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Thursday, June 26, 2008

precarious beasts




Well, Mr. Praxis, at least, liked yesterday’s post (sniff, sniff). (I've even lost North, who usually comes in to stronghand me when I emanate self-pity - and by the way, I hope you see that I am emanating self-pity about my self-pity! Trust LI to go Meta!)

To take up yesterday’s thread – we last watched the wolf, or werewolf, merrily hop down the path of pins, and end up, via a Loony Tunes loop traversing space, time and genre, at the pin factory at the beginning of the Wealth of Nations. Of course, the question is – what kind of pin factory is this? It seems to be one that physically exists, one that Smith, our genial author, has seen, according to his own written word. Yet no such factory visit seems to have been recorded elsewhere. Plus, textual cues seem to point to the factory being, in actuality, in France – in the pages of the entry on pin, épingle, in the Encyclopedie. And that pin factory seems to have been in L'aigle, in Normandy. About which we have information that is, oddly enough, never to my knowledge been compared to the account in the Wealth of Nations. Odd, because certainly the model of the pin factory was not just about the efficiency, the marvel, of dividing tasks among laborers, but had an underlying message about labor itself.

Wolves were things of the past in Scotland when Smith made his (non) outing to the pin factory. How far past is another affair wrapped up in some controversy. According to some accounts, the last wolf in Scotland was shot by a hunter named McQueen, who tracked the beast to his lair in Findhorn after the beast had attacked and eaten a woman and a child crossing a nearby moor. Shapeshifting, as would be expected by those who know something of the path of pins, has infected every part of this story. Did the wolf really attack the pair and eat them? The last wolf? What was the sex of it? The size? Or was the last wolf slain by Sir Ewen Cameron in 1680? Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, in 1904, devoted an article to the last wolf in Scotland. According to the writer, many Scottish districts lay claim to the be scene of the shooting of the last wolf. However, Blackwood’s goes with the shooting in the “wild valley of Findhorn” in 1743, since there are detailed accounts. The area was the home of the last wild pack. Here’s the Blackwood’s story:

“The most active carnach in their destruction was MacQueen of Pall a’ chrocain, an immense duine uasail who stood 6 feet 7 inches in his brogues. To this worthy, one winter day in 1743, came word from MacIntosh that a great black beast had come down to the low country and carried off a couple of children near Cawdor, and that a tainchel or hunting-drive was to meet a Figiuthas, where MacQeen was summoned to attend according to an act of Parliament.

Next morning in the cold dawn the hunters were assembled: but where was MacQueen? He was not wont to be ‘langsome’ on such an occasion, and his hounds, nto to mention himself, were almost indispensable to the chase. MacIntosh watied impatiently as the day wore on, and when at last MacQueen was seen coming liesurely along, the chief spoke sharply to him, rebuking him for wasting the best hours for hunting.

“Ciod e a’ chabhag?” (What’s the hurry?”) was the cool reply, which sent an indignant murmur through the shivering sportsmen. MacIntosh uttered an angry threat.

“Sin e dhiabh! (“There you are then!”) said MacQueen, and throwing back his plaid, flung the grey head of the wolf upon the heather. The company had lost thier sport, but they forgave Pall-a’-chrocain, whose renown stood higher than ever as a hunter, and Macintosh “gave him the land called Sean-achan for meat to his dogs.”



Surely LI is showing his own bent for irrelevance and the scaring of all rational like beasties, going so langsome into the thickets of Smith’s prose with a cock n bull hunting tale about a fairy wolf, for Jesus’ sake! Man, where’s your models, your references to the fine theorists, and all that train! But as the disappearance of the wolf seems, to us, magically connected with the appearance of the pin factory, we thought it might be a fine thing, worthy of a carnach from Cawdor (you remember the Thane of Cawdor?), to clear the area so that we could travel across it all safe and sound and snug. And in our search for pin factories, we might just find that, in spite of Smith’s celebration of the division of labor – upon which rock is built so much – that in fact, the celebrated pin factory in L’aigle, Normandy, from which – although it is murky – the encyclopedists might have drawn their information about the pin industry, was still governed by a mass of laws concerning master pinners, and who was allowed to work on pins, and problems with the weight of pins in each envelop of pins, so that the social function of pinmaker, and the needs of the state, and regulation from the state, might have had as much to do with the division of labor as the fabulous productivity of the pin factory, which can only be exampled by ... well, by Rapunzel of course, spinning straw into gold.

MacQueen told more of the story of the hunt than was reprised in Blackwoods. Here’s how he told the tale:

As I came through the slochk (i.e., ravine) I foregathered wi' the beast. My long dog there turned him. I buckled wi' him, and dirkit him, and syne whuttled his craig (i.e., cut his throat), and brought awa' his countenance for fear he might come alive again, for they are very precarious creatures.

Very precarious creatures indeed.

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