Thursday, October 11, 2007

Ceramics: Nietsche's eternal return?

Thanks to my course in the Intellectual History of Europe, I can't get my mind off Friedrich Nitzsche, a powerful philosopher and writer who appeals to my doubts about religion. One idea in particular I found relevant to a thought I've had about potting for a long time.

Clay is a mysterious substance, because it allows complete control but later is perpetual. Let me explain. Nothing is more malleable than plastic clay -- one of the lessons pottery teachers will hammer home is that any move you make, any contact you have with the clay, will be recorded. Pulling your hand off the rim too quickly will make the form wobble off center. Forgot to cut your fingernails? The clay will remember with tiny crescent moons. If you don't fix these things, they will be remembered forever by the clay once it's fired. I have an example for you -- a pot that (like most) recorded my laziness about glazing.

See those fingerprints? They'll be there when the archaeologists of the future dig up what's left of Gainesville.

Nietzsche comes in with the idea of eternal return, which wasn't his originally, according to Wikipedia, but he reintroduced to the 20th century. In physics, the concept is that the universe will contract and expand infinitely, so that each configuration of the universe and time is repeated. For Nietzsche, it was more a thought than a belief, a sort of device that allowed you to see life more clearly. If a being came and announced that your life would recur endlessly to you in your loneliest moment, it would seem a curse. If it came in a moment of light, it would seem like a blessing. For Nietzsche, this is the "heaviest weight," one that places incalculable importance on every experience we have. Every decision, every move, carries a hesitancy if you consider life in this way. The notion appears in Czech writer Milan Kundera's novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being and in the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day.

It seems to me that the nature of clay is parallel to this idea and maybe even a metaphor for it. Life can be as open to possibility as clay is. But the moment that you place a pot on the shelf to be fired, you have to consider whether the work you have done is worthy of lasting forever. If something endures, is it the same as eternal recurrence? It seems to me that it is so.

1 comment:

Jessica DaSilva said...

I love how philosophical you are. You should post here more often. :O)