Time for me to recant partially my criticisms of Liz Lawley. This year at her IL 2008 talk, she repudiated her immersion in virtual worlds, and embraced what she called “the tangible.” She confessed that she even stopped playing World of Warcraft for six weeks, while she retuned to primary reality. (With global capitalism – yes, that reality – about to intervene in virtual worlds like Second Life, Lawly showed her prescience.)
Lawley foregrounded the visceral pleasures of certain bits of technology, e.g., the iPhone. “People want to touch it,” she said. She lingered in several instances over knitting, and how “handmade” gifts and products are superior. The introduction of knitting allowed her to explore some existential notions that struck me as pointers in the right direction, but her analysis is still at a relatively early stage, and suffers a bit, because of her own personal investment and entanglement in knitting.
The entire talk owed an unspoken debt to Martin Heidegger’s work in Being and Time on what he calls the “ready-to-hand,” Zuhanden in Heidegger’s German. Hand-made objects, for Heidegger, help to orient us to the world, to remind us of the larger context in which we live. For more on this, see the work of Jeff Malpas. Lawley’s energies are devoted to fashioning a bearable lightness of being that would probably be burdened by an introduction of philosophy into her now annual performance at Internet Librarian. Still, it would seem a professional obligation for her to attribute many of the points she made to the source, even if it happened to be a kind of unconscious borrowing of material.
Unlike Lawley, Heidegger was no fan of technology, and the appeal to the “ready-to-hand” includes Heidegger’s valorization of a kind of bucolic life that reinforced his warnings about technology. In other words, Heidegger would have been comfortable with knitting. His living arrangements at Todtnauberg in the Black Forest were no accident, and Lawley likely knows how black (ideologically) that forest was for Heidegger.
While this year’s presentation by Lawley deserves more thought, I look forward to Professor Lawley’s acknowledgment of, and engagement with, the Heideggerian background, and the ideological dangers therein (Project Muse subscription necessary to follow the link). Those dangers are encapsulated in a literary figure from what Lawley might call the virtual side of the history of knitting, viz., Madame Defarge.