Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Kindred Spirits

In 1927, Buckminister Fuller was bankrupt and his wife had just given birth:

With no job and a new baby to support, Fuller became depressed. One day, he was walking by Lake Michigan, thinking about, in his words, "Buckminster Fuller—life or death," when he found himself suspended several feet above the ground, surrounded by sparkling light. Time seemed to stand still, and a voice spoke to him. "You do not have the right to eliminate yourself," it said. "You do not belong to you. You belong to Universe." (In Fuller’s idiosyncratic English, "universe"—capitalized—is never preceded by the definite article.) It was at this point, according to Fuller, that he decided to embark on his "lifelong experiment." The experiment's aim was nothing less than determining "what, if anything," an individual could do "on behalf of all humanity." For this study, Fuller would serve both as the researcher and as the object of inquiry.

Reading this in Elizabeth Kolbert's illuminating piece in the current issue of the New Yorker (June 9 & 16, 2008, p. 67), I was immediately reminded of Borges's "capsule biography" of Benedetto Croce:

In 1883, an earthquake that lasted ninety seconds shook the south of Italy. In that earthquake, he lost his parents and his sister; he himself was buried by rubble. Two or three hours later, he was rescued. To ward off total despair, he resoved to think about the Universe—a general procedure among the unfortunate, and sometimes a balm.

[...]

In 1899, he realized, with a fear which at times resembled panic and at other times happiness, that the problems of metaphysics were organizing themselves within him, and that the solution—a solution—was almost imminent. He stopped reading and dedicated himself to the vigil, pacing across the city without seeing anything, speechless and furtively watched. (Reprinted in The Total Library, p. 165)

Both men appear to have been in their mid thirties at the time. One is envious of the clarity with which their metaphysical missions (the same mission?) appear to have to been revealed to them.

3 comments:

Kirby Olson said...

I haven't heard about Buckminister Fuller since about 1976.

Kirby Olson said...

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Kirby Olson said...

Was in a Barnes and Noble last weekend, and to my surprise, there was a book by Fuller on the two-shelf philosophy section.