The Dymaxion World of Buckminster Fuller
Utopia or Oblivion
Bucky: A Guided Tour of Buckminster Fuller
The servile specialist, eloquently ignorant of any department of thought but his own, and therefore fundamentally ignorant of essential relationships in his own field, was undoubtedly a product of the Brown Decades: but it is our own fault, not that of the earlier period, that he has become a chronic malady of our intellectual life, instead of a passing maladjustment.
Lewis Mumford wrote that forty-two years ago, and we have little to show for the years since except the knowledge that the chronic malady has been nurtured into a cancer. Knowledge becomes special knowledge, expertise, as though that were the only kind there is, or the only kind that could be trusted.
Mumford and Buckminster Fuller are extraordinarily active men now in their late seventies. Mumford has just published Interpretations and Forecasts: 1922-1972, “the one-volume Mumford: the essential thought,” except it isn’t, because his writing on cities is being reserved for a second volume. Something with Fuller’s name on it is appearing all the time. At hand are Earth, Inc., a small collection of short things done over the last twenty-five years; The Dymaxion World of Buckminster Fuller, which is mostly a collection of drawings and photographs; Utopia or Oblivion, a reissue of a 1969 collection of some of Fuller’s finest performances; perhaps most welcome of all is the best book on Fuller yet to appear, Bucky, by Hugh Kenner.
Both Mumford and Fuller are well known, but because neither is a specialist, they may have cause for wondering how much their prolonged and learned efforts have ever really been accepted. We have no name for such people. Specialists employ ugly terms, ranging from the condescending “generalist” to the curled lip “amateur” to, at least in Fuller’s case, “crank” and “crackpot.” Fuller sometimes calls himself a “comprehensivist,” which won’t do, and not only because it isn’t accurate. Mumford would probably just call himself a writer, but when someone calls himself that, he is often assumed to be out of a job, and being out of a job tends to mean being out of a university job, a specialist’s job.
The specialist, looking at Mumford or Fuller, is free to ask: What do they know? What definitive work did they do? The Library of Congress has trouble classifying their work, book-stores don’t know in what section they belong. We can invite Mumford and Fuller to give keynote speeches, we can give them impressive sounding awards, but what we really want is the person who wrote the best biography of Zachary Taylor, the best study of the effects of northern urbanization on first-generation immigrant blacks, the best account of the influence of Milton on Wordsworth. In the sciences we don’t even want books at all, just articles that report the findings.
The first thing to say about Interpretations and Forecasts is that Mumford’s early work is a pleasure to read, or reread. Here is a sample:
In the bareness of the Protestant …