18th December 2016. – U.S.A

Having grown up in a small village just outside Sandringham, Norfolk and having been blessed with the element of choice throughout my life, one would assume I stand looking from a differing viewpoint to say the Greek, Turkish and varying other nationalities of friends I have now acquired at university. One could also assume that more locally, the difference of view I hold regarding politics, finances, society and toward my career, differs from that of my London born colleagues. This difference it seems is also illustrated within a few of influential figures lives incorporated in this week’s text; ‘U.S.A’ by John Dos Passos. (see Henry Ford and Frank Lloyd Wright)

John Dos Passos was born in Chicago, 1896. His father was a well regarded Lawyer and after graduating from Harvard in 1916, he served in the US medical core during World War 1. Once Passos had returned to Chicago, he settled writing poetry and went on to become a successful writer of various fictional Novels, or that is how he is portrayed in his online footprint. Having now read several ‘newsreels’ from U.S.A I find it slightly odd that after twenty minutes of searching for the book in a local bookshop, I was eventually taken to the opposite corner of the large multi-floored building and given the book from a ‘fictional authors’ section. So much of the book appears to be decidedly factual it appears the ‘fictional’ label just allowed Passos to add some juicy additional details to stories without having to reference them; anyway, who is complaining, after getting past the daunting size of the book, it is really a rather enjoyable read.

So John Dos Passos is not from a background such as mine, unlike Henry Ford, one of his chosen subjects. His vignette into Ford tells of a boy in his late teens leaving his family at a farm in the countryside and heading for the city to embrace the central factory works, from which he becomes frustrated at the inefficiency and strives to ‘create and improve’, until such time as he personally produces the much loved production line that we still benefit from today.

Passos references a time in which riots would be held at factory gates, workers fighting to secure the limited jobs available under the great Henry Ford and those opportunities afforded by such a position. A victim of its own success the production line was said to have reduced production of a car to 81 hours from mining for material to propulsion from its own engine, unbelievable for 1926 really! Ford didn’t need as many workers and those it did need; it didn’t need for as long or as intensely as the business model once demanded. Regular redundancies followed and interestingly Passos then moves onto Henry Ford’s life post the purchase of his own now somewhat smaller company, previously owned by shareholders. Passos writes of how Henry Ford lived out his days as “a passionate antiquarian, back at his father’s farm hiding in thousands of acres of private land, surrounded by staff hoping that gangs of ex workers won’t kidnap his grandchildren”.

This is a really interesting take on a wildly influential figure of industrialism in both America and the world’s history. Humble beginnings and humble endings! I wonder how many others such as myself, head for the ‘big smoke’ even on a daily basis in hope of success on an industrial scale and also how many of those return to Norfolk with their tail between their legs having learnt their lesson, or simply angry at ‘the man’ and the society we have created.

I think I shall re-visit this blog from another standpoint in a couple of weeks over the Christmas break, maybe focusing more on somebody like Frank Lloyd Wright from the U.S.A ‘novel’. It would almost be interesting to imagine John Dos Passos writing from a farmhouse in Texas, without the influence of his Father and Chicago, his fiction, one would assume would take another form as the design resolutions do so interestingly between nationalities in my studio at university each week.


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