Manual work | Babelia | THE COUNTRY

In forced confinement, the dangers that lurk for those who by reason of their trade tend to spend a considerable part of their lives locked up become more visible. A large part of what I do for a living happens in a room, and it requires a minimum of physical activity, enough to press the keys of a laptop with my fingertips. And also the things that I like to do when I'm not working allow, and even require, a certain degree of immobility. I watch movies on a screen, I read in bed or on a sofa, I listen to music and I only have to press a remote control every so often, or, at most, get up to change a vinyl record, or to turn it over, and make sure the needle goes down over the first grooves. Full digital dedication makes things even easier. The modest sensory variations in the touch of paper — book, newspaper, magazine, notebook, each with different qualities — or of work tools — pencil, pen, marker — are unified in the smoothness of a touch screen.

What used to be called the life of the spirit is further removed from the material and the bodily every day. That is a sure source of unreality and delusion. It has been at least since manual labor acquired a stigma of vileness because slaves did it, and since philosophers of Platonic tradition invented the radical separation between spirit and matter, between the pure beauty of abstractions and vulgarity of real things, between mental activity and physical effort, body and soul. It is a western superstition. He yoga or Buddhist meditation inseparably combines physical well-being with spiritual clarity. The taichi is a discipline closer to dance and contemplation than to physical education, or that now, without a doubt, due to the lack of an adequate name in the Spanish language, there has been no choice but to call fitness. The common idea about Zen is that it is a kind of dark oriental mysticism, dedicated to the search for a vaporous ecstasy accompanied by music new age. But what is called enlightenment in Zen Buddhism consists above all in learning to see things as they are, in the present moment, without fancy or deception, expectation or nostalgia, thanks to the sustained exercise of tasks almost always common that anchor in reality who carries them out. A Zen epigram says: “What is enlightenment? Cut the firewood, carry the water ”. The discipline of a body posture is itself an act of the spirit.

In forced confinement, the dangers that lurk for those who by reason of their trade tend to spend a considerable part of their lives locked up become more visible.

The equivalent of that “chopping wood, carrying water” can be, even more so these days, carefully preparing breakfast, washing dishes, putting them in the dishwasher, spending an hour or two on a tasty recipe, taking a walk with the dog , go to the supermarket. The common idea is that these obligations interfere in the superior dedication to literature, or to any other activity that seems more noble because it is done with clean hands and does not require physical exhaustion or exposure to the elements. My father, who loved his work in the fields so much, but who also got tired of his petty rewards, advised me, in moments of discouragement, to find me a job that could be done "under the roof." Digging with a hoe at dawn on an August day or loading and unloading sacks of olives in a muddy olive grove in December are experiences that vaccinate anyone forever against the romanticism of peasant labor. But many of the chores the people I grew up with daily required more manual dexterity than sheer physical effort, and there was a mixture of practical wisdom and sheer complacency much like that found in prestigious art creations. The ignominy was not in the work itself, but in the conditions of injustice and poverty in which it was practiced. And in the kitchen, the architecture, the popular music, the same fundamental questions of the art decorated in capital letters were clarified daily: how to achieve a maximum of expressiveness and efficiency exactly with the materials and under the conditions at hand; what is the place of personal invention in the repertoire of shared and inherited knowledge; how to add pleasure and beauty to life.

In order for the nobility of their art to be recognized, the Spanish painters of the 17th century had to demonstrate that they did not work with their hands, but with their intelligence, and that they did not make the slightest physical effort, nor did they sell their works in shops, as vile craftsmen or merchants. Even now, the artists with the highest prices boast of not touching even the works they sign, pure concepts that later take on a material form thanks to the often poorly paid work of clouds of busy assistants in industrial warehouses, far from the aseptic nobility of the galleries. and even further from collectors' luxury homes.

If I spend more than an hour or two without doing something practical, immediate, objective, my mental fluidity becomes as difficult as my physical state, even more so now, that I cannot go running, or ride a bike, or cross Madrid in a hike. What I need to do things for is not to relax or distract myself from my work: it is to be in the world, attentive to the real, housed in the space of common sense. The proof that inactivity generates madness and disorder are all those philosophical, ultra-theoretical, untranslatable lucubrations to the everyday language, which are segregated by university departments not dedicated to the sciences, or those that flow these days, due to the coronavirus, of the privileged skulls and the mouths of stars of "thought" in the manner of Zizek or Giorgio Agamben. Cervantes already warned us very acutely that excessive reading and sterile leisure can drive pilgrim imaginations crazy, not subject to the limitations of reality. Keeping the kitchen clean and tidy helps to achieve the cleanliness and order of a written page. The stroke of inspiration that had been denied me for two hours of immobility in front of a screen came like a flash of lightning later, while I was stir-frying or concentrating on peeling a potato.


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