ARCHITECTURE: Evaluating R.B.Fuller.

From: IN%"[email protected]" "List for the discussion of Buckminster
Fuller's works" 19-OCT-1993 19:33:56.95
To: IN%"[email protected]" "Multiple recipients of list GEODESIC"
Subj: Evaluating Fuller

Return-path: <[email protected]>
Return-path: owner-geodesic <@PSUVM.PSU.EDU:[email protected]>
Received: from Jnet-DAEMON by ARCH.PSU.EDU (PMDF #12866) id
<[email protected]>; Tue, 19 Oct 1993 19:33 EDT
Received: From PSUVM(MAILER) by PSUARCH with Jnet id 6033 for [email protected]; Tue,
19 Oct 1993 19:33 EST
Received: from PSUVM.PSU.EDU (NJE origin [email protected]) by PSUVM.PSU.EDU
(LMail V1.1d/1.7f) with BSMTP id 9042; Tue, 19 Oct 1993 19:25:57 -0400
Date: Tue, 19 Oct 1993 14:57:03 -0700
From: Alex Soojung-Kim Pang <[email protected]>
Subject: Evaluating Fuller
In-reply-to: <[email protected]> from "Gerry Segal" at Oct
19, 93 04:00:06 pm
Sender: List for the discussion of Buckminster Fuller's works
<[email protected]>
To: Multiple recipients of list GEODESIC <[email protected]>
Reply-to: List for the discussion of Buckminster Fuller's works
<[email protected]>
Message-id: <[email protected]>
X-To: GEODESIC%[email protected]

Gerry Segal points to what I think is an important question in evaluating
Fuller's life and the value of his work. Having concentrated much of my
attention on Fuller's inventive activity, I tend to evaluate him in terms
of his work with and for the Marines, Strategic Air Command, Department of
Commerce, etc.; and a study of this side of his life reveals a Fuller who
was a vigorous Cold War technocrat, relatively unconcerned with the things
for which he is now remembered-- his philosophical work, his geometry, etc..

I think there is value in trying to evaluate him on the basis of his ideas,
since in the last 20+ years of his life he was essentially a public
philosopher, not so much an inventor. But this raises another thorny problem,
that of trying to measure the impact of those ideas, particularly from about
the mid-1960s on. The fact that Fuller could both have the _Whole Earth
Catalog_ dedicated to him, AND at the same time be condemned by Theodore
Roszak (author of _Making of the Counterculture_) as the Ultimate
Technocrat (and therefore an intellectual conspirator in a system that
has produced the evils of materialism, ecological despoilation, explotative
labor systems, etc.) points to a fundamental problem of reading and
interpretation: what do Fuller's ideas "really" mean? What should we
make of, and how should we evaluate, interpretations of his ideas?

For example, in collecting accounts of Fuller's speeches in the late 1960s
and 1970s (published in underground newspapers, mainstream magazines, and
professional and trade journals), I've found that there developed a set of
tropes describing Fuller's impact on his audience. It went something like
this: "Fuller gave a four-hour marathon lecture that left his audience
exhausted but exhilarated, dazzled by his vision and enthusiasm. Few
members of the audience could follow exactly what he said, but it was the
tone and Fuller's presentation that really mattered." Statements like
these, it seems to me, make problematic claims about the value of his
ideas, even as they stand as a testimony to his powers of self-presentation
and ability to inspire audiences. Many people obviously came away from
these talks feeling that they had seen something profound; but few, I
am coming to believe, actually came away with any kind of grounding in
Fuller's intellectual system. There was a huge difference between the
read Fuller and the performed Fuller; that difference is the key to
understanding how he could be honored by Stewart Brand and villified by
Theodore Roszak; and it raises deep questions about the value of his
ideas and the importance of his life and work in the long run. These
are questions I'm puzzling through, and which I intend to address in
my book on Fuller and the dome; I'm not yet sure if he ultimately
deserves a larger place in history, a smaller one, or the place he
has now.


Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
U.C. Berkeley
Partial thread listing: