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 cathedral of Geneva one has the beginnings of the hard barracks architecture which formed the stone tenements of seventeenth-century Edinburgh, set a pattern for the austere meeting-houses of New England, and finally deteriorated into the miserable shanties that line Main Street. The meagerness of the Protestant ritual began that general starvation of the spirit which finally breaks out, after long repression, in the absurd jamborees of Odd Fellows, Elks, Woodmen, and kindred fraternities. In short, all that was once made manifest in a Chartres, a Strasbourg, or a Durham minster, and in the mass, the pageant, the art gallery, the theater—all this the Protestant bleached out into the bare abstraction of the printed word. Did he suffer any hardship in moving to the New World? None at all. All that he wanted of the Old World he carried within the covers of a book. Fortunately for the original Protestants, that book was a whole literature; in this, at least, it differed from the later Protestant canons, perpetrated by Joseph Smith or Mary Baker Eddy. Unfortunately, however, the practices of a civilized society cannot be put between two black covers. So, in some respects, Protestant society ceased to be civilized.
Mumford is blessed precisely because he has no subject, only a train of thought he is following; on another occasion he might remind us of the virtues of Mary Baker Eddy or the shortcomings of medieval Christianity. He is free because he is appealing not to our ignorance but to our knowledge, to rearrange what we already know—Main Street, Odd Fellow jamborees, Chartres—into a new configuration:
Once the European, indeed, had abandoned the dream of medieval theology, he could not live very long on the memory of a classic culture: that, too, lost its meaning; that, too, failed to make connections with his new experiences in time and space. Leaving both behind him, he turned to what seemed to him a hard and patent reality: the external world.
It seems almost effortless as Mumford does it. We were taught that the Renaissance had to do with humanism and that humanism had to do with the “rediscovery” of ancient literature, but we were never convincingly told why that should make such a difference. The reason, Mumford assures us, is that it didn’t, and, furthermore, what we can see as important, like the voyages to the New World, or Galileo, was indeed what is important. No need to ask whether Mumford has his facts exactly right, or all the facts he should have; no need, thus, to argue with him, to suggest that the Protestant achievements of Spenser, Rembrandt, and Milton were as impressive as anything in medieval culture. Fact-mongering, scholastic argumentation are irrelevant, because Mumford is not driven by a need to be original or definitive; he appeals, instead, to our sense of the humanly reasonable and possible.
It is what I, however fumblingly, went to college to hear, and heard all, too little, but enough to convince me of the enduring importance of this way of thinking and writing about the past. Later, of course, would come the stern admonitions. “Historians,” even “history majors,” and especially “graduate students” had to be suspicious of such ease, freedom, and generality, such unscientific and unverifiable assertions. I don’t think I ever really believed such admonitions, work though I did to find out who wrote the standard biography of Charles II. But what I did do was to turn to writers like Mumford less often than I once had done. I remember a splendid review of his of the last four volumes of Toynbee’s Study, which is regrettably missing from this collection, but Mumford’s new books in those years were called In the Name of Sanity and The Transformations of Man, and so we drifted apart, and I think now we were both right and both wrong.
My experience did allow me a great sense of freshness in rereading what Mumford has chosen from The Golden Day, The Brown Decades, Herman Melville, and the somewhat later The Condition of Man. Confident of the greatness of human variousness, Mumford approaches each figure without method or bias: Emerson, Thoreau, Melville, Jesus, Augustine, Aquinas—the portraits are usually small, but lithe, alive, telling. Of course some figures remain obdurately beyond Mumford’s temperament, but, one notes, because they are narrow and powerful, like the apostle Paul, Rousseau, and Hume, and Mumford responds best to those who are, like himself, flexible and capacious. But these flaws are just that, the necessary shortcomings of one man just because he is only one man.
To say all this is to imply misgivings about some of Mumford’s later work. It is not that his interests have changed, but urgency and gloom have infected him. Look at Mumford, in 1948, linking the over-use of the printing press with the evils of specialization; look at how a fine paragraph is, to my mind, marred in its final sentence:
…the mere multiplication of our mechanical facilities has so swollen the output of printed matter, that if any human being attempted to keep up with it in the most cursory way he would have no time left for any other activity…. Each specialist, by agreement, pays attention to the narrow column of water that works his particular turbine, and automatically rejects contributions that flow in any other channels: even as he turns aside, perhaps more decisively, from the broad silt-laden river of human experience from which all these activities derive…. Either to explore the past or keep up with the present becomes increasingly impossible: so that our capacity for assimilation may be said to vary inversely with our capacity for production; and eventually this will have an unfortunate effect upon our creativity, indeed on our very rationality. When our frustrations finally become acute, we may be tempted, like Hitler’s followers, to seek in mere charlatanism and quackery some short cut to order.
What, in the next-to-last sentence, is an “unfortunate effect” is expanded, in a frustrated and unthinking way, into the followers of Hitler and the rest. Mumford has gained from the war a bludgeon; faced with an enemy, and in need of a weapon, invoke the Nazi experience.
Near the end of the same essay, the sourness becomes more acute:
About any and every machine, above all about the technical process itself, the critical question is: How much does this instrument further life? If it does not promote human welfare, in the fullest sense, an atomic pile is as disreputable as a pinball game or a juke box.
Pinballs and juke boxes—disreputable? The cheap horror show of the Fifties is upon us, the endless baiting of popular culture for its vulgarity, the equally endless denunciations about the standardization of life and the dehumanization of men in cities. Mumford plunges in, as if unaware that Philip Wylie, or Vance Packard, or a reasonably literate and would-be cynical sophomore, sounds just that way:
If the goal of human history is a uniform type of man, reproducing at a uniform rate, in a uniform environment, kept at a constant temperature, pressure, and humidity, like a uniformly lifeless existence, with his uniform physical needs satisfied by uniform goods, all inner waywardness brought into conformity by hypnotics and sedatives, or by urgent extirpation, a creature under constant mechanical pressure from incubator to incinerator, most of the problems of human development would disappear. Only one problem would remain: Why should anyone, even a computer, bother to keep this kind of creature alive?
Much of Mumford’s writing of the Fifties and Sixties is like this. One need do no more than to compare this passage with the first passage from Mumford quoted above, which is also about the uncivilizing of civilization.
The fear of the religion of the machine and the corresponding fear of the religion of centralized power take over, and, as fear will, it strikes Mumford dumb: “By a total inversion of human values, the favored leaders and mentors of our age prefer disease to health, destruction to creativity, pornography to potent sexual experience, debasement to development”; “In this shift to a world directed solely by intelligence for the exploitation of power, all of post-historic man’s efforts tend toward uniformity”; “By our overvaluation of physical power and scientific truth, aloof from other human needs, we have paid the same price Faust had to pay when he made his compact with Mephistopheles: we have lost our souls.” On and on it goes, essay after essay bloated and yet empty, the voice urgent, but losing its authenticity in clichés.
Yet, yet. If, in The Culture of Cities of the late Fifties, we find this same heavy, effortful, repetitive fear in the later chapters, we also find one grand evocation after another of the culture of older cities in the earlier ones. Even more striking, more reminiscent of the best in Mumford’s earlier work is the series of reviews he has done for this journal in the last decade—in the present collection are reviews of a biography of Audubon, a book on Eakins’s photographs, and the notorious and nefarious Belknap Press edition of Emerson. The piece on Audubon, especially, is splendidly loving, praising, fully critical, detailed, morally and emotionally flexible. So let it be clearly said that there has been no slowing down or atrophying of powers; there has, rather, been a tendency to lapse, to let some familiar and often justified fears of modern life become absolutes.
This is hardly the occasion for a full assessment of Mumford’s achievement; we need, as I have said, the companion volume on cities. But I know few in the next generations who combined the grace, the breadth of inquiry, the urgent yet urbane disinterestedness that one finds in Mumford, in Wilson, in Lippmann, in Parrington, although none of these figures, I think, conveys either the rich sense of individual personality or the enduring wisdom that one finds in the greatest English prose writers of the late eighteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries. It may be too soon to judge what Mumford and the others have left us. They have no heirs of anything like their stature, and few even want to celebrate their virtues.
Of course Mumford and Buckminster Fuller are similar in many ways: the same sort of inquisitiveness, the same distrust of specialization, the same kind of civilized puritanism, the same distaste for the short-sighted and the shoddy. Mumford, however, came of age in what we think of as the usual way; he published his first book in his late twenties, he secured his audience and his insights roughly simultaneously so that we can speak of him as belonging to a particular generation. Fuller spent many years struggling in obscurity, never totally failing but never succeeding either, and so never losing the sense that he was by himself, driven back onto his own native resources.
During the years Mumford wrote The Golden Day and The Brown Decades Fuller worked for the Armour meat people, tried unsuccessfully to market a substitute for the common brick invented by his father-in-law, developed something he called 4-D, which is still obscure, appeared at the Chicago World’s Fair with his Dymaxion car, which impressed many, but never went into production. Then there came the Dymaxion house or dwelling place, the Dymaxion map, and still later the World Game and the famous geodesic domes, of which there are many examples, but which never went into production either; and howto books about domes, which were not endorsed by Fuller himself, led to more failures than successes. Fuller’s career itself is something that never quite worked or went into successful production. He is an interesting man, but neither his admirers nor his denouncers have ever known how to assess him.
Which is why it is good to have Hugh Kenner’s Bucky. It offers much too favorable a view to satisfy many, but it is often steady or cautious precisely where Fuller himself is most fuzzy, enthusiastic, and heedless; it can be recommended as the work of a sober admirer, and, because Hugh Kenner wrote it, as an exercise of mind. The opening chapter offers a small autobiography that ends:
Such was my own route to what everyone sooner or later confronts: the generic twentieth-century problem, discontinuity. Have we still lines of communication open with Jefferson, Socrates, Christ? Or have we spot-welded about ourselves a world we can’t think about? Must you just let it hit you?
Kenner has always discussed literature and history in ways that seem bizarre to a specialist; he doesn’t like to take things one at a time, this poem and that writer. In The Counterfeiters he discusses Pope and Swift by way of The Stuffed Owl anthology, a mechanical duck made by an eighteenth-century Frenchman, Charles Babbage, Buster Keaton, and Andy Warhol. He wants a Whole, what Buckminster Fuller calls a coordinate system, a means whereby history can intelligibly end with the present, and the present can make sense:
A guide, not an outline. His dynamisms don’t submit to outline. “People expect one-picture answers,” he says, implying that they should think of cinema sequences. There’s no more a definitive arrangement than there was for the parts of the Dymaxion Map I bought at Mac’s. That map, like his lectures, was meant to correct a misleading view of the world. Yet one of its arrangements can look like Mercator’s—which was true enough to sail by, after all—and one of the ways I could arrange this book would make Fuller’s talk seem systematic. I could also make it look like a string of platitudes, or like a set of notions never entertained before, or like a delirium. I won’t do any of those things. It’s a poet’s job he does, clarifying the world. That’s the emphasis I understand best.
Fuller is a poet, after all, so many can let themselves relax, feeling they no longer have to take Fuller seriously, because poets, they know, clarify no worlds larger than their own private ones. But Kenner’s poets have always had a way of doing more than that:
Should we muff our part of the world’s work irretrievably—a possibility he does not ignore, though his optimism is famous—then it will have been Fuller’s achievement anyhow to show a vision of what might have been Pythagoras, long ago, glimpsed what might have been, a harmonious civic and intellectual sanity. That vision, what survives of it, no one thinks mistaken, though Greece itself perished.
The claims are both modest and huge. Fuller can be systematized, made platitudinous, or totally original, or delirious, so it is only a conjuring trick, it seems, that makes him not any of these, but a poet. Yet the poet does much, clarifies the world, shows that might be.
Since Kenner’s sentences are totally linked to one another, I cannot possibly reveal the charm and intensity of his proceedings, only indicate emphases and offer an example or two. The major emphasis is on Fuller as a performer, a tireless world traveler who gives marathon “lectures,” lasting between four and six hours, many times a year. Those who try to “get” Fuller by reading him are at a disadvantage and may well be inclined to think him simple-minded, or a pop scientist, or a fraud, which must count as a limit both to his capacities and to his ultimate influence. Those who have heard him, however, know that the point about him is not the particular “points” he makes, most of which in isolation are easy to grasp and to discard, but rather the leaps, the line he casts out between one knot that he ties and the next. Furthermore, in the cold light of print—and Fuller’s most recent books are transcribed performances—one notices that things are often not quite right, as Kenner remarks:
Yet barely a detail is invulnerable to someone’s carping. Names are wrong, or dates. Paraphrases are hasty. When Bucky commences a sentence “Einstein said…,” you can be sure that an Einstein specialist would take half an hour persuading you that what Einstein had in mind was a good deal more intricate. As for his irrefutable assertions, a committee would tell you that they were fervent platitudes, scraps from some specialist’s alphabet. His science is “superficial.” His mathematics is “trivial.”
One sees how Kenner loads dice; all objections are called carping, and done not by physicists or mathematicians but “Einstein specialists” and committees. Yet Kenner is right. In performance what is wrong seems to matter little, because Fuller when performing makes the particular points minor, and the star-spinning from one to the next entrancing.
This may indicate why Fuller is so beloved, and scorned, and even feared. He seems to cast a spell that makes interested listeners into something like followers, and those who seek to dismiss him know that spell-binders have been suspect for a number of centuries. Those who claim to chart the universe are often known for having too easy answers; in response to such people, specialists, who could be trusted, came into being, and they soon demonstrated that the universe could not be charted. They piled up such huge storehouses of specialized knowledge that any one person’s knowledge of more than a little bit of it would have to be inaccurate, or superficial, or trivial. So let us accept this. As a knower, as someone speaking about history or chemistry or physics or architecture, Fuller is seldom going to be as accurate, as subtle, as comprehensive as at least some and maybe many specialists in each of these “subjects” might be. But is there nothing left? What is left is Fuller’s faith, and we should try to say what that faith consists of, for it has often been misunderstood.
Fuller’s faith rests on a denial of original sin. “He believes,” says Kenner, calling the belief Emersonian, “that Character is by definition disinterested, and that conflict does not arise unless through selfishness, a corruption of character.” He also believes that men have been selfish and corrupt because there simply was not enough to go around. The act of making one man rich is the act of making another man poor, said Ruskin, and, replies Fuller, that was much more true a thousand or five thousand years before Ruskin than it was in 1862, and much more true then than now.
The reason is, simply, the human mind, the great anti-entropic force. Men have for centuries been becoming aware of and learning nature’s processes, and, since nature always does things in the most efficient way possible, men have learned how to get more from less, how to reduce the amount of slave labor or man hours it takes to build a house, get a boat from Tyre to Athens, grow grain in a field. Any politics based on a principle of exploitation must, then, someday and perhaps soon, become obsolete; if we continue to believe in the capacity of the mind to understand the processes of nature, we can make men more productive, more at home in the world, less menial, less exploitative, less polluting.
The unborn, says Fuller, are uncorrupted. “Nevertheless,” Kenner quickly adds:
if they are born into our environment they will turn out like us. That is how the sins of the fathers are transmitted; surroundings which model a deficient imagination impress its deficiencies upon the impressionable. The jailor’s son believes in jails. The slum child grows up coping with slums. Squares live in cubes, cubes shape the next generation of squares. The house is the most immediate environment, and hovering in Bucky’s mind between metaphor and reality, the house became his prime theme when he talked of regenerating man.
Fuller no longer makes such an emphasis, but that isn’t really important. Let’s pick up Fuller at a point where almost anyone would scream:
Children are born naturally to truth or reason. Protect them in it mechanically and they need never lose it. The new industrially produced home will accomplish this.
The most generous one can be with such a statement taken by itself is that it smacks of pitchmen of the Thirties and the 1939 New York World’s Fair. But it isn’t, again, the example that is crucial; here is Kenner on the principle in question:
Were houses mass-produced, where would architects’ commissions go? But we hardly think to impute to them self-interest, so strongly are we conditioned against the phrase “mass-produced.” Yet books are mass-produced. Milton was not offended by the sameness of any two copies of Paradise Lost. Sheet music is mass-produced. Prints are mass-produced. The writer, the composer, the designer, each brings his prototype to the best perfection he can manage, and then entrusts it to a factory. Indeed by the 1960s a constructivist in steel could instruct the factory by telephone. Such things shape our intellectual environment, and our bodies too are produced by automation. The refined prototype, mass-produced: that is nature’s way with trees and cats and human frames, and the poet’s way and the shipbuilder’s.
The house is the example, mass production is the principle, nature is the designer. Does that make the unborn uncorrupted? Yes, say Fuller and Kenner, because only human selfishness and folly corrupt, as they interfere and blunder with nature’s processes, of which the unborn are an example. The mind learns to leap, from the apparently abhorrent “new industrially produced home” to Milton’s mass-produced poem, to nature’s mass-produced trees and people.
But have we done in all this anything more than engineer the term “mass-produced” into a splendid and slick metaphor? At a later point in Bucky, Kenner conducts a dialogue with a skeptic who has a go at Fuller’s scheme of linked tetrahedra in chemical bonding: “Bucky’s is a pretty intuitive model, but it is not chemistry.” Kenner answers,
I will concede a large problem area, in which three different things tend to get mixed up: a coordinate system, a set of quick analogies, and the actual modeling of natural structures. All a coordinate system needs to claim is that it is close enough to actuality to give an economical accounting.
Kenner is right in the sense that Newton’s laws of motion are right, and not right. But to make such a claim for coordinate systems is not to make that claim for any one system, including Fuller’s, and when Kenner moves off the point here, I feel, as I do more than once in Bucky, that I don’t know what Fuller’s systems teach beyond his articles of faith that nature always works in the most economical way possible and that the mind can understand these workings so as to make man a success in the universe. To accept “mass-produced” things and not to fear them in a Luddite or even in a Mumfordian way is not of course to guarantee that mass-produced houses will keep the young uncorrupted.
When Kenner’s skeptic says, “If there has been no possibility of evidence for human sweetness, then what Fuller must ask is blind faith,” Kenner himself is reduced to answering, “True, and it is an endearing faith.” It is surely only Kenner’s own imperturbability that makes the word that follows “True” not a “but” but an “and.” Yet he may well be right:
Bucky’s work, seen part by part, is a story of crisis and failure, buildings that don’t get built, industries that don’t get financed, theories that don’t get heard. Seen whole, it is an effort to develop a vast new paradigm, the synergetic vision. Scientists have evinced no special eagerness for it, because their response is to scientific crises, in between which they feel no need at all for new models of the Universe. No, the crisis to which synergetics is pertinent is a crisis of popular enlightenment, popular faith.
It is almost a political idea, stated that way, much as Fuller and Kenner abhor the mention of politics. One suspects that Fuller has so many followers among the young because they have not yet decided what the world is like and so have no need to reject him. Not yet having become specialists, their curiosity is more easily challenged by Fuller’s way of leaping than by his exploring. Yet I myself see nothing naïve in this, however fuzzy or incomplete it may be.
On the last page of The Dymaxion World of Buckminster Fuller is a picture of bare mountain crags, Colorado or the moon, over which float two huge spheres. Fuller then describes how, as one increases the diameter of a sphere, one increases the proportion of the weight of the enclosed air to the weight of the sphere. At 100-feet diameter, 3 tons of sphere enclose 7 tons of air; at 400-feet diameter, 15 tons of sphere enclose 500 tons of air; at half-mile diameter the ratio is 1000:1. Next:
When the sun shines on an open frame aluminum geodesic sphere of one-half-mile diameter the sun penetrating through the frame and reflected from the concave far side, bounces back into the sphere and gradually heats the interior atmosphere to a mild degree. When the interior temperature of the sphere rises only one degree Fahrenheit, the weight of the air pushed out of the sphere is greater than the weight of the spherical geodesic structure. This means that the total weight of the interior air plus the weight of the structure, is much less than the surrounding atmosphere. This means that the total assemblage will have to float outwardly, into the sky, being displaced by the heavy atmosphere surrounding it…. Many thousands of passengers could be housed aboard one-mile diameter and larger cloud structures. The passengers could come and go from cloud to cloud, or cloud to ground, as the clouds float around the earth or are anchored to mountain tops.
First, such an idea can hardly be original with Fuller—and he makes no such claim. Second, the physicist and the engineer can, I am sure, think up ten problems in five minutes with such a scheme—I wondered how hot it would be inside one of these clouds if it were anchored, say, at Palm Springs, or Cairo. Third, anyone might ask: Who would want to be one of thousands floating in a sphere over the earth? It may be a totally harebrained idea, but such spheres sure as hell save on gas and oil, fuels we seem to know how to use but not how to replace or do without.
I offer the example in part because it is striking, but mostly to show how Fuller has never been simply “for more technology,” as is so often assumed. He seldom speaks well of automobiles, and he insists we would not be so stupid about them if we could learn to be afraid of falling out of them and thereby insist they be as economical and safe as ships, planes, and rockets are. Nor does Fuller have much interest in speed for its own sake, except as our best means for becoming conscious of the world as a single space ship; one imagines those floating spheres would not move very fast. His point is not more technology, but better technology, better understanding of nature’s processes, so that eventually, and soon, all may share in the energies and fruits of the earth. As Kenner says, Fuller’s optimism is famous, though he never has claimed that we will do what he is sure we can do.
It seems to me possible to be attracted to Fuller and yet not to share his faith, or Kenner’s in him. I enjoyed Bucky very much, and was grateful for the ways it showed me to read Fuller. But when Kenner says of Fuller’s axioms, “Who doesn’t want to believe them while the taxman cometh,” I am not so sure. Part of me isn’t even sure how much I care, and a larger part of me knows that although I feel that better technology is essential and possible, neither Fuller nor Kenner has made me care. Always reach for a higher level of generalization, Fuller says, the principles whereby something works. In Gravity’s Rainbow Pynchon answers, talking about the effects of a drug, “Like other forms of paranoia, it is nothing less than the onset, the leading edge, of the discovery that everything is connected.”
To believe that everything is connected seems to me as much grounds for hope as for paranoia and despair, yet what passes through the giant fingers of both Fuller and Pynchon as mere instances of a generalization is for me where I do my living, rooted as I am in particulars, in my cityscape and landscape, in the challenge to understand my own energies, sins, failures, and possibilities, and those of my friends, students, and enemies. Fuller, Kenner, Pynchon too, are rich in intelligence, yet the part of me that is skeptical of them is a part of me I treasure. One way of praising the early work of Lewis Mumford is to say that as he leaps across the apparent boundaries offered by countries and centuries and subjects, he also confronts each person, book, and event as something fresh, by itself, not fodder for generalization, though perhaps an occasion to celebrate the possibilities of generalizing.
Fuller doesn’t do that, though in the one performance of his I saw he came close to offering himself not as a principle in action but simply as himself, tired and yet tireless. Sitting on bleachers, watching him at a distance of at least a hundred yards, one could nonetheless feel his presence as something more than charismatic or soothing. He asked, and so received and deserved, only for time and patience, not for belief, or if he asked for that, it was only as a way of asking us to believe more in ourselves. That was memorable, and listening to Fuller as he spins his stars is an experience one should have, and probably more than once.
But, having said that, I feel inclined to let it go at that, and none of the persuasions of Kenner’s Bucky make me think otherwise. Having long ago decided that life is not simply a matter of despairing and gloomy occasions, I do not feel moved to decide to live in a world of instances of hope and synergetic pattern either. Fuller, like the later Mumford, seeks not just generalization but masterful generalization. Both are decent, on the side of life, but both are imperial, commanding. One can admire them, and live at the heart of empire too, and yet not necessarily want to join in the chorus.
February 7, 1974