“Intellectual labor tears a man out of human society. A craft, on the other hand, leads him towards men.”
I want to believe this appealing quote. I want to believe that the thousands of hours spent learning, practicing, preparing and performing craft — usually alone — lead back to humanity at some point. I want to believe that the products of craft will also somehow connect with other people. If thinking separates us from society, do reading rooms in libraries and gathering together in coffee shops somehow compensate by letting us be physically together? But Kafka’s conception of intellectual labor in opposition to craft is troubling. Isn’t he separating the hand from the head? Most craftsmen I respect have a tremendously wide curiosity and intellect, encompassing history, technique, tools, materials and many other seemingly unrelated things. Craft is not about just having made something, or even being able to make something. It is consciously participating in the tradition of making something. Is this how it might lead us to others?
Gustav Janouch, Conservations with Kafka, trans. Goronwy Rees. 2nd rev. and enlarged ed. (London: Andre Deutsch, 1971) p. 15 in Paul Virilio, Ground Zero (London and New York:Verso, 2002.) p. 7.