Monday, August 31, 2009

72632 narrative on narrative part 4

This is continued from yesterday's post.

Holding their holy book in one hand as evidence of moral superiority and the power of the bloody sword in the other, the Conquistadors took Peru, melted down the fine crafted gold objects for shipment to Spain and destroyed as much native culture as possible. You would have to be a craftsman of some sort to understand the full implications of this. While I work in wood rather than in precious metals, it is always my hope that the care my work receives over time in some way matches my investment of time, attention and care in it's making. To see work melted down to it's raw material as though the man or woman who made it is of no value is a tremendous insult.

One of the remarkable attainments of the Incan culture that the Spanish suppressed and that archeologists are still trying to unravel were called quipus. The Incans recorded and shared information in the form of knotted threads, and students from royalty studied years to be able to read and understand. The Spaniards suppressed the quipus, destroyed many, and archeologists are still trying to understand the range of information they contained. Some say that they were only for recording numerical information and others believe that they contain historical data that we have not yet been able to interpret. I have not found any information as yet on how they were read, but because there was some color coding used on some strings, it is obvious that the hands (with individual strands "read" as they were pulled between finger tips) and the eyes were both involved in being able to read.

Interestingly, the Chinese also used a system of knotted string for record keeping before the introduction of their written language. While the conquistadors did not see equivalence between quipus and their own written text, quipus themselves present an interesting and meaningful irony. The words, "text, texture and textile" have a common Latin root textus, past participle of "texere" to weave, suggesting that even in our western culture, there is more to read than what we find in books or on computer screens. Being literate and having numeric capabilities involves much more than what we can record with pen and paper. In fact the whole of human history is much better described through what we make than through what we have written. Our own history here in Eureka is recorded in hand laid stone wall, winding street and hand shaped Victorian bric-a-brac more clearly, honestly and compellingly than in what has been written in text about our city. But of course there is a problem. You have to be interested and literate in more that just numbers and text to begin to read from the pages of real life.

As a craftsman, I have exhibited my work in many craft shows, and you can tell when a woodworker enters my booth. The normal person will be content looking at and examining outward effects. He or she may examine the work with both hand and eye but not be sensitive to the full story each piece may tell. But the woodworker having greater textural literacy looks underneath tables and benches, at the back of cabinets. He or she opens drawers and if possible pulls them out all the way to examine the more subtle details. Having practical experience, the woodworker, whether amateur or pro is looking for the full story, evidence of how it was made, what tools were used, and the level of attention and integrity the craftsman offered in its creation. Very sadly, the conquistadors were looking for gold and squandered the opportunity to receive greater treasure.

There is an interesting parallel between the conquistadors of Peru and our modern educational system in which reading and textual literacy are so highly regarded that all other forms of textural cultural expression are comparatively marginalized despite their value in the creation of meaningful culture. Are we willingly doing to ourselves what the conquistadors did to the Incas? If so, how do we turn the tide, creating culture in which the full range of human creativity is respected and admired?

Put kids to work in schools, making useful and beautiful things in addition to merely learning to read, write and pass multiple choice tests.

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