Sunday, March 13, 2011

hold with one and slice carefully with the other

I have been reading Jerome Bruner's book of essays, On Knowing, Essays for the Left Hand. The following is from his introduction:
Since childhood, I have been enchanted by the fact and the symbolism of the right hand and the left—the one the doer, the other the dreamer. The right is order and lawfulness. le droit. Its beauties are those of geometry and taut implication. Reaching for knowledge with the right hand is science. Yet to say only that much of science is to overlook one of its excitements, for the great hypotheses of science are gifts carried in the left hand.

Of the left hand we say that it is awkward and, while it has been proposed that art students can seduce their proper hand to more expressiveness by drawing first with the left, we nonetheless suspect this function. The French speak of the illegitimate descendant as being à main gauche, and, though the heart is virtually at the center of the thoracic cavity, we listen for it on the left. Sentiment, intuition, bastardy. And should we say that reaching for knowledge with the left hand is art? Again it is not enough, for as surely as the recital of a daydream differs from the well-wrought tale, there is a barrier between undisciplined fantasy and art. To climb the barrier requires a right hand adept at technique and artifice.
Jerome Bruner sent me an unpublished poem he had written.
Let us honor if we must
The right hand's well constructed thrust,
Though note ye well, lest you be cleft,
By surprises kindled from the left.
I asked Dr. Bruner if it was about boxing, but it was actually inspired by a poem about death by W. H. Auden which if you think about it is exactly backwards from what happens in the ring.
Let us honor if we can
The vertical man,
Though we honor none
But the horizontal one
I have been having a difficult time knowing what to say in the blog as we witness such devastation in Japan. What can I say? With the right hand view of things, we create order. From the left, comes the sucker punch. Some are left standing while thousands have been laid flat. It takes time to process it all. How can we get a grip? And how can we find meaning in such tragic events.

There is reason to think of the hands as being in paired team, left and right, that they are not separate in function. One hand holds while the other slices. To think the right hand has things covered on its own is a mistake. In all this there are things to do, that give real help and prepare for greater service. It might seem trivial and meaningless to some in light of the scale of the tragedy in Japan, but many American's are making paper cranes as a way of coping with their own sense of grief over the disaster.
Perhaps in some small way, the project may help people of Japan to know that they are not alone. And some of those who feel powerless, may at least find some small sense of control in what happens through their own hands.

In the Carrol County News this week, there was an article about a great program integrating construction arts and math called, If I had a Hammer, in which children get their first real taste of doing something real with tools with the promise to school administrators that it builds math skills. Some administrators might not see the value of making standing on its own and need the math rationale to see the use of it. But all math aside, the experience of having hammer in one hand and nail in the other is an essential building block for those who would be of service in coping with disaster, which is what we've made of American education by neglecting the hands. Watch out for what Bruner calls "surprises kindled on the left." Make sure your left hand knows what your right hand is doing, and vice versa. Make, fix, and create.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Being a leftie, I can appreciate this view.