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Wednesday, 19 May 2010

The Builders


File:Wittgenstein haus.jpg

Wittgenstein once said that the following bit of verse by Longfellow could serve him as a motto:

In the elder days of art
Builders wrought with greatest care
Each minute and unseen part,
For the Gods are everywhere.

The point of these lines is clear. In the old days, craftsmen did not cut corners. They worked carefully, and they took care with every aspect of their work. Every part of the product was considered, and each was designed and made to be exactly as it should be. These craftsmen did not relax their thoughtful self-discipline even with respect to features of their work which would ordinarily not be visible. Although no one would notice if those features were not quite right, the craftsmen would be bothered by their consciences. So nothing was swept under the rug. Or, one might perhaps also say, there was no bullshit.

-- Harry G. Frankfurt: On Bullshit

File:Palais Wittgenstein Rote Salon 1910.JPG

All are architects of Fate,

Working in these walls of Time;

Some with massive deeds and great,

Some with ornaments of rhyme.

Nothing useless is, or low;

Each thing in its place is best;

And what seems but idle show

Strengthens and supports the rest.

For the structure that we raise,

Time is with materials filled;

Our to-days and yesterdays

Are the blocks with which we build.

Truly shape and fashion these;

Leave no yawning gaps between;

Think not, because no man sees,

Such things will remain unseen.

In the elder days of Art,

Builders wrought with greatest care

Each minute and unseen part;

For the Gods see everywhere.

Let us do our work as well,

Both the unseen and the seen;

Make the house, where Gods may dwell,

Beautiful, entire, and clean.

Else our lives are incomplete,

Standing in these walls of Time,

Broken stairways, where the feet

Stumble as they seek to climb.

Build to-day, then, strong and sure,

With a firm and ample base;

And ascending and secure

Shall to-morrow find its place.

Thus alone can we attain

To those turrets, where the eye

Sees the world as one vast plain,

And one boundless reach of sky.

File:Longfellow National Historic Site,  Cambridge,  Massachusetts.JPG

The project came in under cost

Everyone had a piece of it,

Much cash was earned and little lost,

To each hand there fell profit.

The Builders: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1849 (additional stanza by TC)

The Stonborough house, Kundmanngasse, Vienna, designed and built by Ludwig Wittgenstein, commissioned by his sister Margaret "Gretl" Stonborough-Wittgenstein, 1925 ("I am not interested in erecting a building, but in [...] presenting to myself the foundation of all buildings" -- L. W.): image by Joth80, 2006

The "Rote Salon" of the Palais Wittgenstein, Alleegasse, Vienna, 1910: photo from Die Welt von Klimt, Schiele und Kokoschka; image by Gryffindor, 2007

Longfellow National Historic Site, Cambridge, Massachusetts (house occupied by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow for fifty years): photo by Daderot, 2005

Aerial view of housing developments near Markham, Ontario: photo by IDuke, 2005


Curtis Roberts said...

My friend, the architect wife of the Wittgenstein scholar turned tax lawyer, loved this and replied:

"Modernity, mass society and factory production vs. all building as local. The carpenter used to know the woodcutter.

Chestnut for the frame, pine for the floors, cedar for the shingles.

Analogy with food production."

I like it also, particularly the first stanza. Am glad you added the last stanza also.

~otto~ said...

You are helping my get over my general aversion to poems that rhyme. Thanks. I've read this once, but it will be read again.

TC said...

Well, I should say I have mixed feelings about this poem, and also about LW's interest in it, that's probably why I thought it needed another stanza, the mixed-message stanza... craft, the crafty, rhyme, the not-rhyme, the not-crafty off-rhyme, and (especially) the whole issue of the contractors... mixed thingies on all these, right now. But worst of all, the contractors, of whom we are in the throes of dire need, at this moment... of mixed feelings.

Curtis Roberts said...

I'm very, very sorry to hear about your plight with the contractors. As good as it ever gets on that score, it never gets easy or, for that matter, comprehensible when it comes to doing the math.