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A great philosophical intervention
on 22 September 2012
This is a really great book. A transformative work that might prove, in time, to be hugely influential. It's also a very enjoyable, fascinating, engaging, personal read.
What kind of book is it? I don't describe it as an exhaustive account of "craftwork", specific crafts now or historical. But it does contain a lot of interesting detail along such line, used for convincing effect. It is a philosophical book, deeply questioning our being in the world as physical beings making things and being made. It's not an entirely comprehensive account of philosophy's relationship with making (no discussion of Heidegger's Question Concerning Technology, no mention of the double meaning of Nietzsche's "philosophize with a hammer" and its double meaning, no mention of Deleuze and Guattari's "how to make yourself a body without organs" or their account of the handyman and the production of production). But that doesn't matter. The book works as a powerful intervention. Industrial fabrication of consumables, concepts and people has taken over. Philosophers in many cases have responded with vacuity (Sennett is a bit harsh on Arendt, but maybe its justified). Sennett brings us back down to earth and points out a whole area of human (and non-human) material existence that may well offer a different ethical route.
Dewey's (little read) Democracy and Education is a key starting point, although it doesn't become explicit until later on in the book. Sennett is in the pragmatist tradition. But he recognises the limitations of Dewey's account of experience (and its basis in material action). Sennett goes beyond Dewey, with a materialism that recognises the power of material and tools to instruct and inspire. This would link up well with the "vibrant materialism" explored by Jane Bennett in her recent book of Bergson, Deleuze, Guattari et al.
Would I recommend this? Yes, to anyone. It is a challenging read. But will provide plenty of material for you to work up into a new life and a new society.