As I think about your cranes and presses, of their finely tuned efficiencies, and how we contort ourselves in order to operate them, it seems to me that the machines we build have become engines for our moral ordering. Maybe they are the embodiments of our inner Victorians, and that would make sense, for it was among the products of 19th century industry, the great iron arcades and train stations, that the Victorians worked, wandered and played. And it was also the Victorians who took early colonial systems and mechanized them, from the building of railways across India, to the rational cities that signified colonial authority. The British built the ordered ranks of the Civil Lines, neighborhoods for their expatriated, and then New Delhi, a new governmental center planned with geometric precision in the model of Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City, perhaps the epitome of the rational separation of work from living.
Today we aim our models of efficiency at ourselves, not only our time-saving tools but our stratagems to enforce a pace of work, or to deny ourselves access to our endorphic pleasures. We have apps that sound alarms if the writer falls below a certain word count, or cause earlier writing to vanish, melding efficiency with fear of failure and creating a sort of moral panic. And yet we find that our non-ordered selves leak out of our systems; the more we enforce discipline for a time, the more difficult it is to maintain control later – we binge, sleep, drink, fight, dream.
I wonder, in all this, how the idea of wisdom even fits. I start to think that the kaleidoscopic visions that we celebrate for their seeming ability to shift our perspective might also be a kind of trick we play upon ourselves. Maybe they are just another mechanism we employ to enforce upon our atavistic selves a kind of order, as light is broken into fragments and shards, and then reconstructed into something we can see and name.