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Something possible for any middle class American

 
 
 
I divide the social world into big persons and little persons, and, of course, there are gradations in the middle, between the two, and the vast majority of the human species are deployed to be even less than little.[1] I am a little person, one of the 1 / (3.31 x 10 ** 8) and still increasing in The United States of America July 2020. You, my reader, may guess that I find this profoundly offensive, depressing and discouraging. For I would like to count, not just to be an atom in an emuneration of atoms.[2] To count is almost assuredly not possible for me, and, perhaps, my reader, for you also, at least unless you are an executive or a tenured professor or a physician or something like that. The present page is a story of the kind of thing a little person can nonetheless do/have if they love high universalizing culture. I may put this another way: In the prep school I attended there was a latin teacher who taught even the least academically gifted students to respect books, even if they could not understand much in them -- but maybe by respecting the books they ipso facto understood more of what was in them.

In 1978 (or maybe it was 1979), I was a low level computer programmer in IBM, a Senior Associate Programmer, which was not senior anything. My wife also worked for IBM in a similar position, so that, between us, we did earn enough to live a middle class life, e.g., living in a one bedroom apartment in an upscale high-rise apartment building in Poughkeepsie, New York. We were even able to squirrel away my wife's paychecks in the bank (we earned modest but spent modest, too). We had no children and no half acre. We did not take big vacations, Etc.

However, after my experience having worked as Museum Shop Manager at The Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA), and perhaps to a lesser extent from having "gone to" Yale (but I hardly was aware of anything there and did not make any "connections", etc.), I had tastes which were as elite as Galileo's starry heavens were high. But these tastes could be satisfied for relatively little money. I had handcraft pieces of pottery which I judge[d] to be priceless but which cost, in one instance US$6 wholesale, and another instance US$25 retail.[3] I once bought a case of real Appellation d'origine contrôlée Sauternes wine from my local liquor store ("Harry's", on Greenmount Ave., Baltimore, MD) -- maybe it was just Haut Sauternes? -- for less than US$2 per bottle (it was "sweet"!). Those were the days.

<Why is this of any interest to you, my reader? Well, as Paul Harvey used to say, when I listened to him a few times on Armed Forces Radio, Yokosuka, Japan[4], now for the rest of the story. In those days there was a big annual craft fair at Rhinebeck, New York, about 15/20 miles of Poughkeepsie. I went to the fair, dressed in my usual scruffy (downtrodden) attire. There was a wood craftsman, Mark Lindquist. I looked at his work. I had studied Adolf Loos's essay "Ornament and Crime". Mark's work was clearly exceptional. Including small wood bowls that sold for perhaps US$2,000. I entered his booth and started looking around and handling the merchandise. Perhaps it is fortunate Mark was a fundamentalist Christian, since Jesus taught his followers to not shun the poor. I looked sufficiently scruffy that at first Mark was concerned that I might damage something. But no. I proposed to him an aspiration: I wanted to own a small wood box "with no nails and no glue" (Less is more). I offered to buy his cash box, which approximated to the specifications. But that is not what happened.

After some discussion we agreed that I would pay him, let us say, US$10,000(+), and he could do whatever he wanted. I would accept anything he gave me or if he gave me nothing that would be OK too (he might decease, e.g.). In other words, I became a part-time small-time patron in the highest Renaissance sense, at a bargain basement price. I could afford the money because I did not spend my income on what Hermann Broch called "the clamour of the non-existent" -- tailfins and hubcaps and all the rest of Coca-Cola-land-crap. (My wife did not approve of what I had done; she thought I had "been taken", but it was my money.) The above picture is what, after a number of years (10? 15? I have no idea) I got. Mark Lindquist, as I was to learn, had pieces in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. He was a pioneer and something of a revolutionary in his craft, gouging out wood blocks eventually even on repurposed old industrial lathes with tungstun-carbide tipped lances of his own invention, metaphorically, like a medieval knight jousting with the wood (it was "heavy" work). I became close friends with him, until the present (June 2020), and he once told me that my commission was a formative influence in his life. If we lived in Japan, he might be at least an "important living cultural asset". Because the trajectory of fine handcrafts in his particular area of mastery has not risen like the stock market in The United States of America, I surely could not get what I paid for what I got, at least since I do not know "the right people" aka collectors,who would be rare and obscure. That's OK, albeit not desirable; I got the experience.

Now, here's my "net": US$10,000 was not really a lot of money even back in 1978/1979. A humble Volkswagen Rabbit cost more than US$5,000. ANY MIDDLE CLASS AMERICAN COULD HAVE AFFORDED TO DO WHAT I DID IF THEY WANTED TO AND WERE WILLING TO MAKE SOME TRADEOFFS God help America!. Perhaps two bedrooms instead of three?[5] A smaller lawn to mow? IMO, no big f---in' deal (BFD). Why not?

A>nother item: I once bought well over 100 issues of elitist Réalités magazine (English language edition) for $0.50 USD each from a used magazine dealer ("I'll take all you've got!"). A little person may not be able to have any place in the sublunary stellar sphere. But it is possible to have at least a personal share of high universalizing culture[6] on a middle class income. For another item, it also is possible for a little person to actually have a unique constructive impact on World History, but that is a different story, a story far nobler than mine, albeit even in that instance nothing that entered its protagonist into the sublunary Empyrean of famousness.

My point here is a pedagogical one. It is possible for a little person, through study, to not be only small. Enjoyment of accomplishments of high culture, or, in my uncle Isadore Znamirowski's case, (←click the link a couple lines above) even in a not trivial way, affecting World History in a noble way, is possible for a little person, even if all us little persons are denied aliquot entry into the Power Elite's (ref. C. Wright Mills) gated "communities" Heaven on earth. Everyman (/woman) can not only read about The Man Without Qualities, but even live some of the attributes of his life (we can thematizingly eschew wearing tie tacks with little horses' heads on them, e.g., even if we have to work in engineering offices). With a little luck, Everyman can have refined tastes, or, with a lot of luck, make a constructive difference even without having refined tastes. And, yes, nothing lasts forever in this world where one season changes into another.

Postscript[7]

That was then; this is now (+2020.08.29). Money is tight now. No such projects as the above, now. So what do I think now?

I think that ideas, like supposedly persons, need to rise to the occasion. I think that high cuture is useless if it cannot be of use in times of adversity. (May my ideas never be put to the test of an ICU!) I think high culture can be of use in times of adversity. As said, money is tight now, but I am not yet altogether without money. I can still spend US$60 to buy a piece of pottery when my family can pay more than that for a dinner, even if cannot spend US$1,000 on a piece of pottery (I once did buy a porcelain bowl for that amount or maybe it was a bit more but that did not matter then; that bowl also has a crack in it which I knew about when I bought it, but it is an OK crack -- the craftsperson offered to fix the crack and that did make me hesitate in buying the bowl; I presume the craftsperson needed the money from the sale, so forgiven; I bought the bowl, not the potter). The $60 piece of pottery is good. I think it is an ordinary but classic Bizenware tea bowl. I do not know a professor to put that hypothesis to the test, like I found for my Kakumi Seiho piece in 1984. I'm not going to spend what it would cost to buy a good bottle of Scotch whiskey like I used to do (not Johnny Walker Black Label, but good single malt, which even then, was relatively inexpensive because of the sweat geistige equity I was able to invest in it). Maybe somebody will give me a bottle of whisky for Xmas? Nonetheless, I can still hold my Kakumi Seiho tea cup in my hands and feel its goodness and study it more to learn more from it. I think that is the key. Some money plus much culture yields more value than a less cultured person could get for more money.

When I worked at The Baltimore Museum of Art, the Curator of Drawings and Prints probably earned less than my father. Said Curator's home (it was probably an apartment) had old master prints because he knew things my father did not know. The Cone sisters bought some of the greatest works of art in the early 20th Century for small prices. They were not penurious, but I believe taste, knowledge and knowing the artists multiplied their buying power. So now I am trying to use the bit of knowledge and taste leverage (not artists -- I only know one and I could not afford anything from him except if he would give me a gift). Also savoring what I already have.

I do not see what esthetic delectation one could get from contemplating a bar of gold bulllion (if it was mine, I'd hesitate to fondle it because gold is a soft metal and I'd be afraid of rubbing some of it off). Maybe I am wrong, and certainly contemplating a bar real gold would give more pleasure than contemplating a 7-Eleven Big Gulp cup (unless maybe one was writing a book on the history of some aspect or other of 20h/21st Century American culture. Almost any human artifact can get some meaning extracted from it somehow.

I still have the pieces of pottery and the US$3 water glass I bought ca. 1984. They are paying dividends. They have been called up from the reserves for active duty in the war against Despair. And Despair itself, too. I had real pleasure asking R. Crumb if I could reproduce a shrunk-down image of a 1969 Despair comix cover he did in 1969. Does anyone really think he would have told me I was violating his copyright if even he had found out about what I was doing? I'm not even using a usable copy of the originial -- it's little more than a thumbnail. R. Crumb himself? I don't have an autograph, only an email, which surely has no monetary value.... That's a way I'm making up for paucity of $$$: by asking R. Crumb if I can use an image he was probably surprised anybody even had. And, as said, a shrunken image at that, so no way could it take any sales away from him even he had the original up for auction. It's not a even a proper reproduction. Ah! But there is yet another question here: How did I even get that image? It's a photograph I took now maybe 20 years ago. More cultivation plus some money (I did have a camera) trumping more mere money. So, once again, I say: Something possible for any middle class American. And, I'd bet a few dollars, "people" would probably be almost as offended by my acts of penny-pinching elitism as for my 5 digit act of elitism.

Elsewhere here, I have elaborated my elitism of getting a lot of pleasure and learning out of a broken cat food bowl. What could be less expensive than salvaging broken pieces of pottery and not even gluing them back together? I worry: Somebody will not recognize the value and meaningfulness of my pottery shards and dispose of them in the garbage and I won't be able to find them to get them back again, and both myself and the cats will be disappointed and poorer (Meow!)

Unamerican heresy: "From each according to his abilities; to each according to his needs." "You, you, you politically incorrect pompous disgusting.... You don't need pottery shards! Put the garbage in the trash, where garbage belongs! Just who do you think you are?" "May I infer that you, Sir/Madam, do not know my needs?"

What do you think, here, my reader? bradmcc@bmccedd.org

 
 
 

2022.04.06 v002
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Footnotes

  1. There may be demurral concerning my psychosocial cosmogony (ca. 1978, I made a cosmologically agnostic drawing of the data processing universe as I had observed it). Let me be clear: If the shoe that I feel fits my foot (I once worked in an office 2 floors above a Payless shoe store) does not fit someone else's foot, I am not trying to achieve a force fit. I repeat something I have written (with iconographical self-satisfaction) elsewhere here: While History continues (ref. Elsa Morante's novel), yet small mammals borrow under the ground, which, at least so far for myself, is not yet inside the Lubyanka.
  2. Yes, I am aware that Diogenes of Sinope could not distinguish the bones of Alexander the Great's father from the bones of a slave. Diogenes was right.
  3. The former being something I snatched up out of the shipping box at the BMA, the latter a piece that sat on a shelf of the Appalachian Spring craft shop in Washington, D.C. for months while I debated buying it. What a fool I was to risk not buying it sooner! But Americans' lack of taste was "with me"
  4. Japan was not in my life until around 1984, although I already loved fine Japanese pottery in 1971, and my US$6 pot was made by a master American potter who practiced in a traditional high-fire wood-fired Japanese genre, Malcolm Wright.
  5. Granted: This might be big deal. I do not think I ever saw a two bedroom house, neither split-level nor raised ranch nor even just ranch, in suburbia, at least not in Towson, Maryland late 1950's, where there was one "development" after another, from US$2X,000 for 0 < X < 6(?) "Meyerhoff" houses on 1/4 acre(?) lots just north of The Beltway, to Wakefield >> US$40,000 full acres further north along Dulaney Valley Road -- a dollar went an order of magnitude farther back then. Going from 3 to 2 might entail persons leaving suburbia altogether to go back to "the city", back to an -- God save us! -- apartment, maybe even. Great losses: No more lawn to mow! No more long automobile driving commute! I once had a 2nd line manager who was so proud of his commute from Danbury, Connecticut to some place on Long Island, New York that he would not hire any wimp who might whine about any lesser cyclical diurnal pilgrimage in rain, sleet or snow. What genre houses do suburban Americans live in, 2020CE? Or have they all [fill in the blank, my reader]? If they commute to the end of Damascus Road (I-0?), they will encounter Bashar al-Assad's forces as they pull into the office bldg parking lot each morning. I was never able to implement Marcello Mastroianni's exit per the opening scene of Federico Fellini's film 8½.
  6. I write "universalizing" not "universal" to emphasize the dynamic, eternally self-critically recursing nature of such human endeavor. Any stasis is devolution.
  7. Épater la bourgeoisie!


BMcC signature seal stamp. Modelled on 18th century messenger's letter box in collection of Suntory Museum, Tokyo. Japanese write poems and prayers on slips of paper which they tie into knots like this shape although with longer legs. Prayers are often tied to branches of trees which can look like they are covered with snow. "Symbol of a symbol, image of an image, emerging from the destiny that is sinking into darkness...." (H. Broch, "The Sleepwalkers", p.648) Always remember. Add value. (This image created not later than 21 May 2003)Invenit et fecit


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2022-05-19 10:33:39