Buck Fuller

I’ve been cataloguing my books. They’re scattered across the house. Some years ago I got rid of all the IKEA shelves and built my own, as a tribute to this cherished collection. Every volume has its own tale to tell: how was it acquired, why and when? Sometimes memory fails: the tale is lost. Which is a reason for maintaining this site.

In the course of this review, I discovered three books by R. Buckminster Fuller, evidence that I was once a fan of his. Today I find them unreadable. Opening one at random, I find him claiming that the only thing standing in the way of Utopia on earth is failure to embrace the full possibilities of machinery:

Rejecting the word ‘creativity’ for use by any other than the great intellectual integrity progressively disclosed as conceiving both comprehensively and anticipatorily the complex interpatternings of reciprocal and transformative freedoms which apparently govern the universe I go along with the 5,000-year-old philosophy of the Bhagavad-Gita, which says ‘. . . It is only the ignorant man who, mislaid by personal egotism, says: “I am the doer”’. . .

Doer he certainly was, along with a dialect all his own. He continues:

Machines have given rise to apprehension in people throughout the world . . . I feel it important to recognize that we, ourselves, physically speaking, are machines. . . . The physical universe is a machine—in fact, universe is the minimum and only perpetual motion machine. What people are usually apprehensive about is the unfamiliar machine. . . . I don’t think that it is the machine per se that bothers man; it is just not understanding anything . . . that disturbs him.

In his lifetime he was much honoured. Today he is chiefly remembered for inventing the Geodesic Dome, and for neologisms such as tensegrity, dymaxion. The domes were enthusiastically embraced by advocates of an “alternative society”, first in USA and soon after copied here in the UK.

In 1971 my wife and I felt we had missed the 60s altogether. Now was the time to escape from humdrum normality and follow the lure of the Aquarian Age. After many adventures, we ended up in a West Norfolk community at Crow Hall. It didn’t like being called a “commune”. Two domes were being erected in the grounds. See this web page for more details.

In this photo, I’m wearing a dark moustache, holding my baby daughter. To my left is the dome designer, holding his baby daughter. My five-year-old son is at the front, with a hand to his eye as if aping the photographer, or perhaps saluting.

We lived there for nine months. It took a further 30 years before I felt ready to rejoin “normal society”. I think it’s fair to say that my two elder children, the ones in the picture above, have taken longer. Were we enriched by the experience, or scarred? How does one know what might have been, in an “alternative world” that never happened?

I cannot now explain why I bought three of Fuller’s books in the 1990s.

7 thoughts on “Buck Fuller”

  1. Okay, so from your directions and from what I can see in the photograph, I’d say you were the middle man in the group of three men lined up on the right side of the picture. There’s a certain hawkishness to the eyebrows that I recognize.

    The geodomes remind me of this show Raised By Wolves that I watched a while back. I was thinking about it just the other day and how I have what I guess you could call an aesthetic aversion to futuristic or modular technology in a rugged setting like that. Not sure if that makes sense. Maybe something about the sight of a lot of dirty plastic gear out in the wilderness.

    I don’t know much about Buckminster Fuller, beyond having heard the name before. Based on the information offered here, he could someone I’d find to be an intriguing visionary or he could be someone I’d despise as a soulless cog lost in his own mechanized vision of existence. Hard to say. I did kind of like the bit about the universe being the only viable perpetual motion machine.

    Also, I’m too lazy to go back and confirm it, but I think there was an extra “a dark” in the sentence about your mustache.

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  2. Note: I actually prefer “moustache” the way you spelled it, and in fact I usually tend to spell it that way myself. Unfortunately, the little spelling gnomes that live in my iPad decided that that wasn’t the proper spelling.

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    1. I hoped not to mention this, but yes of course it did become dirty plastic. The inflatable skin, in the form of triangular cushions, was not in the least practical for a family dwelling. It was meant to provide insulation in winter, but in warmer weather, provided no protection against the sun. Condensation dripped from above; and on a dark night there could be no privacy until the lights were off. How can you hang curtains in a dome? I guess the fun was in the making, not the end product.

      Thanks, I removed the redundant “a dark”.

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  3. Also, on a side note which is completely off topic but which I am eager to discuss:

    In 2019 I finally got my hands on a copy of Zorba the Greek, which you recommended to me a few years back. I read it in the spring. At first, I didn’t really like it. It didn’t really seem to be about anything and the story didn’t really seem like it was going anywhere. At best, I would have described it as “charmingly pointless.” I wasn’t particularly impressed with Zorba either. It seemed like the narrator had just had his first passing brush with the so-called “common man”, and he was crediting him with being far more remarkable than he actually was. I kept going with the book, but I was frustrated by it. I even thought of writing to you to complain about it.

    But then I finished the book, and I knew that there was something there. It had done something to me. I kept thinking about it. Last spring, I read it again, and I knew then that I loved this book. I loved it precisely because it is so charmingly pointless. It captures that essence of a time in your life that stays with you, even though you’re not entirely sure why. It’s all very loose and meandering, and it feels very true to life that way. It doesn’t culminate in some big epiphany or pin everything down to some life-altering event that happens on the island. There are intimations of these things — ideas discussed, poetic ruminations, bonds formed between the characters, dramatic things that transpire — but none of these things really add up to anything so prosaic as the “point” of the story. The book feels bigger that all that, more elusive. The narrator, “The Boss”, hired Zorba and they spent the season on the island of Crete mining coal, and he’s not sure what it all really means too him and maybe no one will ever understand why it means so much to him, but he just needs to write about it anyway. The book is just saturated with that feeling.

    And now it’s the middle of April, and I’m wondering whether to read it again, to make this an annual tradition. The book seems perfectly suited to the springtime here in the desert and the anticipation of searing heat of the summer. I don’t know that it would have resonated with me the way that it has if I had read it at any other time or place in my life. But reading it here and in the spring, it gives me that feeling that I had when I was a kid walking out of a blockbuster movie, that buzz of having witnessed something of epic significance, the giddiness up there in the stars as they glimmer with possibilities.

    So yes, solid book recommendation. Thank you!

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  4. How fitting of a post for today. I stumbled across tsundoku a few minutes before reading your post. Tsundoku, basically buying books and piling them rather than reading them. I have too many books. Many are still unread.
    Something else, jut the other day Mrs. M wanted to see the Geodesic dome houses near us. We took a a ride so she could see them, and she was amazed at the variety of sizes.

    I’ve read about Bukminster Fuller and his inventions, but I have never read any of his books. More books to buy, and read.

    As always I enjoy your posts.

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  5. I thought I’d said enough about Fuller’s books to dissuade anyone from buying them. But there’s a plus side. If you want books to pile up and not read, this author is perfect.

    But that’s just my opinion. Fuller is never short of ideas. You could get a taste for him, and then you could change your mind.

    I can imagine changing my mind about any book whatsoever, with the exception of those writtem by Ayn Rand. See https://rochereau.wordpress.com/2014/10/17/they-hold-life-cheap/

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  6. How slowly the minute particulars pile up ready to be assembled into a structure in which we can live and suffer and rejoice.

    A friend presents a monthly question to a circle of her friends. This month the question is: “Could there be some benefit to the Universe from Human’s arduous struggle to understand Life?”

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