Fresh from the orifice

May 1, 2007

When a friend showed me the new tumblers that he bought, I slipped quickly through aesthetic appreciation, slid almost immediately past desire, and found myself lingering on their description as “mouth-blown.” The invocation of some laborer’s anatomy – especially a bit of anatomy as intimate as the mouth – seemed utterly vulgar in comparison with the seamless, Platonic images presented on that Amazon site. I seek to understand why being “mouth-blown” makes a tumbler more desirable. While I’m at it, I seek likewise to understand why being “hand-painted” or “hand-woven” adds to the appeal of other objects.

Let me begin (as many superior endeavors have also begun) by invoking Barthes:

It is obvious that the new Citroen has fallen from the sky inasmuch as it appears at first sight as a superlative object … [I]t excites interest less by its substance than by the junction of its components. It is well known that smoothness is always an attribute of perfection because its opposite reveals a technical and typically human operation of assembling: Christ’s robe was seamless, just as the airships of science-fiction are made of unbroken metal.

The New Citroën, 1957

Fifty years after Barthes wrote this about the DS, we have the “human operation of assembling” invoked by marketers and concretized through reference to the anatomy of the product’s assemblers. And although “mouth” and “hand” are, in these cases, clearly metonymies, they do not extend so far as, say, the worker’s rights or the circumstances in which his job places him. Products are, after all, never advertised as “laborer-assembled” or “proletariat-made.”

No, instead, the mouth that blows glass (and, through that motion, gives a product to the marketplace) is a symbol of receptivity. Disembodied even from the skilled hands, watchful eyes, and capable lungs which power and control the mouth-blowing, the mouth seeks employment – filling – according to the demands of the public. Hands that weave or paint are likewise filled with the implements of production to the exclusion of other, personally-chosen implements. To say, on the contrary, that a machine fills its time and its capacities with the creation of a product is simply absurd; created for the purpose of production, the machine has no alternative except a working existence.

Think, then, of the receptiveness of the mouth or the hands of the worker as the baptismal font into which a product is dipped in order to gain its identity. Here is what I mean: the market demands and specifies a product; existing only as idea, though, the product as yet has no reality, and, were it to be produced by machine, it would lack identity (e.g., my plastic trashcan could be replaced with any other plastic trashcan of the same model and I would never know the difference); having been designed, the product is passed into the oral meatus or the open hands of the worker in order to gain that individuality.

If the Citroën DS belongs to the apparatus of museums in its apparent seamlessness, the modern home – consisting mostly of mass-produced, machine-made products – is also such a setting. The “mouth-blown,” “hand-woven” products are the imperfect, diverse filler gleaned from anthropological expeditions or from history (i.e., relics of our own history in the present economic backwardness of colonized regions of the globe), which are used to fill its pristine, white display cases.


2 Responses to “Fresh from the orifice”

  1. Crawjo Says:

    Beautiful post, and a perfect meditation for May Day.

  2. […] 8th, 2007 Apropos of my prior entry, Fresh from the orifice, I found the website for a new book called nonobject today. It contains the following: The state of […]

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