Monday, September 3, 2012

Good Craft and Minimal Resistance

 A couple of years ago I spoke with a fashion designer at a dinner party. We spoke about craft and design and the various tools a designer uses. She mentioned how different cultures value different aspects to their fabric and forms, patterns and structure. She mentioned a Chinese story that I just came across. ZhuangZi and the Butcher. A nice parable about craft and making.

A cook was butchering an ox.  The places his hand touched, his shoulder leaned against, his foot stepped on, his knee pressed upon, came apart with a sound.

He moved the blade, making a noise that never fell out of rhythm.

The cook put down the knife and explained:"When I started butchering what I saw was nothing but the whole ox.  After three years, I no longer saw the whole ox.  Nowadays, I meet it with my mind rather than see it with my eyes.  My sensory organs are inactive while I direct the mind's movement.  It goes according to natural laws, striking apart large gaps, moving toward large openings, following its natural structure.  Even places where tendons attach to bones give no resistance, never mind the larger bones!  A good cook goes through a knife in a year because he cuts.  An average cook goes through a knife in a month because he hacks.  I have used this knife for nineteen years.  It has butchered thousands of oxen but the blade is still like it's newly sharpened.  The joints have openings and the knife's blade has no thickness.  Apply this lack of thickness into the openings and the moving blade swishes through with room to spare!  That's why after nineteen years the blade is still like it's newly sharpened.  Nevertheless, every time I come across joints I see its tricky parts and I pay attention and use caution.  My vision concentrates, my movement slows down. I move the knife very slightly, Whump! It has already separated.   The work gives me much satisfaction.  I clean the knife and put it away."