SUPPOSE YOU WANTED TO STUDY POTS:
You could get one pot and really look at it over a period of time, like days, trying to really see and feel its shape and color, its weight and uses, its smell and taste.
You could find a way to research all the kinds of pots through history, who made them, why, their uses. This would be academic, probably in a library or museum.
You could study the aesthetics of pots and develop principles about which ones were more pleasing, more beautifully decorated, more ingeniously glazed.
You could interview people about their favorite pots or how they use pots.
You could break one and look at the edges to determine density, materials.
You could go to New Mexico and become a pot hunter, but be careful — it’s against the law. You would have to sell them “underground.” Or if you were a qualified anthropologist, you could systematically discover ancient pots, record where they were, and so on. Possibly leave them as they were found.
One scientist went to a site where people had lived over a long period of time. The place was littered with potsherds that had their origins in quite different periods and therefore were made a little differently and incised with different patterns. The scientist made a graph of the ground by driving stakes and stretching strings among them in squares. Then s/he carefully counted the pieces of broken pottery in each square, identified their period of making, and marked their locations on a paper graph. She ended up with a massive amount of orderly data about something that had seemed chaotic and was able to deduce distribution, plentitude, and probably sequential evolution.
You could make some.
"Primitive technology" is about an Australian man’s hobby of recreating ancient makings in Far North Queensland. He doesn’t talk — just makes whatever it is while recording with a vid of it. The one linked below is one of my favorites. It is a lead-up to a proper metal casting foundry set-up. I like it because I helped build a bronze foundry and recognize every step of the way even as he invents it anew -- er, as old.
Our forge-blower was an old vacuum cleaner on the end of a pipe that went down below our sunken furnace where it mixed with gas. The principles were the same and we did the work ourselves. It was not a kit.
One of Tim’s boys had the same impulse and frame of mind. He's shown on the beach where he was constantly digging, scavenging, arranging and constructing. Watching him, even on video, was to suddenly realize what it means to be a human being who can address the environment and construct niches in it. This is what it means to be at home in the world, not merely sitting in it. No talking, no explaining, just doing.
One of the other boys, actually a young man, during the lovely days in Italy where everyone relaxed for a while, became bored and and announced, "I've found a really good clay deposit. Let's make stuff." And they did, happily.
One of my mantras about how to start with some new and possibly unknown project — whether writing, or building, or riding, or sorting — is to grab it in the middle, do something to it, see what happens, and then continue by using that information. That's what I learned in Browning with Bob Scriver and the Blackfeet in the Sixties.
This is my bias, my conviction, and my method. The education strategies that I admire and consider effective proceed in this way. But most modern schools, esp. the public ones, do not. I always remember a member of the Missoula UU Fellowship named Bill. He was a disrupter who had been a lawyer, no doubt for the defense. A “why-guy,” he was now retraining to be a small motor repairman. He said that at law school every time he asked why or how, he was told to look at precedents, to research, to reflect and analyze. All based on writing until the point of argument in court, with totally unpredictable results.
But in “motor school,” if he had a problem, they just showed him what to do, and it either worked or it didn’t. It was “concrete”, something to touch, as much muscle and sensory learning as theory. One learns to turn nuts on bolts a certain direction by doing it, not by reading in physics that the screw is a function of inclined planes. And learns that if the “inclined plane” is disrupted the nut won’t go on the bolt by looking closely to see what the heck the problem is and seeing the distorted place where the threading was crushed.
This is not an argument for removing language and written materials. It is an argument for renewing the underlying sensory interaction with the world. I’ve argued against the passivity of television (so have many others) and how much better it is to use the seeking self-motivated computer that requires initiative. (It becomes more and more like television with material being "pushed.") Both screen-based activities are replacing real life and in that replacing are distorting, flattening, causing the threading to be crushed.
One of my current books is “Making” by Tim Ingold, a University of Aberdeen, Scotland, professor of social anthropology. I’ve read the beginning and the end so far. The reason I was attracted was the beginning, in which Ingold describes a seminar on what he calls “The 4 A’s”: Anthropology, Archeology, Art, Architecture. It was a group practice that he carried with him over time. At some point the people sitting in the circle that was talking about these things had a REAL brainstorm. “We’re just talking. We should be making things.”
They set out to learn local skills as practiced by the indigenous people and artists. For instance, there was a way to make baskets from the willows that grew locally by going to the sandy beach, drawing a circle, sticking the willows upright into the sand, and weaving more wands in and out of the scaffolding until the structure they created was tall enough to call a basket. It took about three hours before cold, wind, rain and dark drove them off the beach, but they DID produce baskets. The willows did not want to be baskets and fought the process, but their resistance is what created the shape of the basket, each strand in tension with the rest.
When I went to the end of this book (I still haven’t read the middle), I was surprised to find an argument against Lakoff and Johnson and also against the popular anti-theist thinkers. At first glance it appears to be an argument against “head-trips” and a desire to claim ground within those obsessed by theism. I begin to suspect that this book is by a man who had been pushed to the edge, the tough old beaches of Scotland, and wants that to be seen as a sign of his value.
No doubt it is — in that context. But it won’t get him far in the coastal cities of the United States. Unless their infrastructure collapses, which it already has for the poor. The rest of us sense it, which is why we are so attracted to apocalyptic stories.
One of my most favorite novels is called "The Pot Is Already Broken," about a museum curator trying to preserve an extraordinary and ancient pot. The message is that the only way to avoid ends is to prevent beginnings. We do that. We are afraid to draw circles in the sand because the tide will come in.