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The Brick, the Plate, and the Uncarved Block. LEGO® as an Expression of Dao

Steve Bein

One of the great virtues of LEGO® is that it has the potential to make any one of us a Master Builder. By itself, of course, the brick is silent. It offers potential, not guidance. For that we can turn to instruction booklets, or the MOCs of other creators, or even to the greatest sculptors of history. Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) was a Master Builder if ever there was one, and many a LEGO fan has recreated his famous Thinker. What can Rodin teach us about making our own masterpieces?

When asked for his secret to sculpture, Rodin said it was quite simple: “I choose a block of marble and chop off everything I don’t need.” That may leave you wondering: has Rodin said nothing about sculpture, or has he said everything?

“Both,” says the Daoist sage. It’s the sort of answer that makes the most famous figures of Western philosophy want to pull out their hair. From their perspective, the problem with the answer is its lack of clarity. By contrast, from an Eastern perspective, such imprecision can be a virtue. Indeed, the founding texts of Daoism are riddled with indefiniteness. In one of its most quoted passages, the Daodejing says that in order to be a good ruler you have to “return to being the uncarved block.”1 That’s it. We get no further context. Now what in the world is that supposed to mean? And if it means anything at all, why not spell it out it more clearly?

LEGO® and Philosophy: Constructing Reality Brick By Brick, First Edition. Edited by Roy T. Cook and Sondra Bacharach.

© 2017 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Published 2017 by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

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