Daedalus & the Discovery of Order


The discovery of a pattern seems to me to be an inherent feature of the human experience of making. Whether he or she thinks about it or not, or is even aware of it, a person who makes something implicitly assumes existence of an order or standard of rightness that transcends all recipes and rules of composition: a standard, a pattern, or – to use the Greek word – a paradeigma which both measures the work and is measured by it.

This pattern can be thought of as a single, immutable template to be traced or copied, which appears to be how Plato understood it, or it can be thought of as a mutable rhythm governing a pattern of movement, like the figure of a dance: a rhythm or order (kosmos) that is rediscovered with each new tracing of the figure.

Artists – and by “artists” I mean all people who make things: not just novelists, poets, composers, and painters, but also cooks, gardeners, and seamstresses, insofar as they are not assembly line workers – are an infinitesimal and powerless minority in the Western world, but this was not always the case. The civilization of archaic Greece, which is to say Western civilization at its very roots, has been called a civilization of the artisan….

It is my contention that, with the dawn of Greek thought, the pattern discovered, or allowed to appear, through making was universalized to become the pattern that eventually came to be understood as the one embodied in the cosmos as we understand the word.

— Indra Kagis McEwen “Socrates’ Ancestor” (The MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.)

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5 Responses to Daedalus & the Discovery of Order

  1. skywalker011 says:

    You can’t hide the truth. Artists interperate the world they see and there is a higher power governing the truth that is life. Finding that way to truth and light is most of the battle, but its truly very simple. Liked this post, thanks.

  2. heldwerk says:

    “The Timeless Way of Building” by Christopher Alexander, published 1979 by Oxford University Press

  3. some believe geometry to be the very first governing force of the cosmos. everything begins with pattern or shape

  4. richmondp says:

    I believe that we humans have an innate need for, and an innate ability to recognize, pattern. However, this innate need and ability can sometimes lead us to impose an incorrect pattern, or “rule,” upon reality. For example, many people, when asked to draw a human head, will place the eyes in the upper third of the skull, according to a preconceived pattern they carry in their mind’s eye. In fact, as close observation will show, the eyes are very close to being vertically centered in the skull.

    As a finish carpenter working in older crooked homes, I can sometimes use this tendency to impose a pattern where none exists to my advantage. Sometimes I can “fudge” a reveal, or an out of plumb bit of trim, to look parallel or plumb, because my client’s preconceived expectations might actually lead him to see my tapered reveals and out of plumb trim as “perfect.” In other words, he will sometimes “see” what he wants to see. Or not. Which reminds me of a great bit from Updike:

    “We recently had a carpenter build a few things in our house in the country. It’s an old house, leaning away from the wind a little; its floors sag gently, like an old mattress. The carpenter turned his back on our tilting walls and took his vertical from a plumb line and his horizontal from a bubble level, and then went to work by the light of these absolutes. Fitting his planks into place took a lot of those long, irregular, oblique cuts with a ripsaw that break an amateur’s heart. The bookcase and kitchen counter and cabinet he left behind stand perfectly up-and-down in a cockeyed house. Their rectitude is chastening. For minutes at a stretch, we study them, wondering if perhaps it isn’t, after all, the wall that is true and the bookcase that leans. Eventually, we suppose, everything will settle into the comfortably crooked, but it will take years, barring earthquakes, and in the meantime we are annoyed at being made to live with impossible standards.

    John Updike
    From “Assorted Prose.”

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