Monday, March 9, 2009

Presence or Absence

Low quality in product and service is bugging Rus and Cliff lately. The weather's unsettled, we don't feel like we're either here or there, and we reach but cannot hold.
There's something missing and I think I saw what that is yesterday. While Nancy had some business at Camp Hill Shopping Center, I wandered around the suburban apartment complex nearby to work up an appetite for our upcoming free lunch at Arby's (it is economically advantageous to be married to the Coupon Queen). This nameless sprawl is older, but not low-rent, given its location in the second most prosperous community in the metro area. It was, however, appalling in its resolute and regimented blandness. Lots of grass to maintain, and mulched beds with 1' high shrubs, but no outdoor space to actually use. Barracks, chicken coops, human warehouses splayed out like spokes on a broken wheel with no center... I realized this was all built and operated by bean-counters to generate income for absentee investors. Aristotlean rationality only -- and there is the problem. No quality here, in design, function, architecture or that indefinable joy in nature; if creativity and the numinous are not partnered with cognition, there is nothing to enjoy, nothing to love, no sense of purpose.
Quality is a force, like nature, hard to identify except in its presence or absence. To the complete rationalist, these do not have real existence, and certainly no value, because you cannot quantify them. One of my many gripes with the WWII and Silent generations is this rejection of wholeness and authenticity (which led to ugly entities like the apartment complex) and embrace of the artificial and the strictly ordered. Life and joy must be killed on sight; cold, quiet isolation and obedience to the authorities in power are your lot. You must surrender your senses. Buy something on credit.
Try to research "quality" and all you will find will be about business processes and products. I remember hearing about TQM, Total Quality Management, the biz buzzword at C&P Telephone decades ago. I foolishly thought they were on to something until I read it and burst out laughing. No chance. The only thinking on this elusive concept, quality, was by Robert Pirsig in his 1974 book, "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," which is a sort of Socratic dialogue taking place during a 17-day motorcycle journey to California. He found it hard to describe, but the quick take is that to understand the concept and experience it, a person should use both sides of the brain, rationality and Zen-like nonconceptualizing. Using these "maps" together, that apartment abomination could have been designed and built to be profit-producing and a pleasant place to live.
I can't be objective here, but compare the Justin Timerlake/Janet Jackson Superbowl performance a while ago to Bruce Springsteen's this year. Which one was authentic and true?
More apples to apples, compare a Chevette and a Honda Civic.
Or try Clark's shoes and whatever Wal-Mart offers. Whom do you trust on that?
More lack of objectivity, but put Miles Davis and any rap fool side-by-side. Or Ray Charles next to any top-20 "country" fool.
Maybe the American idea of quality is just what thrills a shallow ego, like McMansions and Escalades.
Why are quality people so rare? I've got a unique one here who glows like Venus in the sky. And I remember three artistic families from years ago in Richmond, who were so unlike the usual suspects that they might have been aliens.
Budweiser and Sam Adams. Do people think they don't deserve quality, or just have no clue?
So quality has to be teased out; it cannot be present if we do not care enough to know ourselves.
Quality lasts, most would admit. Time is powerless to diminish Bach's music. What is done well and truly is done forever.
Once we had a perfect pizza at an outdoor cafe near the Pantheon in Rome on a sunny, vibrant day. That was it, what we can't define in words; but we know it when we see it, feel it, taste it, or hear it. But not very often.

No comments:

Post a Comment