Forwarded from Nestor (plumbing)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Thu Jul 31 09:48:48 MDT 2003

(I don't remember writing anything like what Nestor is responding to. 
Lou Paulsen possibly?)

Louis Pr. wrote:

I was reminded of what John Gardner once said, "The society which scorns 
excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in 
philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good 
plumbing nor good philosophy.  Neither its pipes nor its theories will 
hold water".

Nestor adds:

Good sholars admire excellence in plumbing. Here´s some proof.

During the 1920s and particularly the 1930s, there was a great debate 
(which many viewed almost as a war on the literary front) between two 
literary and aesthetical groups in Buenos Aires.

Both groups were quite distinct, though some writers flowed in between, 
with friends on both shores. The Florida Group (named after the 
sophisticated street in downtown Buenos Aires where its members used to 
meet) was for pure art and an irreverent though harmless aestheticism. 
They were mainly "apolitical" although they tended to respond to the 
basic oligarchic liberal dogma.  The Boedo Group (named after what by 
those days was an avenue in a working class neighborhood; the group used 
to meet at some café or printing house on that street) was for social 
art and proletarian ideals.  It had distinct left-leaning flavor, many 
of its members being active Anarchists or Communist Party members. Most 
of them were working class writers themselves.

Some, as Roberto Mariani, were clerical workers. Mariani, in particular, 
managed to superbly portray the asphyxiating atmosphera of the office 
clerk in his _Cuentos de la Oficina_ (short stories that somehow could 
be taken as a forerunner to Mario Benedetti´s first poems and short 
stories; not a surprise if one remembers that these stories were written 
in Montevideo, during the 1950s, that is in an environment that 
resembled the Buenos Aires office of the 30s). Others, like Elías 
Castelnuovo, were blue collar. Castelnuovo, an Anarchist who, unlike 
most of his friends of those times turned pro-Peronist after 1945, was a 
plumber by profession. And this is how Gardner comes to find support.

One evening, during the late 70s, I had the honor to drive Castelnuovo 
from his little house in Liniers (an outskirts neighborhood in B.A.) to 
a meeting in Congreso (a downtown area). It was a stormy evening, and 
the whole Niagara, Iguazú and Victoria falls seemed to be pouring down 
from the lightning-laced sky. During the trip, the already very old man 
told me the following story:

The storm reminded him of something that had happened to him during a 
similar night in the United States. He and other Argentinean writers had 
been taken there on some cultural exchange tour (I suppose that this 
must have happened during the early 50s). During the tour, the group met 
some scientists, among whom Albert Einstein. They were to have dinner, 
when an unexpected problem in the plumbing system put the whole room in 
danger of dismal flooding. Everyone gazed each other in awe, till 
Castelnuovo said "I am a plumber, maybe I can be of help", and fixed the 
problem. Then, everybody felt really relieved and they could have dinner 
in peace.

Castelnuovo made a short stop at this point of his story. I stared at 
him during a red light, with an all too obvious youthful "and-so-what" 
face. Castelnuovo -who most probably had expected me to stare at him 
exactly that way- finished his tale: "Some time later, Einstein was 
asked what he would have liked to be if he had not been a scientist. Do 
you want to know what did he answer?  'A plumber', burst Castelnuovo in 
laughter: 'a plumber', he said, a plumber --like me!".


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