formed into a basket, and that paper is cut into bleached sheets of 8.5x11 inches.  He is not the artist of the readymade, but he handles real particulars and fashions determinate objects from them, rather than attempting to conjure impossibly pure forms from nonexistent prime matter.  The work of the bricoleur always bears with it the imprint of its past.

The engineer works from pure stuff: absolute concepts, ideal forms, prime matter.  His imagination flits freely across the unbounded plane of logical possibility.  He describes the matter for his work before seeing it, and works from plans utterly unconstrained by complexity of execution or scarcity of resources.  Reality is clay in his hands, readily yielding to his designs, perfectly conforming to its intended use and function.  The work of the engineer bears no sign of a past, since it has no past, nor does it lend itself to alternate possibilities, since its form coheres perfectly with its matter and testifies clearly to its purpose.