Obstract on: Screws and Nails.

Screws turn and unturn, unlike nails which cannot be easily undone. Screws permit error and reconstitution. Quieter as well than nails and hammers, their force is unweaponlike. Built for re-use, unscrewing; there’s no such thing as unnailing. Nails represent finality— Martin Luther did not screw his 95 Theses to the door at Wittenburg. Manifestos are nailed; essays are screwed. The nail holds by friction, in ways that I can’t say that I fully apprehend. If the nail goes in, and has made a space for itself, tunneling into the material, is friction alone enough to keep it there? The answer’s “yes,” but this doesn’t click for me. What happens when proven empirical facts do not seem right; when they don’t reckon with our imagination? Magnets still don’t register (V.J. and S. 2 Dope; 2009). As far as fasteners go, screws make perfect sense. Unequivocally a work of human genius, they are the most sophisticated and diabolically aesthetic of the simple machines: lever, wheel, pulley, ramp, wedge, and screw.

Screw (1)

A nail is a wedge, obviously. The screw’s elegance comes as a smooth continuous change of direction (rather than of magnitude). This is revealed in the illusion the screw gives when it turns; it seems as if the threads are climbing or descending rather than just turning (like helical windchimes). It fucks with our Gestalt. We watch the one part of the edge as it “rises” when really it’s only turning.

Here’s the weird thing: screws do the same thing to our perception or gestalt as they do to the materials they enter and bind: gently and slyly forcing to ascend or descend linearly while circling itself in place. This simple machine plays the exact same trick on both mind and matter. I’m now looking for more examples of this, in which the same action works both physically and non-physically. Not as rare as it may seem, is this actually happening in countless feats of engineering, hitting simultaneously both physical effect on the one hand and theory on the other? Is the screw, then, a pronounced example of something more general or is it only because the screw “makes sense” and “reckons” with the imagination, and the nail doesn’t?

Screw, large (2)

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