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Lau-Tzu Essay, Research Paper

We turn clay to make a vessel;

But it is on the space where there is nothing

That the utility of the vessel depends.

Lao-Tzu 1

When we fill the jug, the pouring that fills it flows into the empty jug. The emptiness, the void, is what does the

vessel’s holding. The empty space, this nothing of the jug, is what the jug is as the holding vessel. . . . From start to

finish the potter takes hold of the impalpable void and brings it forth as the container in the shape of the containing


Martin Heidegger 2

These twenty six ewers by Peter Beasecker are a sustained meditation and inquiry within the medium of their facture on the

form of the ewer. This also is a meditation and an inquiry on the form of the ewer, in another medium. The dialectical

oppositions engaged by contemporary clay works–craft and art traditions, utilitarian and aesthetic objects, active use and

contemplative regard, vessel and sculpture, surface and form, decoration and depth, concept and process–ramify in both the

medium of their facture and the medium of this discourse. In both work in clay and in discursive engagement of those works,

these terms deeply implicate their opposites.

Form is a matter not simply of shape, but of the structure of the ewer as such, the necessary conditions of ewer-ness, a

particular case of the vessel-form. The vessel-form, as Heidegger notes, can be as quotidian as a jug for holding something:

The jug is a thing as a vessel–it can hold something. To be sure, this container has to be made. But its being made

by the potter in no way constitutes what is peculiar and proper to the jug insofar as it is qua jug. The jug is not a

vessel because it was made; rather, the jug had to be made because it is this holding vessel. 3

The jug is, and is thus a thing. The holdingness of the jug is its whatness, constituting the jug as a vessel. The particularities of its

vesselness constitute the vessel as a ewer, and indeed as this ewer, with these characteristics. Juxtaposing several things

together is to invite their comparison. Beasecker’s ewers arrayed on shelves manifest their similarities and differences, eliciting

comparison. Each of these ewers is a token within the type ‘ewer’. The type is the universal, the class of things; the token is the

particular instance, a member of the class. 4 Members of the class ‘ewer’ notwithstanding, each of these works is an individual,

in a sense analogous to the application of the term to persons. The indiviudality of these pieces extends beyond the status of all

artworks as quasi subjects:5 it is manifested by the inflections of form, evoking resonance with the gesture of the body.

Variations within a type, these works are also variations from the type ‘ewer’ and variations on the type ‘vessel’. Consequently,

this essay is of necessity an exercise in interpreting the variorum. 6

The traditional type ewer is a wide-mouthed pitcher or jug, typically with a narrow neck, more or less bulbous body tapering

and then swelling intto a relatively wide flairing foot. As the derivation of ewer from aquaria suggests, the ewer is traditionally a

vessel for bring and pouring water for hand washing. 7 The general form of the ewer is similar to the classical Greek oinochoe,

wine jug. Beasecker’s interpretations of the ewer-form maintain the neck of the ewer, which in Beasecker’s pieces assumes the

function of an absent handle. Beasecker’s pieces exchange the wide mouth, extended into a lip for pouring, of the traditional

ewer-type for a thin, attenuated spout, emerging not as a modification of the mouth opening from a neck but rather extending

directly from the body of the vessel. Freed of the necessity of pouring, the mouth can assume any of several shapes, suitable for

filling the vessel; relative to the spout, the mouth is proportionately large. The result of this seperation and concomittant

specialization of function is a vessel quicker to fill than to empty. This potential for relative ease of filling in comparison to

slowness of pouring out emphasizes the function of the vessel as container, holder of liquid. To receive, to hold, and to pour out

slowly is to concentrate attention on these functions. That which performs these several functions is a thing, a type of thing

termed vessel. But any number of variations, of shape, of surface, might be given to things within this type. These variations are

the articulations of nuanced inflections of form and thus of the particularities of form and content within the type. These

articulations are the expression of the way the particular ewer-thing stands forth. The form of the particular ewer-thing is its

stance, its gesture, its way of being- in-the-world. This gestural aspect of the ewer-thing’s particularity of form is given in its

distal, visual aspect. Regarding the ewer distally, visually, is to engage its sculptural qualitites. But it is also given in tactile

perception, and through this proximal apprehension conditions the hand in the handling of the ewer-thing in its use, emphasizing

the utilitatian vesselness of the ewer. Together, these modes of appprehension of the thing in the particularity of its thingness thus

conditions the gesture of its use. This conditioning of the user’s bodily gesture in the use of the thing is a nuancing of stance, of

the user’s way of being- in-the-world. Attending to the nuancing of stance and gesture in filling and holding and pouring from a

vessel is a reflexive attending to one’s way of being-in-the-world. Attending is a being-present, and in attending to one’s

disposition in being-in-the-world, one is the clearing in which being has presence to being. Centering clay on the wheel and

centering the self are deeply related, as Mary C. Richards suggests. 8 So also is the contemplative using of a ewer.


1 Lao-Tzu. Tao Teh Ching, XI. Passage quoted in C. G. Jung, Synchronicity, trans. R. F. C. Hull. (Princeton: Princeton

University Press, 1969), p. 70. Return

2 Martin Heidegger, “The Thing,” Poetry, Language, Thought. Trans. Albert Hofstadter. (New York: Harper and Row,

1971), p. 168. [”Das Ding,” in Vortr?ge und Aufs?tze, lecture given at Bayerischen Akademie der Sch?nen Kunste, 6 June

1950; initial publication in Jahrbuch der Akademie, Band I, Gestalt und Gedanke 1951, pp. 128 ff. Return

3 Martin Heidegger, ibid. p. 159. Return

4 For the distinction of type and token, C. S. Peirce, Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, v. IV, eds. C.

Hartshorne, P. Weiss (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1933), p. 423. Cf. Nelson Goodman, Languages of Art: An

Approach to A Theory of Symbols (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1976), p. 131, n. 3. Return

5 The term ‘quasi subject’ is Mikel Dufrenne’s; see The Phenomeno- logy of Aesthetic Experience (Evanston: Northwestern

University Press, 1973), pp. 146, 196, 299. Return

6 I have appropriated the title and more from Stanley Fish, “Interpreting the Variorum,” Is There a Text in This Class? The

Authority of Interpretive Communities (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980), pp. 147-173; cf. Fish’s

“Interpreting ‘Interpreting the Variorum’,” ibid., pp. 174-180. Return

7 The etymology of ewer is from Middle English, from Norman French, from Old North French eviere, from Vulgar Latin

aquaria (unattest- ed), from Latin aquarius, related to water, from aqua, water. OED III.356, s.v. Return

8 Mary C. Richards, Centering: In Pottery, Poetry, and the Person (Middleton: Wesleyan University Press, 1962); see ch.

1, “Centering As Dialogue.” Return

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