Monday, August 01, 2005

Metavision, or See More Glass

I had a rather mind-blowing television experience yesterday. I flicked on the tube, and became mildly absorbed in some sort of cheerful PBS documentary about American industry—basically saying that there are pockets of vibrant labor in the hinterland. A Sony TV factory in Western Pennsylvania put together all sorts of sets; the interesting thing was that the glass for the screens came from nearby. Across the street was a glass factory, where they turned sand into glass. This whole process was fascinating; the combination of robot/automatic and human labor was hypnotic. I liked watching orange glowing bricks getting pressed into shape. (There are two glass parts to a television, the front or "panel" portion and the rear "funnel" portion.)

Then my fascination went through the roof when I realized I was essentially watching the creation of my own TV . . . on TV . . . I was looking through the glass of my Sony television to gaze upon a scene of a scene of Sony-television glass making!

* * *

Postscript: I realized just now that this morning, browsing through the Encyclopedia Britannica on my way to Worms (the town in Germany, not the annular creature), I chanced upon this entry, which I enjoyed so much I wrote it down. Glass must have been on my mind...

"WHIMSEY GLASS, also called FRIGGER, glass with no utilitarian purpose, executed to satisfy the whim of the glassmaked. Such off-hand exercises in skill are almost as old as glassmaking itself. Some of the earliest pieces blown for fun are boots and hats made in Germany as early as the 15th century. Boots and shoes reached a high point in popularity in the 19th century, when they were made of every conceivable style of glass, blown or molded. Whimseys came to satisfy an increasing craving for souvenirs, especially of the numerous international trade exhibitions of the 19th century, and to be used eventually for advertising."

This reminded me of Luc Sante's great memoir in a recent Granta, in which he talks about how, working at a plastics factory before college, he made useless but somehow amusing doodads out of the scraps:

“[U]sing as a base an unidentified transparent cylinder that might have been part of a pill box, you could pile up widening rings of bullet-shaped tree elements, also in clear plastic, sticking them on when they were still hot from the mould, ending up with a conical whatsit you could pretend recalled a crystal chandelier.”

But the whimsey glass entry also suggested an interesting parallel, perhaps, to the playfulness attendant upon the birth of any new art form—well, I'm thinking specifically of the novel, how in things like Don Quixote and Tristram Shandy we already see the authors bending the form silly, interrogating it, investing it with all sorts of digressions and squiggles.


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