Marcel Duchamp expressed his artistic concept of preservation as a "delay," calling Three Standard Stoppages (1913-1914) "canned chance," and With Hidden Noise a "Piggy Bank (or canned goods)." This proceses of canning evolved later into the idea of a "delay," finally, with the Large Glass, more or less abandoned in 1923. The formal concern about perduring in time has wide technical implications for artists who express their visions in material stuff. As if to steal a march on Eternity, terms like "conservation" and "preservation" have become an automatic part of the professional approach for personnel of museums and galleries, comitted to some chimaera of "permanence." Rather than imagining his works like those of Ozymandius, King of Kings, arrogantly ensconced with the intent of conquering all time, Duchamp reveals a much more modest, relativistic understanding, almost Buddhist or Hindu in its assumptions about the impermanence of being.

Smoking may achieve a "delay"--and Duchamp is shown smoking in many photos. Moreover, in one work of art the ashes of his cigar are preserved, sealed in the Urn (1965). The story goes that serious scholars seeking further information about this imperfectly known piece are advised to access the oral tradition; it has been bruited that among other remains in the Urn may be found those of Rrose Sélavy, in her final form as canned androgyne ashes. Schwarz describes this piece as a "provoked Ready-made," a black, baked clay urn that

contains the ashes of a cigar Duchamp was smoking at a dinner organized by the members of the Association pour l'Etude du Mouvement Dada at the Restaurant Victoria, in Paris [May 15, 1965]. The urn, which was subsequently sealed, also contains the ashes of the minutes regarding its contents.

[ See, Schwarz, Cat. 378, p. 547. ]

Of the four basic tastes--bitter, sweet, sour, and salty--if the smoke is reckoned "bitter," all of tastes characterize methods of food preservation. Salt delays spoilage, as does the acidity of sourness.

"Salting, of course, is only one method of preserving food. It is possible to pickle in vinegar as well as salt, and the production of vinegar was an important aspect of early industrial activity."

[ Jack Goody, Cooking, Cuisine and Class: A Study in Comparative Sociology (Themes in the Social Sciences), Cambridge University Press (1982), p. 155. ]

With his notion of the work of art as a "delay," its extension in the flow of lineal time could represent at best a postponement of an inevitable disintegration and demise. But let us focus here on the sweet.

Sugar was used to preserve fruit in forms such as marmalade and jam, as well as being used for coating ham and other meats. Spreading first from India and then from the eastern Mediterra-nean at the time of the Crusades, cane-sugar played an increasingly important part in the diets of Western Europe, a demand that led to the establishment of many of the slave plantations of the New World. Imports of sugar increased rapidly in the eighteenth century...the fact that supplies of cane sugar were cut off from continental Europe during the Napoleonic wars...led to the fundamental invention embodied in the canning process, as well as to the use of the beet as the source of sugar; at the same time chicory developed as a substitute for the second of the trio of "junk foods" as Mintz has called them, that is, coffee (the third being tea). It was these "proletarian hunger- killers," to use another of Mintz's forceful phrases, that became such central elements of working-class diet in the nineteenth century and "played a crucial role in the linked contribution that Caribbean slaves, Indian peasants, and European urban proletarians were able to make to the growth of western civilization."

[ Goody, Cooking, p. 155. See, S. Mintz, "Time, Sugar and Sweetness," Marxist Perspectives, Volume 2, pp. 56-73; quotations on p. 60. ]


The relationship between sugar and international relations is proximate and recurrent: it may be argued that America's anxiety over artificial price supports for domestic sugar production have been a major stumbling block to establishing cordial diplomatic relations with Fidel Castro's Cuba. A curious national policy rigs the continued exhorbitant sugar prices paid by Americans; while right-wing Cuban expatriates, transplanted to Florida, pollute the Everglades with pesticides from their U. S. government-subsidized operations. Similar policies propped up the corrupt Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines for years, and prevents the United States from providing wise diplomatic support for ecologically essential land reform. Even with Marcos gone, Corazon Aquino's family were among the largest land-holding Philippine sugar growers. Power exploits the world's sweet tooth.

In early America, much Caribbean sugar was distilled into rum. Strong drink flowed copiously in the colonies and also primed the sailors aboard the ships of the infamous triangular trade. Following the Molasses Act of 1733, a piece of legislation designed to restrict imports by the colonies to sugar and molasses from the British West Indies, Yankee entrepreneurs cut away a major share of the slave traffic from the British Crown. New England shippers took American rum to Africa for slaves, which the plantation owners gladly traded to them for the molasses from which they distilled more rum...which went 'round and 'round, rotating clockwise: "The North Atlantic Turbine"

not includes west africa
goes to west africa
rum slaves and crude molasses
Wilberforce a standard trick
of conscience, what i.e.,
can be thought of man
as he ventures
part of Bristol is still rich.

[ Edward Dorn, "A Theory of Truth: The North Atlantic Turbine," The Collected Poems, 1956-1974, Four Seasons Foundation, Bolinas (1975), pp. 186 ff. ]

In Glasgow, too, among the rich were Abram Lyle & Sons, sugar refiners, now Tate and Lyle, makers of Lyle's Golden Syrup, whose tins--now glass jars--bear the motto: "Out of the strong came forth sweetness," originally referring to Sampson's experience with one of the young lions on the Philistine road (Judges 14:14). Lyle's business partner, Sir Henry Tate (1819-1899), invented a machine for cutting sugar into small cubes, which product enjoyed an enormous commercial success marketed as Tate's Cube Sugar. A portion of his resulting fortune went to buy some sixty-five contemporary paintings, which he gave to the nation in 1897; though his motives were highly suspect, the sweetness of his beneficence crystallized as the Tate Gallery.

Years later, in 1966, Richard Hamilton arranged The Almost Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp exhibition at the Tate Gallery, for which event the Philadelphia Museum of Art lent the original of With Hidden Noise. Duchamp's cubic exemplar of mass-production and icon of the Freedom and Slavery dichotomies thus came to be displayed in a gallery that was built, as it were, from the combined legacy of slavery cruelties and mass-produced sugar cubes. Also included in that 1966 exhibition was a version of Why Not Sneeze Rrose Sélavy (1921), the "Asssisted" Readymade: contained in a small birdcage were white marble blocks Duchamp had fashioned into the shape of sugar cubes.

[ Sidney W. Mintz, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History, Penguin Books, New York (1985), p. 232, n. 10. Also see, Richard Hamilton, The Almost Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp, (Arts Council of Great Britain) at the Tate Gallery, London (1966), Catalog numbers 124, p. 55, and 144, p. 64. ]

Part of Providence, Rhode Island, in America is still rich from sugar profits, too. Sir Henry's dulcet British philanthropy (also responsible for establishing Liverpool's University College) has a counterpart in the tradition of elite benefactors represented by the august and discreet Brown family, who endowed Brown University in 1804, and the holdings of whose earlier members

had been accumulated in shipbuilding, the China Sea trade and the importing of rum and molasses.

[ See the obituary for John Nicholas Brown in the San Francisco Chronicle, October 11, 1979. ]

The late John Nicholas Brown, for example, was a ninth-generation American who served on General Eisenhower's staff and was responsible for the discovery of several works of art stolen by the Nazis. He was also the father of J. Carter Brown, Director of the National Gallery of Art since 1969, where he organized "blockbuster" exhibitions glorifying monarchical institutions such as the Treasures of Tutankhamen, The Search for Alexander, and Treasure Houses of Britain: 500 Years of Private Patronage and Art Collecting. Historical connections between the rum and molasses trade and cruelties of slavery notwithstanding, the Brown family also made rich profits from the slaughter of whales as a major colonial dealer in whale oil and manufacturer of candles. The family also owned an iron foundry, participated in setting up the first textile mills with factory equipment secretly copied from English prototypes (industrial theft), and became defense contractors, having built the first warships for the fledgling U.S. Navy during the Revolutionary War. However, one member of the family in the 1760s--Moses Brown--did become a Quaker leader and an abolitionist.

[ Stephen Birmingham, America's Secret Aristocracy, Little, Brown and Co., Boston (1987), pp. 285 ff. "The Rhode Island Browns, it must be pointed out, should not be confused with the Massachusetts Brahmins. They are better than that. The Brahmins of Boston have lost much of their social and political clout. The Browns of Rhode Island have not. The first Brown, Chad, arrived in Rhode Island by canoe from Massachusetts in 1638, one of a party of seven that was escaping the kind of rigid Puritanism in the Bay Colony that would lead to Brahminism." ]

The legacy built upon slavery (and arms manufacture) continues to affect the lives of many millions of people, not only among blacks, and not only in South Africa. The modern economic situation of Brazil with its catastrophic national debt is a direct product of colonial exploitation, although the financial power that directs the ongoing environmental abuses of Brazil's dependent economy is now held more in London, Zurich, or Tokyo rather than Lisbon. The uncommon work of theGerman/ American artist Hans Haacke explores similar historically fac-tual, ecologically consequential relationships between art and life:

Haacke's reconstructions of cultural memory are neither nostalgic nor concilliatory; rather, they alert us to current facts. His work makes one aware, for example, of the links between the politics of repression practiced in remote countries of the Third World and certain individuals or corporations who figure as philanthropists and cultural patrons in various capitals of the First World--and who conceal themselves behind the liberal-democratic character masks provided by those First World cultural activities (e.g., the Guggenheim trustees in Chile, the Philips Corporation in Iran and South Africa; the Bhrle Family, the Saatchis, Alcan, Cartier, Mobil and British Leyland in South Africa).

[ Benjamin Buchloh, "Hans Haacke: Memory and Instrumental Reason," Art In America (February, 1988), p. 98. ]


It may come as a surprise to some naive Americans that the historical basis of slavery was not exclusively racial. For Muslims, slavery tended rather to be based upon religion--despite severe constraints on the practice in the Qur'an. Slavery was commonplace in Spain, a cultural residue of eight hundred years as Muslim territory.

In the fifteenth century, rich families had owned as many as fifty slaves, some of them Greeks, Russians, Albanians, or Turks bought at the famous slave market of Caffa on the Black Sea.

[ Reay Tannahill, Food in History, Stein and Day, New York (1973), p. 260. From this same port, ships had earlier brought with them to Europe the bubonic plague, or Black Death. Tannahill cites Jaime Vicens Vives, An Economic History of Spain, Princeton University Press (1969), p. 214; and M. M. Postan in Geoffrey Barraclough, editor, Eastern and Western Europe in the Middle Ages, London (1970).]

The Portugese began exploitation of Madeira in the early 1420s, using slave labor for the back-breaking, dangerous and "truly penitential labor" of preparing ground for planting and constructing the levadas, or rainwater irrigation systems, sometimes cut by hand from the living rock above percipitous, wind-swept cliffs.

Portugal's involvement in the slave trade along Africa's Atlantic coast did not begin until the 1440s; so Madeira's first slaves were in all probability not black. We can make an educated guess that some were Berbers, some Portugese Christians who acted too much like Moors, some new Christians who acted too much like Jews, plus a few other marginal people. It seems probable that many of them, a plurality if not a majority, were Guanches, natives of the Canary Islands, who entered into the stream of European slavery [via the Spanish] some years before Madeira was first settled. There seem to have been captives from the Canaries in Majorca, for instance, as early as 1342....The Atlantic slave trade, which we always think of as exclusively black, was in its very earliest beginnings largely white or, to be more precise as to complexion, "olive colored...the color of sunburned peasants," that is, the color of the people of the Canary Islands....The Guanches...were, with the possible exception of the Arawaks of the West Indies, the first people to be driven over the cliff of extinction by modern imperialism.

[ Alfred W. Crosby, Jr., Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900, (Studies in Environment and History), Cambridge University Press (1986), pp. 79-80. ]

The modern mass migration of peoples to the New World was not from Europe, however, but began with the importation of slaves from Africa--after the availability of aboriginal populations was ravaged bythe pathogens introduced by the first explorers and pioneers.

With perhaps millions of Native Americans succumbing to cold steel, the musket ball, whiskey and disease in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, especially in the coastal regions, European exploitation of American was slowed by the shortage of servants and slaves.....The shortage of labor was the most pressing in the islands and littoral of tropical America, where the swords and maladies of the Old World had made the cleanest sweep of the aborigines and where the profits to be made from the mass production of tobacco, rice, indigo, coffee, and especially sugar were potentially the greatest.

[ Crosby, The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492, Greenwood Press, Westport Connecticut (1972), p. 213. ]


The purpose of slavery, of course, was to provide labor at the lowest possible cost to the employer. Exploitation of mineral wealth had been connected with European institutions of slavery at least since the Greek silver mines at Laurion, where the indentured numbered between twenty and thirty thousand, then nearly equal to the free population of Athens. Medieval Europe resorted to using slaves in agriculture following the Black Death in the fourteenth century, which brought about a serious decline in the population. Then, in the sixteenth century, slaves were used to exploit the lands discovered by European imperialism. In the New World, the Spanish concentrated their desire upon the accumulation of minerals: especially gold and silver, but also precious stones such as emeralds from the mountains of Colombia. It was left for the Portuguese (and in the earlier years of exploitation, for the Dutch) to introduce the system of plantations growing cash crops for export profit. These slave-based enterprises wreaked ecological havoc on the native environment, just as imported animals generated tragic catastrophes; and worse, European diseases were to ravage--in some cases extirpating--indigenous populations.

Columbus suggested transporting West Indian natives to work in the Spanish sugar cane plantations [cultivation having been introduced by the Moors in the environs of Valencia and Grenada]. Isabella was against it. When Columbus sent two boat loads of slaves back to Spain, the Queen ordered them returned. After her death, King Ferdinand consented to recruit the first large contingent of African slaves needed in the burgeoning Spanish sugar industry in 1510. By this time the Portugese were growing sugar cane with slave labor in Brazil....Dutch traders got into the act around 1500: skillful seamanship made it possible for them to engage in cut-rate shipping--slaves were sold on credit to make up for a late start.

In the beginning, Queen Elizabeth I shrank from institutionalizing slavery in the British colonies as "detestable," something which might "call down the vengeance of heaven" on her realm. By 1588 her sentimental scruples had been overcome. The Queen granted a royal charter extending recognition to the Company of Royal Adventurers of England into Africa, which gave them a state monopoly on the West African slave trade.

[ William Dufty, Sugar Blues, Warner, New York (1975), pp. 32-33; also the excellent chapter on "Production" in Mintz, pp. 19 ff. ]

Early plantation slaves worked crops of sugar cane, coffee, tobacco, and cotton. Factory-made cotton cloth undermined the cottage industries of weaving and spinning, and provided another popular trade commodity based on the institution of slavery. Not that the invention of the cotton gin relieved plantation slavery in the Old South; it only made the institution all the more profitable. Other Colonial harvests were processed into commodities that European farmers could not produce at home, but which soon came to be eminently attractive. European society developed intense and addictive desires for the new trade stuffs, necessitating work in a money economy to pay for the sugar, caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and bleached white-flour bread. Englishmen, women, and children were induced to work under frightful conditions in order to satisfy cravings for what may frankly deserve to be called drugs as much as any of today's more sensationalized controlled substances. In particular, the case of sugar is revealing:

At the time of its introduction to Britain [before 1300], sugar was prohibitively expensive, a courtly luxury in a price class with the most expensive drugs on the market today. At $25 a pound, it was the equivalent of a year's salary for a working man....In the mid-sixteenth century, by the reign of Elizabeth I, the price had been cut in half. By 1662, Britain was importing 16 million pounds of sugar a year. The cost had been cut to a shilling a pound, which was equivalent to the cost of three dozen eggs. Two decades later the price was cut in half again. By 1700, the British Isles were accounting for 20 million pounds a year. In a century span, the consumption of sugar had gone up eightfold. In another hundred years, Britons were spending as much on sugar as they spent for bread.

[ Dufty, Sugar Blues, pp. 36-37. ]

The increased use of sugar with caffein-containing beverages help to illuminate the relationships between slavery, the expanding money economy and the supply of addictive substances as inducements--sops and hooks--for the swelling population of urban industrial workers. Of course, the basic principles of civil and personal liberty must be invoked with great vigilance in order to neutralize the zealous concern about what other people do, or do not, put into their own bodies. Both the pronouncements by governments, in their demagogic crusades against what are so ambivalently called drugs, and the righteous indictments of dedicated social and moral reformers ignore sugar. Incidentally, these perpetrators of anti-drug ballyhoo, in overlooking sugar, miss important points established by the study of history and explored in the thoughtful writing of physicians. It must be said that glucose (basic sugar as metabolized from ordinary foods) is the principal means by which the human body transmits energy; it is simple chemical fuel. But processed white sugar may be something else.

The real trouble with white sugar is that, like heroin, it is too reinforcing. Most of us are sugar addicts who would have great difficulty going through a single day with no sugar whatever. A great deal of our food contains hidden sugar, added by manufacturers to make it taste right to us. This dietary excess is certainly the principal cause of dental caries. It might also be an important factor in our tendencies toward obesity and cardiovascular disease. Also...there is some evidence that premature deposition of cholesterol in human arteries is correlated with a disorder of sugar metabolism rather than one of fat metabolism.

I am certain that people would eat less sugar if the only cane product they could get were panela ["the true and only raw sugar"]. It is much easier to be a regular, heavy consumer of the refined product, just as it is much easier to get hooked on heroin than on opium. Perhaps, then, the problem with refining natural substances into white powders is that we lose in the process certain signals that encourage us to use potentially harmful things in moderation. The disagreeable taste that builds up as cane juice is boiled down might be a clue telling us not to seek sweetness in concentrated form beyond a certain point. The nausea produced by opium should suggest to poppy lovers that they limit their intake and dosage.

[ Andrew Weil, "Is Heroin as Dangerous as White Sugar?" in The Marriage of the Sun and the Moon: A Quest for Unity in Consciousness, Houghton Mifflin, Boston (1980), p. 137. ]


The irony of HOW Marcel Duchamp's Ready-mades bridge the gap between mass-produced items of the Industrial Revolution and the scarcity-commodity productions of fine art, needs a brief recapitulation of events to be fully appreciated. Exploitation of the Earth's resources by the plantation system, dependent upon the institution of slavery, yielded short-term profits from cash crops, the most prominent of which were processed into an array of potentially addictive substances: sugar and alcohol, caffeine and nicotine. These key products of "expanded commercial enterprise" became particularly important commodities consumed by erstwhile peasant farmers newly transformed by the Industrial Revolution into an urban proletariat drudging in factories to produce, as a top priority, weapons for war and "national defense." European imperialistic conquest and colonial expansion used ships and cannon, muskets and pistols, axes, ploughs and saws as principal instruments for subjugating native populations and desecrating the natural environment. A portion of the private fortunes thus amassed went to build lavish country estates and town houses, and to collect (among other properties) works of art as the prime prizes of materialist desire. Many of these precious objects were eventually enshrined as fine art in new eponymous institutions, lionizing heroic, enterprising individuals, exonerating greed and glorifying the entire process as progress, purporting to be "development" and the spread of civilization. The poet Edward Dorn explains:

[ Dorn, "The North Atlantic Turbine," pp. 186, 187-188. ]


France was the first of the European nations, in 1807, to abolish the slave trade by law. But this improvement in the plight of the worker in France came only after years of complex and bitter struggle. With the French Revolution in 1791, workers guilds were abolished. Construction was then under way on the new bridges over the Seine, and the union of building workers (charpentiers) sought to establish a minimum wage. Their direct approach to the employers was ignored, so the workers appealed for intervention by the Muncipality of Paris.

Bailly, the Mayor of Paris..., [replied] publicly with a manifesto...which solemnly reaffirmed the theoretical principles of liberalism which had led up to the abolition of the guilds, and condemned the very existence of the workers' associations let alone their demands...."Those who entered these workers' unions, or who encourage them, are plainly going against the law, are enemies of freedom and punishable as disturbers of the peace and of public order."

[ Benevolo, Modern Architecture, p. xv. ]

When people today recall the ringing rhetoric of the French Revolution, they usually fail to recognize that liberty, equality and fraternity then was only intended for the rising bourgeoisie, who had no intention of extending these rights to the peasant and working classes. The grand philosophical abstractions of Freedom inspired empty political declamations; Duchamp's ironic commentary on Liberty may be read as the oval void cut out of the (French-American) Statue of Liberty's face, allowing André Breton's to show through.

[ Cover and Jacket for Young Cherry Trees Secured Against Hares by Andr Breton (1946). Schwarz, Cat. 327, p. 522. The Liberty alluded to might well have been that of Breton's young wife, then being pursued (so ran the gossip) by a gentleman surnamed Hare. The idealized model for the "Liberty Dime," is supposed to have been Martha Washington. ]

Freedom and Liberty can be taken to mean many different things. To businessmen and members of the middle class after the French Revolution, Freedom meant evasion of state control; but to workers, as in previous times, Freedom implied a reasonable standard of living guaranteed by a minimum wage. The employers in 1791 pressed what was then a "liberal" position, resisting regulation by the government, and threatening to impose their own low-wage conditions by force, since they held the organizing of workers to be illegal conduct which

"constitutes an outrage against the rights of man and the liberty of individuals" and is counter to the principles of the economy, "since competition alone is enough to contain mutual interests within their natural limits."

[ Benevolo, Modern Architecture, p. xvi.]

Slavery did not go away by itself in other parts of Europe either. The Portuguese had maintained their own corner on the slave trade with purportedly clear consciences since 1454, when Pope Nicholas V extended his blessing to "attack, subject, and reduce to slavery the Saracens, Pagans, and other enemies of Christ" along the coast of Africa. A nineteenth-century engraving illustrates, with the most appalling implications, slaves being transported in the hold of a ship, in spaces three feet, three inches high, designed to accommodate molasses barrels of the same dimensions. In the traders' cruelly efficient effort to maximize profits, these wretched human beings were physically imprisoned like the ball of twine in With Hidden Noise.

As late as the 1820s, slavers bound for Brazil still packed over five hundred human beings into a space measuring less than nine hundred feet square and just over three feet high.

[ Reay Tannahill, Food in History, Stein and Day, New York (1973), p. 261. The illustration is from Rev. R. Walsh, Notices of Brazil in 1828 and 1829, Volume 2, London (1830). ]

In England, Quaker farmers planted the sugar beet in order to provide a substitute for cane sugar, while registering their moral condemnation of slavery by boycotting one of its principal products. But the politically powerful commercial backers of the sugar cane industry in Britain demanded that both the Quakers and their sugar beets be uprooted. Following persecutions, many in the Society of Friends made their ways to Pennsylvania; and the sugar beets in England became cattle-feed.

A full generation before the Emancipation Proclamation, Great Britain in all its colonies (to America's shame), as a result of efforts by the Christian militant William Wilberforce, abolished slavery as a FORMAL institution (hence, Dorn's "standard trick of conscience"), in 1833. In the same year working hours in England were (benevolently?) reduced to sixty-five hours per week for young people under eighteen, and to forty-eight hours per week for children under thirteen. In 1842, the factory law prohibited women and children working in mines. Of course, mining coal led to making coke, to fire the furnaces, to smelt the iron and steel, to make the machines, to manufacture the products, to sell to the bourgeoisie or colonists, to get the money, to lend out at throttling interest rates, and so forth. Then, in 1844, a moderate upwelling of qualified social compassion moved the British Parliament to prohibit the employment of children under the age of nine in the textile industry. These protections complemented a program of extended compulsory schooling for children, and certainly did not intend to grant THEM any greater liberty. And reformers of the old Poor Law, which

guaranteed everyone a certain subsistence level based on the price of bread...were also averse to fixing any minimum wage and preferred to keep the traditional workhouses, ensuring that conditions there were worse than those suffered by even the poorest workers in the outside world....

[ Benevolo, Modern Architecture, p. 39. ]

Among those people who had skills, and who could maintain jobs, the power to secure decent wages in what became increasingly a money economy depended largely upon the extent to which workers in a common craft could be organized for effective collective bargaining. In the iron and steel industries of the latter nineteenth-century, these craftsmen were overwhelmingly white, male and native born; laborers were also exclusively male, but in America were older immigrants and black; while the factory operatives upon whom the new mass-production industries depended were the young European immigrants and women. Women, youths, immigrants and blacks had few successes in their struggles against the abuses of foremen, and in resisting wage cuts.

Craftsmen, thanks to their skill and indespensable technical knowledge, retained a considerable degree of control over their work, which they defended systematically through mutualistic ethical codes which effectively regulated output, and also through highly exclusionary trade unionism. But craft struggles for control, which frequently became highly politicized, suffered crushing defeats in the face of employer and state opposition, as illustrated by the dramatic 1892 Homestead strike.

[ Ruth Milkman, in "David Montgomery's The Fall of the House of Labor: A Roundtable Symposium," Radical History Review, Volume 40 (Winter [January], 1988), p. 91. Montgomery's book is subtitled The Workplace, the State, and American Labor Activism, 1865-1925, Cambridge University Press (1987); see pp. 22-24 and elsewhere. ]

Following the prescriptions of Frederick Taylor, scientific management was applied to restructure American industry in the early decades of the twentieth century, de-skilling workers--first the machinists--in order to break their hold on critical knowledge. With renewed employer power and state repression, the trade union movement was routed in the 1920s; the factory typically made workers more passive, with mechanization obviating craftsmanship and undercutting human dignity, indeed like the dark satanic mill of William Blake.

For this reason...we find ourselves oddly attracted to the pre-industrial skilled artisan, and a little afraid to learn what contemporary workers really think and feel. (When E. P. Thompson studies the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries he writes about the working class as a whole, but when he comes closer to the present he discusses the ideas of William Morris.) For it may simply be the case that the ideology of what Montgomery calls "mutualism"--the vision of a cooperative commonwealth, which he and others have found richly present in the lives of American workers during the period 1865-1914--has, for the most part, been absent in the seventy-odd years since.

[ Radical History, Staughton Lynd, p. 100; Montgomery, pp. 4. 171. ]

In the late twentieth century with virtually a global pool of labor to benefit transnational corporations, the communications industry remains perhaps the most viable arena in which unions can maintain some real bargaining power--but that situation may only continue if (or until) international credit flow is fully automated. Meanwhile, the contemporary craving for whole-systems approaches to restructuring American industry is surfeiting on traditional all-embracing paradigms from the Orient. So much so, that recently there has emerged a new order of unsavory envy directed at the problematical Japanese (Korean or Mexican) commercial success stories. But the superficial, short-term values employed to construct such venal romances blithely ignore child labor, the robotization of the human workforce and its exploitation in circumstances tantamount to slavery, or the failure of national economies to reinvest their paper wealth as infrastructure--so while the yen may rise against the dollar, the roads are terrible, and the average Japanese has no flush toilet.

(S)ince human beings were unable to produce an intelligent tool capable of outperforming man as a tool, the technological basis of slavery continued to exist throughout history. In fact, the revival of slavery in early United States history demonstrated that even the tools of modern America could be well-used by slaves. In other words, the disappearance of slavery was due to the social unacceptability of the shameless treatment of our own kind as mere tools....Nevertheless, as long as the human race lacked intelligent tools that could outperform man as a tool, some form of subjugation of man by man, or even the possibility of a revival of slavery, could continue to exist.

[ Hassan M. Ghandchi and Jean A. Ghandchi, "Intelligent Tools: The Cornerstone of a New Civilization," The AI Magazine, Volume VI, No. 3 (Fall 1985), p. 104. The authors propose Artificial Intelligence as a new alternative, with which "we can expect the technological basis for any kind of human slavery to disappear in the near future." (p. 105) ]

Originally, the stonemasons had enjoyed a preferred status by commanding the market, as it were, since their skills directly determined the defensive military capacity of both bishop and prince. As we have noted above, it was precisely through separation of church and state (which came about in part from competition between their respective ecclesiastical and secular employers), that masonic organizations were able to negotiate successfully the terms of both physical freedom and the liberty to wander, as well as the legal freedoms defined with respect to those other powerful social institutions of church and state. That is why in the United States (to use the deliberate masonic metaphor) the keystone of personal political freedom has been set in the space created by the SEPARATION of church and state. Thus, guarantees of freedom in the temporal realm, as spelled out word for word and letter for letter (like blocks of stone) in the "edifice" of the Constitution, are to be shared by all citizens, no matter what they may happen to believe--if anything, or if nothing at all--about the realms eternal.

Assuredly, it seems, a continuity of teachings--particularly about basic geometry and arithmetic--was passed down from great antiquity through successive generations of stonemasons. Just so, these practical teachings also could have supplied a vehicle for other instructions addressing the subject of freedom, and modes of behavior appropriate for its guarantee. With periodic corrections, and infusions of new technical information--such as those documented by the Notebooks of Villard de Honnecourt in the Gothic--this tradition and lineage of practical knowledge, though not always flourishing, had survived from remote antiquity down to the Renaissance. The practical power base from which masons could successfully negotiate their freedom and fair pay lasted until, during the Renaissance, the use of gunpowder and canon--especially following the studies in ballistics by Tartaglia--invalidated the stone wall as a sufficient means of military defense. But by then the whole social and cultural game was changing, and it seems that printers were perhaps in the best position--by virtue of their interactive experiences and direct control over the flow of information--to inherit a function of secular intellectual leadership from stonemasons. Eventually the dignity of such leadership has passed to legislators and judges, poets and philosophers, artists and scientists, and--at least in the democracies --to the well-informed and aware citizen.


Around 1450, the true revolution of mass production began with the appearance of movable type in Western Europe. By the end of the century, printed books made possible the interplay between precisely repeatable letters, numbers and images. Unlike the phenomenon of the Renaissance in the visual arts, in which the different media evolved, each at a different pace, depending upon whether one were north or south of the Alps, the printing revolution happened all over Europe almost simultaneously, and everywhere had the same effects. The cultural sense of what constituted important and useful knowledge had itself changed, and a fundamental shift of power inevitably followed.

Reliance on apprenticeship training, oral communication, and special mnemonic devices had gone together with mastering letters in the age of scribes. After the advent of printing, however, the transmission of written information became much more efficient. It was not only the craftsman outside universities who profited from the new opportunities to teach himself. Of equal importance was the chance extended to bright undergraduates to reach beyond their teacher's grasp. Gifted students no longer needed to sit at the feet of a given master in order to learn a language or academic skill. Instead, they could swiftly achieve mastery on their own, even by sneaking books past their tutors--as did the young would-be astronomer, Tycho Brahe...[who, later, was to have a paper mill on his own estate in Denmark].

As learning by reading took on new importance, the role played by mnemonic aids was diminished. Rhyme and cadence were no longer required to preserve certain formulas and recipes. The nature of the collective memory was transformed.

[ Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe, Cambridge University Press (1983), p. 34. ]


This suggests another symbolic interpretation of the "icon of dichotomies" represented by With Hidden Noise. The two brass plaques bear several types of inscriptions: painted and engraved, printed and cursive, cryptic (as in the ciphered dots and letters) and declamatory (as in the signature and date). The literate tradition then, is represented by and on the metal plaques that are separated, held apart by the four brass bolts every bit as much as they are joined by them. The ball of twine, in contrast, is integral, continuous; and the cord or line is the time-honored symbolic representation for the oral tradition. The expressive qualities of these material elements reinforce respective symbolic associations. The literate: hard and rigid, inorganic material (metallic brass) in two separate rectanglar pieces with sharp edges and pointed corners, but clear-cut in its manner of presentation, anyway, if not in its meaning. By contrast, the oral tradition is symbolized by soft and flexible, organic material (hemp twine) in curvilinear forms of twisting strands wound into a torus, and again around itself, with both ends secretly tucked in, but unambiguously calling forth the image of continuity.


In mid-fifteenth-century Europe, after two thousand years, the new printing technology introduced as profound an order of change, mutatis mutandis, as that which had revolutionized Greek culture when alphabetic writing was first invented. The technology of the medieval scribal tradition was only an adjunct to oral transmission, but the spread of printing swiftly unraveled the involuted lineages of church authority as the availability of printed editions facilitated cross-referencing and comparative studies. During the second half of the fifteenth century, scribal secrets of information control were bruited about and literacy blossomed wildly. Old texts were gathered and reprinted, together with translations from Greek and Arabic, maps and charts, atlases, and various scientific and medical works forming

new combinations of old ideas at first and then, later on, the creation of entirely new systems of thought.

[ Eisenstein, The Printing Revolution, p. 44. ]

Among the first functions of the printing revolution was the bruiting of traditional secrets and occult lore. At times what remained were only vestiges of once whole and coherent systems, reduced to dessicated strands of information, tantalizing fragments or unfathomable glyphs. Nevertheless, this body of information, accumulated over the centuries as it infiltrated and permeated even pedestrian scribal records, acquired great prestige as "magia and cabala." And this preserved ancient wisdom was presumed to have been set down in some original, primordial text that printers and Renaissance scholars were eager to reconstruct, edit and publish.

Certain cosmic cycles and life cycles are experienced by all men, and so common elements could be detected in the fragments and glyphs. It seemed plausible to assume that all came from one source and to take seriously hints in some patristic works about an Ur text [or Urtext, i.e., primordial manuscript] set down by the inventor of writing, which contained all the secrets of Creation as told to Adam before the Fall. It also seemed plausible that the teachings contained in this Ur text, after being carefully preserved by ancient sages and seers, had become corrupted and confused in the course of barbarian invasions. A large collection of writings containing ancient lore was received from Macedonia by Cosimo de Medici, translated from Greek by Ficino in 1463, and printed in fifteen editions before 1500. It took the form of dialogues with the Egyptian god Thoth, whose Greek name was Hermes Trismegistus. The writings retrieved in the fifteenth century seemed to come from the same corpus of texts as other fragmentary dialogues known to earlier scholars and also attributed to Hermes Trismegistus. The Hermetic corpus ran through many editions until 1614, when a treatise by Isaac Casaubon showed it had been compiled in the post-Christian era.

[ Eisenstein, The Printing Revolution, p. 45. No doubt that Renaissance scholars had made a "radical error in dating," as charged by Casaubon, in mistaking a neo-Platonic work for one which preceded and influenced Plato. But Eisenstein also suggests that the source material cannot necessarily be dated by the time of its compilation, and quite probably derives from very much earlier sources. ]

The print medium and the "delay," or preservation function of publication, precipitated an extensive cross-cultural interchange between artists and scholars, practitioners and theorists. Printing led to new combinatory activities, sustaining and encouraging the great, collective explosion of scholarship that assembled, criticized, reviewed, updated and expanded upon ancient and traditional wisdom.This activity, in turn, generated knowledge of an entirely new order.

Increasing familiarity with regularly numbered pages, punctuation marks, section breaks, running heads, indexes, and so forth helped to reorder the thought of all readers, whatever their profession or craft. The use of arabic numbers for pagination suggests how the most inconspicuous innovation could have weighty consequences--in this case, a more accurate indexing, annotation, and cross-referencing resulted....Systems of charting the planets, mapping the earth, synchronizing chronologies, codifying laws, and compiling bibliographies were all revolutionized before the end of the sixteenth century....But the great tomes, charts and maps that are now seen as "milestones" might have proved insubstantial had not the preservative powers of print also been called into play.

[ Eisenstein, The Printing Revolution, pp. 72, 77. ]

The calculations of medieval stone-cutters and architects, written down, corrected and printed, became the basis of much broader learning. By establishing a widespread convention of using standard arabic numerals, printing offered efficient means by which numerical mathematics could expand and develop in Western Europe far beyond levels attained in any previous culture. The new mathematical disciplines, in turn, provided foundations for an enduring edifice of achievement--both artistic and scientific--as in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach or in the theories of Galileo, Descartes and Newton.


Printers soon evolved into publishers. Their new roles as brokers of information frequently required them to learn new languages, to meet many different people with differing views about religion and the new science, politics and economics, and to bridge both time-factored and geographical cultures. They became masters of the information world as stonemasons before them had also developed a taste and capacity for freedom, both physical and philosophical.

As the key figure around whom all arrangements revolved, the master printer himself bridged many worlds. He was responsible for obtaining money, supplies, and labor, while developing complex production schedules, coping with strikes, trying to estimate book markets, and lining up learned assistants. He had to keep on good terms with officials who provided protection and lucrative jobs, while cultivating and promoting talented authors and artists who might bring his firm profits or prestige. In those places where his enterprise prospered and he achieved a position of influence with fellow townsmen, his workshop became a veritable cultural center attracting local literati and celebrated foreigners, providing both a meeting place and message center for an expanding cosmopolitan Commonwealth of Learning.

[ Eisenstein, The Printing Revolution, p. 26. ]

When clockmakers, and as we have seen, locksmiths, armorers and gunsmiths as well, applied to their respective crafts the principles of mass production learned from masons and printers, they came to occupy leading roles in the technical development of the Industrial Revolution. It is no mere coincidence that the social and political revolutions of America and France followed a course closely parallel to the new shifts in power and authority brought about corresponding changes in the distribution of information. Nor can it fail to impress the perceptive student of history that a grand poetic theme unites all expressions of the central paradigm in which a higher order of unity is fashioned from--or recognized by--a multiplicity of constituents.

Anciently, this notion may have been illustrated by the repeatability of mud bricks in Mesopotamia, or along the banks of the Indus and the Nile, with obvious allusions to the community of dwellers in newly conceived cities. With the appearance of stonemasonry and the importance placed upon careful measuring and practical geometry,the ideas emerged of freedom for the individual (eventually a free citizenry), and of craftsmanship, skill and training (eventually free, universal education). The idea of repeatability appears again with the design of movable type, becoming extended metaphorically to ideas of social, economic and political equality, in a free, modern democracy.

Concepts of interchangeability and repeatability, evolving from clock or gun parts to lathes and bicycle wheels, pervade the creative arts of the early twentieth century, generating (eventually) a new and vastly expanded bank of aesthetic imagery. They obviously contributed to developing the mechanical methods of production and communication--as yet pre-atomic and pre-electronic--that brought the Industrial Revolution to an early phase of culmination, as was seen expressively formulated in the "mass-produced" Ready-mades by Marcel Duchamp. The extraordinary role model for artistic freedom supplied by Duchamp derived in no small measure from a course in printing he took in 1905, which gave the young, would-be artist a basic printer's competence. Duchamp's initial motivation, however, was to circumvent (with peace-loving finesse) the standard three years of compulsory military duty.

[B]eing neither militaristic nor soldierly...I went through the steps necessary to find out what one could do without being a lawyer or doctor, since these were the two usual exemptions. That's how I learned that there was an examination for "art workers," which allowed one year's service instead of three, under the same conditions as those of a lawyer or doctor. Then I wondered what kind of art worker I might be. I discovered that one could be a typographer or a printer of engravings, of etchings. That's what they meant by art worker. I had a grandfather who had been an experienced engraver; our family had saved some of his copperplates, on which he had engraved really extraordinary views of old Rouen. So I worked at a printer's, and I asked him to teach me how to print these plates. He agreed. I worked with him, and passed the examination, in Rouen. The jury was composed of master craftsmen, who asked me a few things about Leonardo da Vinci. As the written part, so to speak, you had to show what you could do by way of printing engravings. I had printed my grandfather's plate, and offered a proof to each member of the jury. They were enchanted....I had the impression that I wouldn't go very far as a soldier....That was fine, however. Then I was discharged. So I became completely exempt from further military service.

[ Cabanne, Dialogues, pp. 19-20. ]