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Talking Shop

Talking Shop: The Language of Craft in an Age of Consumption

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Talking Shop
    Book Description:

    Describing everything from bread and cappuccinos to mass-market furnishings, a language of the "artisanal" saturates our culture today. That language, Peter Betjemann proposes, has a rich and specifiable history. Between 1840 and 1920, the cultural appetite for handmade chairs, tables, cabinets, and other material odds and ends flowed through narrative and texts as much as through dusty workshops or the physical surfaces of clay, wood, or metal. Judged by classic axioms about labor's virtue-axioms originating with Plato and foundational to modern theories of workmanship-the vigorous life of craft as represented in these texts might seem a secondhand version of an ideal and purposeful activity. ButTalking Shopcelebrates these texts as a cultural phenomenon of their own. In the first book to consider the literary representation of craft rather than of labor in general, Peter Betjemann asks how nineteenth and early twentieth-century craftspeople, writers, and consumers managed craft's traditional attachment to physical objects and activities while also celebrating craft in iconic, emblematic, preeminently textual terms. The durable model of workmanship that was created around correlations of craft and narrative, physical process and representation, and body and text blurred the boundaries between craft and its consumption. Discussing a wide range of material from fiction and essays to artifacts, the book explores how the era paved the way for the vitality and the viability of a language of craft in much later decades.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3169-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-V)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. VI-VI)
    (pp. VII-XII)
    (pp. 1-30)

    In June of 1842, the American sculptor Horatio Greenough laid down his chisel in his Florence studio. Embarking for the United States to oversee the installation of his massive statueWashingtonin the rotunda of the Capitol, he also embarked on a new kind of labor: the writer’s. At the end of his yearlong visit to his home country, Greenough’s first two essays appeared alongside stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne and poems by John Greenleaf Whittier inThe United States Magazine and Democratic Review. Expressing his dismay at the imitativeness of the built environment he saw in the United States, Greenough’s...

  6. CHAPTER 1 THE GHOST WRITER: The Canonization of Benvenuto Cellini
    (pp. 31-70)

    For nineteenth-century readers, no literary account of artisanship was better known thanThe LIfe of Renvenuto cellini, Written by Himself in Florence. Composed mostly in the late 1550s but only printed in its native Italian in 1728 and in English for the first time in 1771, Cellini’s autobiography of his life as a goldsmith and a sculptor became a sensation in the period between 1822 (when Thomas Roscoe produced the second English translation) and 1910 (when Robert Cust produced the fifth). Cellini’sLifeepitomizes the transformations of the crafts ideal that Talking Shop aims to unfold. Literary critics and theorists...

  7. CHAPTER 2 LEGENDS OF LABOR: Nathaniel Hawthorne and the Voice of Craft
    (pp. 71-104)

    The previous chapter argued that Cellini’s canonizers accommodated the purposeful application of the body, a traditional standard of artisanship, with the narrative appeal of Cellini’s free-floating dexterity, peripatetic life, and universal capability. In this context, I suggested, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s categorical references to “such hands as those of Benvenuto Cellini” typify a culture of craft in which the artisan’s body was both emphasized and abstracted, at once incarnated and generalized. The current chapter traces the circumference of manual labor’s literary dimension in a wider corpus of Hawthorne’s writing than the notebooks, memoirs, and sketches in which he repeatedly names Cellini. I...

  8. CHAPTER 3 THE NATURE OF GOTHIC: Artisanship, Intuition, and the Representation of Expertise
    (pp. 105-141)

    This chapter shifts the focal points ofTalking Shopin several ways. It considers the work of nineteenth-century artisans and tradespeople as well as the output of writers. It analyzes crafted artifacts as well as texts. Most important, it turns to closer questions about how skill might be made legible in the furnishings market, describing specific aesthetic patterns and theories about the translatability of certain styles rather than—my subject in the previous two chapters—the varied imperatives negotiated within a print culture of workmanship.

    I return to Hawthorne, in the initial section of this chapter, to locate his interest...

  9. CHAPTER 4 IN THE AMERICAN GRAIN: Gustav Stickley and the Artisanal Type
    (pp. 142-193)

    The adaptations of craft and image described in the previous chapter originated in the promotion of workmanship, from the 1830s onward, that was identi-fiably subjective; the iconicity of labor in the consumer market—the association of certain styles, rather than certain skills, with the handmade—can be read as the result of the British crafts revival’s attempt to differentiate the meaning of artisanship from material, and thus potentially mechanizable, practices. When the crafts movement migrated to the United States in the late nineteenth century, its predication on the legibility of style seemed to take a further turn into the iconic...

  10. CHAPTER 5 THE SYNTAX OF THE EYE: Author, Artisan, and the “More Laboring Ages” in Henry James’s The Spoils of Poynton
    (pp. 194-218)

    RESULTS “ALL OF THE SQUAREST”: JAMES’S HOUSE OF FICTION In brief,The Spoils of Poyntonconcerns a woman dispossessed of a collection of antiques made by the best artisans of the Old World. By a brutal legality, the collection falls to her son when her husband dies, and the woman, Adela Gereth, spends much of the novel trying to influence the son to break off an engagement to a woman of no taste for an engagement to a woman who appears to appreciate the rarity of the things. In his 1908 preface to the novel, James located its theme at...

    (pp. 219-234)

    The stream of discourse about craft traced in this book depends—for its drama, its significance, and its legibility—on silence; reticent artisans and soundless artifacts appear in every chapter as the fixed points against which the language of artisanship resounds. The “mute” objects at Poynton set the stakes of Fleda Vetch’s ability to give a “dozen names” to Mrs. Gereth’s approximation of the effect of those objects.¹ Longfellow’s taciturn artisan, Michelangelo, upbraids his protégé Benvenuto Cellini for his excessive prolixity—a correction that ultimately leads, in Longfellow’s play, to Benvenuto’s superb balancing of voice and hand when he casts...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 235-248)
    (pp. 249-258)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 259-267)