Thursday, June 17, 2010

Objective Reality of Humanity

I put up the recipe for from-scratch Angel Food Cake over on ElizabethCooks.com. I started thinking about this after I visited Matthew's home for his birthday back in April. Kim and I were discussing angel food cakes, you know--the usual: store-bought vs. home-made. So I thought I'd make a cake showing all the steps in case anyone wants to try making it for themselves, and deciding which they liked better.

I've been reading the book Shop Class as Soulcraft, by Matthew B. Crawford and so far it's been an interesting read. I gave it to my brother as well, as he also likes to work with his hands. Crawford quotes from the philosopher Alexandre Kojeve:
The man who works recognizes his own product in the World that has actually been transformed by his work: he recognizes himself in it, he sees in it his own human reality, in it he discovers and reveals to others the objective reality of his humanity, of the originally abstract and purely subjective idea he has of himself.
Does this idea extrapolate to angel food cakes? Perhaps. I just know that I like items made from my own hand quite well, and perhaps that is the reason that I have one blog dedicated to quilting and sewing and one dedicated to recipes.

Old Provence Quilt

I have had some spectacular failures. On this, Crawford notes that "creativity is a by-product of mastery of the sort that is cultivated through long practice." Yes folks, it's not like it is on TV. Sometimes cakes fall, dresses turn out to be horrid, a quilt may hang in the closet until I get the energy to pull it out, unpick it and re-invent it, revealing the "objective reality of my own humanity" in my handiwork.

New Provence Quilt

And unlike a trip to Target, where I knowingly buy cheap stuff that I know will be tossed away in the future, and unlike a furied session of housecleaning that I know will come undone and need to be redone in the future, the things I make have staying power, if only in memory (as in the case of the French Berry Tart, which we are still talking about this week).

I've made quilts for all the grandchildren, although some are kept put away for the future. After reading in this book, I want to say--Take them out!! Let the children play with them, use them for picnics, wrap up toys and dolls and treasures in them, for they reveal me, these things that are "transformed by my work,"and perhaps that is really all I have to give to these children of my children.

While the emphasis of Crawford's book is examining "manual competence, and the stance it entails toward the built, material world," in discussing the idea that things will outlive us, I'm reminded of one of my father's favorite poems by James Russell Lowell: The Vision of Sir Launfal. In this poem a knight who travels the world over looking for The Holy Grail returns home, defeated in his quest. At his door he encounters a beggar, and the knight shares his last bit of bread with him. The beggar reveals himself to be the Lord, the very Christ which Sir Launfall has been searching for in one way or another. The final stanza reminds us that:
Not what we give, but what we share,--
For the gift without the giver is bare;
I hope that these small grandchildren will remember their grandmother from the quilts I've made them, among other things, much as I remember my Grandmother Sessions by her stories told on her swinging glider on the back porch, and my Grandmother Bickmore by her bent hands teaching me how to knead homemade bread.

2 comments:

Juliann said...

Oh I listened to the shop class book on CD in my car and I really enjoyed it. Angel food cake was my favorite as a girl but I have not been able to figure out how to make on gluten free.

Ramona said...

Your thoughts are both eloquent and poignant, providing much to ponder. Life is indeed about our relationships, with those around us and the stuff we surround ourselves with. This weekend perhaps I will purchase the book to gain clarity of perspective as well!