There’s an interesting prejudice in our culture, at least in the official classes, that science and technology ” the study of material things – is in some way superior, at least, economically, to the life of the mind. Indeed, I have myself on occasions been persuaded that jet engines are more important than tragedy, but maybe I’m beginning to change my mind. Or, at least, disambiguate where I’m coming from.
Harold Wilson’s decade of The White Heat of Technology left Britain technologically bereft. It was also a decade when some really rather quite interesting things happened in music, art, film, architecture, design and literature. Melancholy and introspection, beauty and meaning, are surely rich sources of human intellectual wealth ?
I was put in mind to write that first paragraph by an extraordinary letter I recently received. It was unsolicited correspondence citing the writer’s technical credentials. A most bewildering catalogue of expertise was appended. I do not mean to mock; only to evoke the unintended poetry underlying even technological credentials. By reproducing the appendix here I merely want the reader to share my sense of wonder at the scope of human endeavour.
Process plant contracting in Europe
Centrifuges and mixers
Plant and port locations in Europe
Water and effluent treatment
Oil and petrochemical products
Price-elasticity of sodium metal
Acid-resistant bricks and tiles
Pipeline transportation of minerals
Lightweight and dense aggregates
Building board from waste paper
Contracting plant and plant hire
Vehicular diesel engines
Steel stockholding in East Anglia
Blowmoulding and thermoforming
Markets for thin rubber sheet
World markets for printing machinery
Coated materials in graphic arts
Radiator level warning devices
Educational electric motors
Scientific instruments in Italy
Value of meteorological services
The malt industry in UK
Pressure relief devices
Size reduction machinery
Organic octane improvers
Direct nitrogen fertilizers
Custom grinding of minerals
The pre-cast concrete industry
Double T beams
Bricks in Northern Ireland
Hydraulic ball motors
Heavy machine tools
Stainless steel tube
Shrinkwrapping and labelling
Paper converting machinery
Cats iron cooking pots
Clay pigeon traps
The carpet industry
Fruit juices from Brazil
I find this list a thing of beauty. Superior in its strangeness even to the compellingly odd section on “Science and Miscellaneous” in The London Library (where you can find Flagellation and Bee-keeping). This is a list that Francis Picabia should have compiled and Max Ernst should have illustrated.
Tell me. Have you ever read anything more mysterious than “Market for thin rubber sheets” ? Anything more poignant than “radiator level warning devices” ? Another more horrific that “the carpet industry” ?
The real mysteries of life are not the invisible things, but the visible ones. It’s now more than fifty years since C.P. Snow declared there were two cultures. I’m still agonising about it, but contemplating a life spent in “hydraulic ball motors” may push me one way. In future I will use this list as a specific against doubt.
I have a favourite book in a tertiary loo. It’s subject is odd, but real, book titles. The one I like best is “Penetrating Wagner’s Ring”. But music and art are, I think I’m concluding, as nothing to the comedy and tragedy of “Steel stockholding in East Anglia”.