Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Shirley Hazzard on Mass Production

Been re-reading Shirley Hazzard's exquisite The Transit of Venus (1980) again, aproximately 22 years after I first read it and inexplicably shrugged it off as insufficiently impressive. (What was I thinking? All I can say is that I hadn't read enough, and certainly hadn't experienced enough. I was callow.) Here's her inimitable description of Australian children confronting mass-produced junk for the first time:

One morning a girl whose father had been in America for Munitions came to school with nibless pens that wrote both red and blue, pencils with lights attached, a machine that would emboss a name -- one's own for preference - and pencil sharpeners in clear celluloid. And much else of a similar cast. Set out on a classroom table, these silenced even Miss Holster. The girls leaned over, picking up this and that: Can I turn it on, how do you work it, I can't get it to go back again. No one could say these objects were ugly, even the crayon with the shiny red flower, for they were spread on the varnished table like flints from an age unborn, or evidence of life on Mars. A judgment on their attractiveness did not arise: their power was conclusive, and did not appeal for praise.

It was the first encounter with calculated uselessness. No one had ever wasted anything. Even the Lalique on Aunt Edie's sideboard, or Mum's Balibuntl, were utterly functional by contrast, serving an evident cause of adornment, performing the necessary, recognized role of extravagance. The natural accoutrements of their lives were now seen to have been essentials -- serviceable, workaday -- in contrast to these hard, high-coloured, unblinking objects that announced, though brittle enough, the indestructibility of infinite repetition.
--Shirley Hazzard, The Transit of Venus, p. 47.

Can you imagine a more poetic description of mass-produced objects? Counter-examples will be considered; I await your favor.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

No comments: