The Beauty Things
Take it in your hands, look, pay attention, turn it over and repeat the process.
If you’ve read ‘The Voice that Thunders’ you’ll know about ‘The Beauty Things’, and if you haven’t, it’s easily explained. They are objects, things, which have significance for their owners and are valued for reasons that have no relation to their economic value.
So this book, which it must be said is a beautiful object, is a celebration of things. It claims to be an extension of conversations between Alan Garner and Mark Edmonds, who is an archaeologist. It consists of photographs and short texts: brief extracts from Garner’s books and unattributed words in quotation marks.
The book celebrates the beauty and functionality of things made in stone, wood and metal, from the earliest stone hand tool to the Jodrell Bank Telescope…it invites you to stop and and consider the complex miracle that is homer faber and the vertigo inducing length of time we’ve been around…without sentimentalising or romanticising the human maker, from that first deviant ape who thought sharpening a bit of stone might lead somewhere to radio telescopes scanning the universe and looking at light that had left its source an unimaginable number of years before that ape started chipping.
The Beauty Things invites the reader to pay attention to specific examples of this making habit. It offers provocative suggestions, it raises questions. Feel the weight, look, imagine, consider, then turn it over and repeat the process. It reminds me of a Colin Simms poetry collection: that fascinated, absorbed willingness to keep looking at the same object without ever exhausting the need to keep looking. It’s a very non-fashionable view of the world, one that celebrates the careful craftsman, the slow acquisition of ability and knowledge. It celebrates the idea that questions are often better than answers and the pleasure of paying attention.
There are questions. About the way we portray objects from the past. The way the museum case makes static what was always a work in progress, something to be used, improved, perhaps discarded. But also, more troubling, about what these tools have to say about aesthetics.
The stone axe is beautiful. But was beauty an aim of the maker, or simply an accident of design. Is the recognition of beauty simply an aesthetic response to a shape, or is beauty, in this case, a profound, possibly pre verbal, in built recognition of achieved functionality. If the latter, did the aesthetic impulse have an evolutionary function?
For readers of Garner’s novels there is the echo of familiarity: artefacts which turn up in his books appear in the photographs. And I won’t be the only person who has always wondered what a stone book looks like…the spine is smooth, like a piece of well tooled leather, and I want one. Nor will I be the only person to be surprised that “The” Stone Book was not made by one of Garner’s family…..but as he says here, he had to make things up.
There is one thing missing from The Beauty Things: a book. Not a stone book, a paper book.
There should be a word for this, where the thing that is missing from an object is supplied by the object itself###, but the book ‘The Beauty Things’ is a beauty thing itself, a carrier of stories and questions, something to hold and contemplate. It has its history, from rock scratching to clay tablets, rolls of papyrus, velum, paper: we are, after all, living in a civilisation that could not exist without writing. Books are as much a part of our history and our making as the axe and the horseshoe.
You can buy a copy here:
### IF there is a real word for this I would love to know it.