hardware store literature : tools (and nails)


from John Todd: the story of his life told mainly by himself (1876); more on Todd here

A few nails entries appear further down this page, here.

Below are authors and titles of all the tool pieces that have run in The Believer, mostly in 2003-04, and a couple since then. Some of these bring up full text, others only excerpts. Thanks to Elline Lipkin for this.

more to come?

  1. Ivan Illich, from his Tools for Conviviality (1973) —

    A convivial society should be designed to allow all its members the most autonomous action by means of tools least controlled by others. People feel joy, as opposed to mere pleasure, to the extent that their activities are creative; while the growth of tools beyond a certain point increases regimentation, dependence, exploitation, and impotence. I use the term tool broadly enough to include not only simple hardware such as drills, pots, syringes, brooms, building elements, or motors, and not just large machines like cars or power stations... [but also factories] and productive systems for intangible commodities such as those which produce education, health, knowledge, or decisions.

    Tools are intrinsic to social relationships. An individual relates himself in action to his society through the use of tools that he actively masters, or by which he is passively acted upon. To the degree that he masters his tools, he can invest the world with his meaning; to the degree that he is mastered by his tools, the shape of the tool determines his own self-image. Convivial tools are those which give each person who uses them the greatest opportunity to enrich the environment with the fruits of his or her vision. Industrial tools deny this possibility to those who use them and they allow their designers to determine the meaning and expectations of others. Most tools today cannot be used in a convivial fashion. (pp 20-21)

    These passages, and indeed Illich’s entire argument, resonate now, as hyperindustrialized Japan starts bumping against natural, infrastructural and institutional limits to its 50-year-long miracle. The text resides online here.

  2. Work, life, tools : The things we use to do the things we do / based on an exhibition created by Milton Glaser and the Steelcase Design Partnership (1997), features a ruminative essay by Stanley Abercrombie in addition to mini-essays by 50 people about a tool in their lives.


  3. Giuseppe Bellucci (1844-1921). I chiodi nell’etnografia antica e contemporanea. Perugia: Unione tipografica cooperativa, 1919


    The above (rather emblematic) image — dried pig heart, pierced by pins — is taken from this fascinating volume that frames nails more broadly and in greater relief than I’d previously understood. It is here that I learned of the tradition of monumental sculptures, made of wood, that are completed when their entire surface has been enclosed by nails. The locus classicus of this may be the Iron Hindenburg, described by the New York Times (5 September 1915) as a thirty-foot wooden statue which will be sheathed with gold, silver, and iron nails purchased in the interest of a fund for the rehabilitation of East Prussia.

    top of page

  4. See also the entry for Samuel Beckett his Film (1965), here.


    top of page