Soul Misappropriation, 2013

Misappropriation of Soul: A Reflection on Matthew B. Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft

© 2013 by Lili Bernard

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.

– Ephesians 6:12

And now you do what they told ya
And now you do what they told ya
And now you do what they told ya  . . .

–  Rage Against the Machine 

It is pointless to relate the writing of a theorist, who secularizes the meaning of the word “soul,” to my artwork which has everything to do with the word “soul,” as defined by Spirit. I will therefore embark upon this paper as an exercise in another element of my artistic practice: the soulfulness of my scholarship. In doing so, I will illuminate how my theoretical interests are in complete contrast to the readings commonly assigned in art theory classes. 

When setting out, for example, to read Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew B. Crawford; I suspected that the writing would have little to do with soul, by mere virtue of the fact that it was assigned in one of my graduate art school classes where the reading and discussion of atheistic theory is commonplace.  The preponderance, in graduate art school reading assignments, of theoretical texts written by White male atheists, is staggering.

I suspected that Crawford might equate soulfulness with things material and with cognition, a byproduct of the gray matter in our skulls. I doubted that he would engage us in a conversation on the incorporeal essence of immortality that defines soul.  It therefore came without surprise, to find a void of the discussion of spirituality in Crawford’s text, despite the presence of the word “soul” in its title.  I had seen the misappropriation of the word “soul” in the title of a text by another White male philosopher, Franco Berardi, assigned as a reading in another art theory class.

The title of Berardi’s text, to which I refer, is Soul at Work.  Like Crawford, Berardi’s text also explores autonomous labor as it relates to alienation – alienation defined as the rift between labor and life, according to the atheist, Karl Marx, whom Berardi and so many other White male theorists espouse.

Unlike Crawford, however, Berardi states concisely, at the beginning of his soul-entitled text, that the soul he will discuss has little to do with spirit. The third sentence in Berardi’s text reads, “I want to discuss the soul in a materialistic way. What the body can do – that is its soul, as Spinoza said.”  It is no wonder that the Jewish community of 1600’s Amsterdam expelled the outspoken Spinoza from their congregation.  After all, it is commonly believed across religions, that the flesh is but material, prone to sickness and sin, and to dust it will return — whereas the soul is incorporeal, pure and eternal.  It exists beyond our limited understanding.  The soul never falls ill and it never dies.

Yet, like Berardi, Crawford aligns the soul with things material and cerebral.  Without any mention of soulfulness, Crawford describes manual labor as delighting in “competence” which instills “well-founded pride.” This is contradictory to the natural humility of soul, of which his title speaks.  Crawford writes of the “richness of manual work – cognitively, socially, and in its broader psychic appeal.”  He redefines soulfulness as being egoistic and territorial.  He states, “Spiritedness is an assertion of one’s own dignity . .  it is characteristic of the spirited man that he takes an expansive view of the boundary of his own stuff.”   This is an embezzlement of the word “soul.”  It is also a colonialist attitude, which is in complete contrast to the stuff I write.