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Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Against Craft

 Tennyson, famously, was averse to the word "scissors". Something about the s-es. I don't know if Tennyson had a lisp. When I was a child of six or so, I did. Scissors would be a treachery. My own aversion is for the word "craft". How I hate to hear "craft" applied to writing! The "craft" of the story, poem, whatever. It repulses me, with its overtones of some genteel, antiquated hobby. Engineering, that would be alright, I suppose. Art, design, plumbing, all of that, which puts writing where it should be, in the world where people build, repair, create fixes, mob up, make spaghetti, help their kids with homework, and are alternately illuminated and tired. Craft comes from the early modern guild economy, the fierce nostalgia for which has fed the fascism and reaction of the 20th and 21st century. (Even though I should add that guild organizations, from doctors to profs, have endured to our day with more vigor than unions. Alas.)

So where did it come from, this blight of "craft"? I suspect it came by way of the conservative modernists, the agrarians, the Tates and Ransoms, who viewed modern society as a blight in contrast to the organic societies of the pre-bellum South, i.e. societies held together by slavery. As opposed to the Russian formalists, who were seeking a vocabulary of devices and machinery, in line with their sympathy for socialism and the stripping away of superstition, the conservative modernists wanted a vocabulary that would make supplant the radicalism of, say, the futurist with the dark port wine views of a Spengler, moaning for an aristocracy.
In spite of this, "craft" did, to an extent, democratize literary culture. That culture was overwhelmingly masculinist, and I feel that it is turning. Put that in the balance with the trivialization effected by craft, the mini-industry that has sprung up around it, the mystification of the culture producer's position in the system of media and entertainment. Everything that I value in literary culture is anti-craft. Sloppiness, guesses, rants, jibes, reportage, stories told while waiting in line, raps while drinking in the park, emails, tweets, porno fan fic- these are the forms I want to go back to.

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