Thursday, January 18, 2007

Factory, Laboratory, Museum

Tony, you give us a nice set of images to work with. But I'm not sure I understand the confrontation you are arranging between Pound's "machine art" and Stein's "motor automatism". Your insertion of Kracauer's typists, however, as what Wittgenstein might call an "intermediate case" (PI§122), is pretty much brilliant.

One important distinction, at least at first pass, seems to be that Pound is thinking about how to improve factory production, while Stein (if I understand this correctly) is basically engaging in laboratory experimentation. We could of course imagine experiments to test Pound's ideas (a kind of acoustic Taylorism) and we could certainly imagine taking Stein's reading and writing practices into use. The idea that Pound's factory could be re-interpreted as a museum, however, strikes me as odd; especially if you want to say that Stein's proposal is somehow immune to this. Surely her approaches could be cultivated in some highly idealized settings, while having no impact on reading and writing in general.

What Pound was saying, I think, is simply that we could think about sound in very practical terms. The musician here serves in the same role as a painter might for Albers. He is an expert at producing sound, and his contribution to the world is making it sound better. So there is a kind of pragmatist aesthetics here (in Dewey's sense). Some arrangements of sounds or colours improve the way the environment sounds or looks. More generally, how the environment feels. Other's improve the ear or eye that perceives them. Pound was saying that what the musician hears could be applied to improving what the factory worker hears. But the factory will never be something we would want to listen to in order to improve our sense of sound, i.e., for its own sake.

In a similar way, though I'm not exactly sure how to make the comparison, Stein is trying to improve our sense of language.

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