A presentation by Allegra Fuller Snyder, daughter of Buckminster Fuller, during a Symposium “Geodesic Mathematics and Random Chaos” at Northern Illinois University, Sept 16, 2006.
IT WAS JOHN'S LAUGH
I am going to start out by showing a very short clip from a film called THINKING OUT LOUD, a PBS special on my father Buckminster (Bucky) Fuller. It is so short that I am going to show it twice.
A clip from THINKING OUT LOUD – (coming soon)
————-I love that moment, that laugh—and Bucky would laugh right back. Laughter was at the core of their friendship. Not that there wasn’t also love and respect for each other but their laughter seemed to go beyond that. I think their laughter was metaphysical. –I will be informal and personal in what I have to say. It is my recollections of John and Bucky and where possible them together–their quality of interchange – It is dedicated to their laughter.
But I think I need to weave myself into the picture a bit. Often conversations with newly met friends begin with the question, “What was like to be the daughter of a famous man like Buckminster Fuller?” That is a very interesting question because the answer can’t be directly given. It necessitates going back into a little history. My father wasn’t a famous man during most of my growing up period. In fact his birth into the person that most would recognize as Bucky Fuller occurred in the same year as my own birth, that is 1927.
Up until 1927 my father’s life had many ups and downs. He was born in Milton, Massachusetts to a family that was probably quite “Proper Bostonian.” His father was a tea and leather importer, a well traveled person. His firm Howe, Trunket and Fuller had offices in London, Calcutta, Buenos Aires as well as Boston. Seven generations of Fullers, his father and grandfathers, had graduated from Harvard University. His great aunt, Margaret Fuller, was a friend and close associate of both Thoreau and Emerson. She is now looked upon as one of the first feminists. Thoreau was a link between Bucky and John. John was very influence by Thoreau’s ideas and Bucky felt many of these ideas were almost his heritage because of Margaret Fuller. He identified with her in many ways.
A major event for my father, each summer, was moving from Milton, near Boston, to Bear Island, off the coast of Maine. Bear Island was a family owned island and its inhabitants were his family: his mother, brother and two sisters; and a small assortment of cousins and aunts, along with the Hardies. The Hardies were fishermen, and the caretakers of the island during the winter, and the caretakers for the family in the summer, providing food, milk, provisions, fish and most of all some important lessons in the know-how of survival.
This was a very comprehensive and all embracing little world and provided Bucky early with a number of wonderful challenges. It was his responsibility to row for the mail. This required a row of about a mile across the bay, where the water might by as placid as glass but usually was churning with the Southwest winds, which predominantly blow in that area and blow pretty hard. This row, and life on Bear Island in general, provided my father with much time to think/experience for himself about the world, and universe, as they surrounded him.
That island has been in our family since then, we just celebrated the 100th year of it being a part of our lives. In the 1960s, sometime, I had the pleasure of walking John Cage around Bear. He had come out for the day – and his focus of excitement was on the many varieties of mushrooms that were there, probably an area that Bucky had never dared to venture into. We looked together but I don’t think John picked. And I have to say that I was somewhat amused recently reading something Stanley Kunitz, my mentor at Bennington, and sometimes Poet Laureate of the US, wrote. He said “my advice to myself is trust your luck, but don’t trust in it absolutely. I recall that after a couple of excruciating experiences as an amateur mycologist, John Cage saw that though the principle of chance operations was good—- for his music, it could not be extended to his mushroom hunting“
On Bucky’s fourteenth birthday, his father died and much of his life changed. Since he was the oldest son in the family, he had many added responsibilities at home. His mother was fairly strict and demanding. He had also struggled as a younger person because his eyes were very badly distorted which had forced him to wear rather heavy glasses from the age of four on. (In later years he recognized that the introduction of these glasses radically affected his sense of reality. With the glasses on, he was in one reality, with them off, another. That raised a lot of important questions for him throughout his life).
He went to Milton Academy and then on to Harvard. Expectations were always heavy on his shoulder and yet his reaction to the educational process was mixed. There were certain subjects, particularly math, and certain teachers, that he very much admired. But he was frustrated by the process of education as he encountered it. It didn’t make him think. His second year he managed to get himself thrown out of Harvard for disciplinary reasons, having spent all of his allowance for the year on a festive trip to New York. My guess is that it was as much his mother intervention, as disciplinary action by the University itself, that prompted this dismissal — but dismissed he was.
Through family connections he was sent to work at a mill in Canada. There he discovered that he actually loved technology and the hands-on process of working with machines. In fact he was so successful that Harvard re-admitted him. Then came World War One and almost none of the Harvard class of 1917, of which my father was a member, graduated. They were all off to various military duties and my father joined the Navy.
During this period, through family friends on Long Island, he met my mother. My mother was the eldest child, of a family of ten, and from a background of architects and designers. Her father James Monroe Hewlett, my grandfather, was an architect and muralist. In the 1920s he was President of Architectural League of New York and President and a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, having designed many large New York homes, hospitals, schools. He was also President of the Society of Mural Painters and did murals and ceilings including the one in Grand Central Station. Another important facet of his work was stage design which he did both for Maude Adams and the Metropolitan Opera. Finally he became Director of the American Academy in Rome ‘32 ’35. His brother, Russell, also served as Dean of the School of Applied Design at Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh.
The Hewlett family was a lively and vital self-contained organism and while their social standing was similar to the Fullers, the family ambiance was entirely different, full of fun and laughter and creativity. I think, at first, it was not only my mother but the family as a whole that my father fell in love with. And his father-in-law-to-be was the one to really recognize and encouraged the emergence of “Bucky Fuller”. Bucky said he “was the first grown individual to tell me to pay attention to my own thoughts, which he said were constructive, inventive, and order seeking”.
My mother and father were married, on his twenty-second birthday, in the beautiful garden of Rock Hall, the Hewlett family home, now an historic building, in Lawrence, Long Island. He, then, went off to serve in the Navy. The Navy was a very important experience for my father. It pulled together all those things that had been most interesting and positive in his life, both tools and mechanics from his Canadian mill experience and his love of boats, navigation, mapping and thinking comprehensively, which had been a part of his Bear Island life. Perhaps he would have made the Navy his life’s career.
About a year after my mother and father were married a daughter was born to them. She struggled through influenza, polio and then spinal meningitis. My father left the Navy so he could be home with my mother and sister. Finally just before her fourth birthday she died. This was a devastating experience, for both my father and my mother, one that they never really overcame– though they spoke of it seldom. In later years I felt a rather severe sibling rivalry for this sister, who I never knew, because of the power that her name invoked.
After his daughter’s death he began working with his father-in-law. They developed a company based on a unique form of building blocks that they patented together (Bucky’s first patent). Unfortunately my father wasn’t a good businessman and after a short while this company was taken away from him by its stockholders.
Five years after my sister’s death, and only months after the Stockade Building System had been taken from him, my father stood on the edge of Lake Michigan and contemplated suicide. What stopped him was the realization that any individual, through his accumulated experience, had unique things to offer which should not be thrown away– and he began to re-examine his life. “In 1927, I resolved to do my own thinking, and see what the individual starting without any money or credit– in fact, with considerable discredit, but with a whole lot of experience– to see what that individual, with a wife and new-born child, could produce on behalf of his fellow men… I committed myself .. to undertaking the solution of problems which were not being attended to by others, which experience taught me would, if effectively solved, greatly advantage society.
It was as though he had been reborn at the time of my birth and we somehow grew up together. I don’t remember my father’s first breakthrough work in the development of his Dymaxion House, which was first presented in Chicago, in 1929. I can remember vividly his work on the Dymaxion Car, which he developed in Bridgeport, Connecticut. I was then around four or five. This was a three-wheeled car with extraordinary driving capabilities and fuel consumption. Then came his first book, Nine Chains to the Moon, and the development of his world map projection and Dymaxion bathroom. This work body of work was significant and intriguing – but only to a very small group of people. Those who knew of his work more vaguely often talked about him as “Bucky Rogers of the 21st Century” suggesting a bit of the sense of the mad inventor, the crackpot futurist– this was an outsider’s perception of my father.
During the later part of WWII my father was beginning to be asked to give talks, and began to gain a very small reputation as an interesting thinker/speaker. Because of this he was asked to come to the Institute of Design in Chicago and work with their students.
There was some real excitement about my father’s presentations at the ID and as a consequence he got a call from Joseph Albers at Black Mountain, asking if he would be one of their professors for the summer of 1948, —and he accepted.
The Instiute of Design had been organized in 1937 in Chicago by Moholy Nagy. First called the New Bauhaus it was a school based on the Bauhaus program. In 1933, proceeding Moholy-Nagy, Josef Albers had been asked to come to the U.S. to join the faculty at the newly created Black Mountain College , after the Nazis closed the Bauhaus.
Moholy-Nagy and Albers had been together at the Bauhaus It was they who had developed the Preliminary Course which was so significant to Bauhaus teaching. Moholy-Nagy and Albers intended that their method would create a radically new perception of the world within their students. Thoughts and teaching strategies Albers brought with him to Black Mountain.
Moholy Nagy directed his teaching towards “designing the whole man’, a move from specialization to generalization which my father also felt was so critically important.
We lived in New York city in the 1930s and 40s and I went to a school, Dalton School. a progressive school. As we, students at Dalton, thought about college two of the prime possibilities were Black Mountain and Bennington— I went to Bennington (but that is a whole other story). In later years a film crew was doing some research at the Buckminster Fuller Archives and mention that they had found a letter, that they considered very interesting, from me to my father, written in early 1948 urging my father to go to Black Mountain .—-So— this is where all these stories begin to link.
Along with Alberses–Josef and Anni, it was at Black Mountain that Bucky met John Cage and Merce Cunningham, Bill de Kooning and his wife Elaine, Arthur Penn, Ruth Asawa, Albert Lanier and Ken Snelson.
As you have already learned from Mary Emma Harris, Bucky was one of the central and active participants in that famous summer of 1948. For my father this was the first time that he had been able to fully focus on what was later to be called Synergetic Geometry and the articulation of the geodesic dome. He worked at it over 20 hours a day— and was “thinking out loud” as much of that time as was possible.
But in some ways the summer became famous for the fact that Bucky played the Baron Medusa opposite Elaine de Kooning –and Merce did his “monkey dances”– in Erik Satie’s The Ruse of Medusa. John Cage was focusing on the work of Erik Satie. The group decided they wanted to put on a play by Satie’s and they wanted Bucky to be in it. Bucky later said ”In his strange way John Cage thought it would be one of the funniest things to get me on the stage—you know how he laughs about things—and it would amuse him tremendously because it would seem so unlike me, dancing, singing, rhyming.’
But Bucky was concerned.— “ I can’t act; I never have. All I can do is talk spontaneously, but I can’t do anything where you have to rehearse.” But then he also thought this would be another kind of discipline, to make himself explore things he had never done before—so he finally agreed to do it.
He found it very difficult to remember lines. They would have rehearsal after rehearsal and he, when he finally did learn them, couldn’t put any life into them. Then Arthur Penn became director of the production. Arthur, already experienced with Stanislavsky’s methods, realized that Bucky was afraid of making a fool of himself. Penn proceeded to do the most ridiculous things he could imagine and to get Bucky to join him. And everybody was laughing, enjoy it, Bucky, then, felt unlocked, and from then on he was the star of the show. This story is about the importance of laughter.—Later Bucky credited this experience, particularly with Arthur, as influencing his whole sense of self particularly his speaking presence.
It was that summer that set off a life time of friendship between them (John, Bucky). Ironically I was at Perry-Mansfield, in Streamboat Springs, Colorado holding down my first major dance teaching job while all this was happening!!!!!!!
Bucky returned the next summer–the two summers at Black Mountain, and the time at the Institute of Design, were indeed the major turning point in my father’s life. Students passed through their grapevines the word that Bucky was an exciting and inspiring teacher. They passed it on to their colleges and their faculties. One of his great gifts as a teacher/speaker was the fact that he plunged you directly into his thinking process. He called his lectures, as I have mentioned before, “Thinking Out Loud”. He helped you connect your experiences with his. It was an enormously empowering process.
After the second Black Mountain summer in 1949 he was asked to come to North Carolina State College, Raleigh, North Carolina, to the U of I, Urbana and Illinois Institute of Technology and more. Over the next 30 years plus he had well over 1000 invited stays at 544 educational institutions –with appointments as visiting professor, lecturer, principal speaker, critic, or research seminar director. While also serving as University Professor at Southern Illinois University from 1968 and the same at the University of Pennsylvania from 1975. He received 47 Honorary Degrees in the process. Sharing his thinking process with students, and anyone else who would listen, became the core of his life from which everything else emanated.
But to John and Bucky– New York in the fall of 1948. Harry Holtzman’s was in the process of preparing the first volume of Trans/Formations, a Journal on the Arts, Communications, Environment, a very interesting and visionary publication, sponsored by the Institute of General Semantics. Harry Holtzman was, himself, an emerging artist, who was also involved in introducing Mondrian and his work to the NY art world. Harry was interested in Merce, John and Bucky all contributing to this publication. As far as I know only Merce’s piece “Space, Time and Dance” got published as the Journal lasted only a few issues but Harry had introduced them to General Semantics –and Bucky, and , I believe, John were stimulated by the issues raised by the Semanticists as they sought to “the study of how we perceive, construct, evaluate, and communicate our life experiences” Each, in his own way, was addressing these very issues. Bucky, later, gave seminars at the Institute of General Semantics in the early 1950s.
But I do remember that during the non-resident term while at Bennington (Jan, Feb., March 1949) I was in New York –and Daddy took me to a number of gathering in the village which also included Merce and John. I had some good opportunities of listening to the three of them. These were often at Isamu Noguchi’s studio at Macdougall Alley. I remember an evening that included Le Corbusier, just in the process of working on his Unité d’Habitation (1947-52) Joseph Campbell and his wife Jean Erdman, Maya Deren, Arshile Gorky. As I recall everybody listened to everybody else. There was the sense that all were in the process of evolving new thoughts, new directions. The air was alive with all their energy
I think the next period of time included many “chance” meetings between John and Bucky. Friends and friendship were extremely important to my father but he was also very protective of these friendships and they went largely undocumented.
It is interesting that in the many books my father wrote he seemed to avoid personal references. Even though his life is perhaps as well documented as any individual’s, and intentionally so, as he felt a document of his life was a document of an “average man” in the 20th century. (He was born in 1895). What he called the Choronofile, in which he literally placed the contents of his pockets, and all else, that were records of his day-to-day life, on a chronological basis, is now a part of the Fuller Archives at Stanford University. There are also itineraries of all meetings, all travel—no comment, just the record—and that is also available at the Special Collections, Stanford.
I know that John and Bucky’s paths crossed in many ways, at many times—one example being their mutual friendships with members of the Sarabhai family. The Sarabhai family was a major business family of India, the owner of the Sarabhai Textile Mills in Ahmedabad – one of India’s largest textile companies. Their home was a meeting place for many of the important people of India and for people like John and Bucky. In his “Autobiographical Statement” John said he learned from Gira Sarabhai that “the purpose of music is to sober and quiet the mind, thus making it susceptible to divine influences, “ Vikram Sarabhai, Gira older brother, a good friend of Bucky’s, would become the “Father of India’s Space Program,” as the co-founder of the Indian Space Research Organization. Through the Sarabhai there were encounters in Ahmedabad, Delhi, and New York.
But it is only by presence at these personal encounters that the actual details can be known. During much of Daddy’s lifetime I was carrying on my own work in my own directions and did not have opportunities for such encounters. It was at UCLA, largely in the 1970s, 1980s that I saw John and Merce on a number of occasions, even participating in a reading of John’s. But there is one encounter in 1966, which I feel obliged to tell you about in some detail as it also reveals some dynamics of Bucky’s life at that time. While my father traveled constantly and my mother traveled with him a lot, and my children on occasions- this was the only extensive trip I made with my father.
It started in London, then we proceeded to Cairo, where my father spoke to the Egyptian Engineering Society, and then south to Luxor; next was Beirut, Lebanon (I often think these days of what a beautiful city it was then, and what hell it has been through since then.)
Then to Nicosia, Cyprus, first to meet with Caresse Crosby. Caresse was, among many diverse things, publisher of the Black Sun Press, first publisher of Hemingway, Joyce and Henry Miller, and an early advocate for the Peace Movement. She was in Cyprus in hopes that she might get a World Center, the culmination of what she called her “30 Year Plan” for Peace. We were to continue on, together, to Northern Cyprus., to Kyrenia,— under military escort, to meet with Archbishops Makarios III at the presidential palace. This was during the time when Makarios continued his high-profile neutrality, but ultimately failed either to reassure the Turkish Cypriots that they were safe in an independent Cyprus, or to convince the Greek Cypriots that independence was a satisfactory alternative to assimilation within a Greater Greece. Perhaps he hoped his support of the “World Man Center,” as it was now called at Bucky’s urging, would have politically positive implications. Caresse had purchased land above Kyrenia, the Archbishop would give additional land and money. Caresse was to raise more. Bucky would create a geodesic dome. which would be at the heart of this area. All this was announced by the Archbishop at a press conference July 7, 1966. We were there
Next stop–Annual Congress of the Graphic Design Association, Bled, Slovenia, then the 4th Delos Symposium. Held at the invitation of Dinos Doxiadis, as an outgrowth of his Center for Ekistics, the study of Human Settlements, in Athens, it was a symposium which took place during a week-long Aegean cruise to which he would invite 30 or so distinguished thinkers such as Anthropologist Margaret Mead, Historian Arnold Toynbee, Industrialist Robert O. Anderson, Economist Barbara Ward and Communication Theorist Marshall McLuhan, Psychiatrist Reginald Lourie, Martin Meyerson, president of the University of Buffalo, later Univ of Pennsylvania. Many were there that summer.
Final stop—Spain– Barcelona–with a day long trip to visit Salvador Dali and his wife Gala in a small town, close to the French border in Catalonia.
The next day we were to be on our way to Madrid, Seville, Granada, Malaga and Costa del Sol. We were sitting in the waiting room of the Barcelona Airport. It was in a balcony area, which overlooked the very large first floor, with its ticket counters. Suddenly there was the sound of —-Bu–ck—- ky—– penetrating across and through the entire length of the Barcelona airport. It was John’s voice. Much waving, and within a few minutes they had run this entire expanse, and up the stairs. And were there with us laughing, laughing. I’m not sure many words were said, the laughter was enough, then we were all off again in our various directions, and, yes, several days later I was off to the States, and Bucky continued on his way to India. —It has remained a moment hard to forget. Perhaps it is why I think of laughter today.
Some thoughts on Bucky, on John, and, perhaps my father’s thought that stimulated and challenged John–
What John felt about the freedom of experiencing sound—Bucky felt about the direct experiencing of ideas. Perhaps in the long run John meant that too.
Most of the time it was Bucky talking, John listening.
Perhaps after Bucky’s death John took on some of Bucky’s essential thoughts —This is certainly true in his January 1992 Stanford piece “Overpopulation and Art”. In it he addresses a lot of Bucky’s central concerns—always acknowledging Bucky.
Bucky called himself a Comprehensive Anticipatory Design Scientist- His mission was “to make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological offense, or disadvantage of anyone“. A comprehensive anticipatory design scientist approach to that central problem, his design strategy, was ‘doing more and more with less and less” largely through scientific disclosure and technology. All that has come out of the discovery of the buckminsterfullerene, “the bucky ball’, which actually took place after my father’s death, –and its step into nano technology, are but one demonstration of this process
He said—“make sense not money”
He had to develop within himself a strategy of thinking, getting rid of mis-information, doing thinking only based on more and more reliable information. He both, consistently and persistently, advocated that all of us shed all of our pre-fabricated intellect and adopt a new one based on direct experience — direct inquiry, and direct assessment –experience as the only source of information is absolutely central to understanding Bucky-
There is a statement of e.e. cummings which Bucky uses a lot. i would like to quote it
-A lot of people think or believe or know they feel (experience) – -but that’s thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling (experiencing). Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel (experience). Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel (experience), you’re nobody-but-yourself.
To be nobody-but-yourself–in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else–means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.-
Bucky speaks about special case-experience—we can’t have an experience of everything but the experiences we have will lead us to other experiences and finally to arrive at generalized principles –
Bucky says, “brains are always, and only, synchronizing, integrating, the plurality of informations—from touchings and smellings and hearings—and coordinating those into some composite information that tends to produce images. Brain is always and only, as each of those senses are, dealing in each special case experience: this is the smell of that one, this is the height of this one, the touch—whatever it may be.
So, brain is dealing in special cases, and mind is dealing in discovering relationships existing between.”
This is where the concept of “synergy.”enters in. Synergy means behaviors of whole systems unpredicted by behaviors of any of the parts of the system when those parts are considered separately. You can’t start from a small concept and move to a larger one. You must think comprehensively, always starting from the largest concept.
He was attempting to tell everyone consistently to have belief in oneself, to do one’s own thinking—and discipline (we haven’t talked about discipline at all, and, I think, that is critically important in understanding him, and, I think, John, as well. Thinking generally and thinking comprehensively are very different. Thinking comprehensively requires great discipline, checking your experience/ information over and over and over again. My father was very disciplined.
We must realize there are ever bigger, more fundamental issues towards which we must all direct our efforts, — never start by addressing an existing problem—but rather define what is the problem, or problems, we are trying to solve—-
Another thought, always there—change is constant, change is normal
He acknowledged there would be at least a fifty year gap between his introduction of an idea and any kind of acknowledgment and acceptance. There is no failure, only the opportunity to learn from one’s seeming mistakes. One example in my father’s life was the “failure” of Wichita House and the emergence overnight of geodesic dome. I was there to witness that process.
I find the titles of my father’s books significant. They suggest his process. By way of summary let me tell you some of them. –INTUITION. Essential experiencing, the place of kinesthetic grasping that proceeds articulation,; IDEAS AND INTEGRITIES integrity is essential to his process; I SEEM TO BE A VERB; NO MORE SECOND HAND GOD, again direct experience was the basis of all his knowledge.
What were some of his concerns -Education- he wrote a book called EDUCATION AUTOMATION. My father felt that the educational process, must, at essence, be life long and self-motivated, but would be truly facilitated by technology. His use of the word “automation” but what he envisioned is what we now call the information revolution – but that book was written in 1963.
Universe, nature, science, were essential areas to be examined and reexamined. His very first book and his last are in some way inspired by space exploration, which uses science and nature to lead us into better understanding of Universe. My father’s first book was called NINE CHAINS TO THE MOON. His last, CRITICAL PATH, takes its title from the process NASA used to articulate its moon landings. This process starts with the biggest picture, a successful landing in all it details, and steps back from there to the define all the critical steps that must be taken toward a successful outcome. And his own Critical Path process led to OPERATING MANUAL FOR SPACESHIP EARTH. And then there was his quintessential statement called SYNERGETICS, EXPLORATIONS IN THE GEOMETRY OF THINKING, a unique mathematical world view, inspired by nature’s principles, which he regarded as relevant to every aspect of life, which he presents as a guide not only to understanding Universe itself but to the self-discipline of thinking..
Somewhere in the middle of this process he wrote a book called UTOPIA OR OBLIVION. This was a challenging statement addressed to all of us. If we are thinking comprehensively and taking action on our thoughts, an optimum state of living for all humanity is possible- Utopia. If we are not Oblivion is equally possible.
As John said in “Overpopulation and Art”—
Fuller is deAd
But his spirit is Now more than ever
The spirit the worlD needs
It is Alive we have it in
Let us nOt forget
We are now haVing to
Allegra Fuller Snyder
Allegra Fuller Snyder, Founder, and first President, now Board member emeritus of the Buckminster Fuller Institute, Allegra Fuller Snyder, is Bucky’s only living child. She is also Professor Emerita of Dance and Dance Ethnology, UCLA; 1992 American Dance Guild Honoree of the Year; former Chair of the Department of Dance; and founding Coordinator of the World Arts and Cultures Program. She has been on the Dance Faculty at Cal Arts as well as Professor of Performance Studies at New York University, and Honorary Visiting Professor at the University of Surrey, Guildford, England.She began her career as a performer and choreographer and has been concerned with the relation of dance to film since the late 1940s. She has made several prize winning documentary films on dance. She has done dance research around the world, was the recipient of several Fulbright Scholarships. Among many special projects Snyder was a Core Consultant on the PBS series DANCING for WNET/Channel 13. Recently returning to performance Jennifer Fisher of the LA times said of her in “Spirit Dances 6: Inspired by Isadora,” “She was a haiku and an epic.”