Thursday, 11 September 2008

William Morris on Practicality and Simplicity



I am not blind to the tremendous change which this revolution would mean. The maxim of modern civilization to a well-to-do man is, Avoid taking trouble! Get as many of the functions of your life as you can performed by others for you! Vicarious life is the watchword of our civilization, and we well-to-do and cultivated people live smoothly enough while it lasts. But, in the first place, how about the vicars, who do more for us than the singing of mass for our behoof for a scanty stipend? Will they go on with it for ever? For indeed the shuffling off of responsibilities from one to the other has to stop at last, and somebody has to bear the burden in the end. But let that pass, since I am not writing politics, and let us consider another aspect of the matter. What wretched lop-sided creatureswe are being made by the excess of the division of labour in the occupations of life! What on earth are we going to do with our time when we have brought the art of vicarious life to perfection, having first complicated the question by the ceaseless creation of artificial wants which we refuse to supply for ourselves? Are all of us (we of the great middle class I mean) going to turn philosophers, poets, essayists - men of genius, in a word, when we have come to look down on the ordinary functions of life with the same kind of contempt wherewith persons of good breeding look down upon a good dinner, eating it sedulously however? I shudder when I think of how we shall bore each other when we have reached that perfection. Nay, I think we have already got in all branches of culture rather more geniuses that we can comfortably bear, and that we lack, so to say, audiences rather than preachers. I must ask pardon of my readers, but our case is at once so grievous and so absurd that one can scarcely help laughing out of bitterness of soul. In the very midst of our pessimism we are boastful of our wisdom, yet we are helpless in the face of the necessities we have created, and which, in spite of our anxiety about art, are at present driving us into luxury unredeemed by beauty on the one hand, and squalor unrelieved by incident or romance on the other, and will one day drive us into mere ruin.

Extract taken from The Revival of Handicraft.

5 comments:

Sarah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sarah said...

ahem confusing spelling error in my previous comment! delete. try again...

Oh great excerpt! Too true, too true.

We don't even decorate our own homes now - we get 'home stagers' to do it. Lol, my home is a stage??

Sarah said...

oh p.s. I love agnus dei...must steal and add to own playlist! :) It's a beautiful choral arrangement by Barber (?Samuel)

Dulce Domum said...

Yes, commodification of the home gives me the pip. We don't even have the confidence to choose the things that will go into our homes nowadays, simply because we're scared that we'd lose money if we chose the wrong thing. Pah!

Yes, the Samuel Barber is very beautiful!

Laura A said...

Enjoyed this, too, and agree. I'll stop commenting on every single post now ;-). There was just such a nice backlog!