“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Monday, March 13, 2006

the world historical tinkerer

"To invent useful and successful inventions, those with inventive minds should take up individual advanced work and study along some worthwhile line. One should not be afraid to look far, far into the future and visualize the things that might be. . . . Remember, the things which are so commonplace today would have been the ravings of a fanatic a few years ago .”—Earl Silas Tupper

LI had promised, last week, to surprise the world by delineating the features of the tinkerer, considered dialectically. Well, the world yawned, days passed, LI went to the rodeo, and – as our readers can see – there is still no earthshaking tinker post, to put beside that moment, in the Phenomenology of Spirit, where Hegel finds the embodiment of self-consciousness rising up as a narrative moment involving emblematic figures draped in the rich white vocabulary of abstraction.

This morning we are dosed with the proper amount of coffee, and we successfully pieced together a post for another site that is, in some ways, a side-effect of our obsession with the tinker, and so we thought we’d give it another shot.

Let’s first remember Hegel’s figures. The Lordship and bondsman section begins with a movment from life to thinghood:

“In this experience self-consciousness becomes aware that life is as essential to it as pure self-consciousness. In immediate self-consciousness the simple ego is absolute object, which, however, is for us or in itself absolute mediation, and has as its essential moment substantial and solid independence. The dissolution of that simple unity is the result of the first experience; through this there is posited a pure self-consciousness, and a consciousness which is not purely for itself, but for another, i.e. as an existent consciousness, consciousness in the form and shape of thinghood. Both moments are essential, since, in the first instance, they are unlike and opposed, and their reflexion into unity has not yet come to light, they stand as two opposed forms or modes of consciousness. The one is independent, and its essential nature is to be for itself; the other is dependent, and its essence is life or existence for another. The former is the Master, or Lord, the latter the Bondsman.

The master is the consciousness that exists for itself; but no longer merely the general notion of existence for self. Rather, it is a consciousness existing on its own account which is mediated with itself through an other consciousness, i.e. through an other whose very nature implies that it is bound up with an independent being or with thinghood in general. The master brings himself into relation to both these moments, to a thing as such, the object of desire, and to the consciousness whose essential character is thinghood. And since the master, is (a) qua notion of self-consciousness, an immediate relation of self-existence, but (b) is now moreover at the same time mediation, or a being-for-self which is for itself only through an other — he [the master] stands in relation (a) immediately to both, (b) mediately to each through the other. The master relates himself to the bondsman mediately through independent existence, for that is precisely what keeps the bondsman in thrall; it is his chain, from which he could not in the struggle get away, and for that reason he proved himself to be dependent, to have his independence in the shape of thinghood.”

Interpreting Hegel is like sticking your hand into a beehive for honey. There’s a lot of stinging, unknown variables you have to grope your way past. But my purpose in quoting the Venerable is to bring forward, first, the relationship of self-consciousness to life – which, in Hegel’s terms, has an order to it that moves from the unity of irreconcilables – the absolute object and the absolute mediation seen as one thing – to the division of the perpetually to be reconciled. In that movement, historically, mastery has migrated to the control of the vision of the those irreconcilables, and their administration, while bondship – stuck in thinghood – has no immediate higher level to spare itself its immediacy, and so its dependency. The dependency is a trick, since the thinghood is never perfect, but is at best the simulation of thinghood. And, as we all know, this moment is followed by the struggle for recognition, which Blake summed up best in the notbook verses beginning:

"Then old Nobodaddy aloft/
Farted & belchd & coughd/
And said I love hanging & drawing & quartering/
Every bit as well as war & slaughtering..."

But for the tinkerer, the irreconcilability can actually be put to one side if we just stop with the self-consciousness and begin with self-improvement. Self-consciousness we can leave to the teenagers.

Which brings me to the title of one of Hugh Kenner’s books: The Homemade World. The book was about American modernist writers. But confining that phrase to writers is, LI thinks, a waste of its capaciousness. The homemade world is goal towards which treks the tinkerer as well as the Europe addled modernist. While the phrase works for Robert Frost, it also works for another North of Boston man: Earl Silas Tupper, the inventor of Tupperware. About whom we will have more to say in another post.

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