My time in China has taught me the pleasure and value of craftsmanship, simply because it’s so rare. To see somebody doing a job well, not just for its own reward, but for the satisfaction of good work, thrills my heart; it doesn’t matter whether it’s cooking or candle-making or fixing a bike. When I moved house some years ago, I watched with genuine delight as three wiry men stripped my old apartment to the bone in 10 minutes, casually balancing sofas and desks on their backs and packing the van as tightly as a master Tetris player.
But such scenes are an unusual treat. (And, after losing the card for my master movers, the next time I shifted house, the moving team did a fine imitation of the Three Stooges.) Instead, the prevailing attitude is chabuduo, or ‘close enough’. It’s a phrase you’ll hear with grating regularity, one that speaks to a job 70 per cent done, a plan sketched out but never completed, a gauge unchecked or a socket put in the wrong size. Chabuduo is the corrosive opposite of the impulse towards craftmanship, the desire, as the sociologist Richard Sennett writes in The Craftsman (2008), ‘to reject muddling through, to reject the job just good enough’. Chabuduo implies that to put any more time or effort into a piece of work would be the act of a fool. China is the land of the cut corner, of ‘good enough for government work’.
Why write a Twitter essay? While thoughts might be concise in a Tweet, a Twitter essay allows for incredible amounts of fluidity. As a writer is putting together a Twitter essay, other users can actively respond while it’s being written and form the shape of the final product—a Twitter essay is a communal project, or performance. Watching a Twitter essay unfold is like watching a concert, not the recording; it’s like attending an author’s reading, not reading the book itself.
Twitter is maybe one of the most ideal places to watch a draft shape itself into a finished essay—a public place for us to learn the bones.
Standing still for forty minutes—absolutely still, without moving a finger or shifting your line of sight—is something few of us have ever been called on to do. Even fewer have done it naked while circled by twenty people whose gazes are intently focussed on each bend and angle of your body. What I can report of it is this: nothing I’ve ever done, before or since, has afforded me such a state of concentration—intense, extended, charged. I would run whole passages of text—Baudelaire, Rilke, Ponge, whomever I’d been reading, even my own small works in progress—through my head, forward, backward, taking apart each image, amplifying each metre and sub-rhythm in the loaded silence. I probably learned more about literature in the six months I spent on the podium than in the three previous years of study.
When you read Ms. French — and she has become required reading for anyone who appreciates tough, unflinching intelligence and ingenious plotting — make only one assumption: All of your initial assumptions are wrong. This author drops just enough breadcrumbs through her book to create trails that lead away from whatever the detectives’ conventional wisdom happens to be, and she doesn’t follow up on them until she’s good and ready.