Spring 2011 Guide: Bucky Lessons

JAN 11, 2011

Author D. W. Jacobs on learning from R. Buckminster Fuller.

I first heard Bucky speak forty-three years ago in 1968, at the College of Creative Studies, at the insistence of my brother Steve.

I was a freshman, at UC Santa Barbara, in the middle of a two-year drift from the study of Political Geography to the study and practice of Dramatic Art.

I got the idea for a play about Bucky in 1995, while working on the centennial birthday celebration in San Diego produced by GENI (Global Energy Network Institute).

It had its world premiere on March 31, 2000, at San Diego Repertory Theatre.

In the last ten years the play has been performed approximately 700 times, by five actors in eleven cities and two languages.

With this production at Harvard, we return to the place where Bucky’s journey began. His ancestors were born here, grew up here, studied here, traveled the world from here, struggled with a range of social, political, and cultural issues here, and many of them returned here to be buried.

So many things comes full circle here in this Massachusetts Bay area. Experiments in democracy were conceived and initiated here, disseminated from here, and they return here after death, for postmortems, rethinking, retooling, burials, and possible rebirths.

When something comes to an end, something else begins. That’s true of stories, organizations, nations, and empires.

I write plays. I try not to write about them, but since this year is the play’s tenth birthday, here are some “Bucky Lessons” I’ve learned from four decades of diving into his ideas:

1. Bucky felt concretely the flow of the individual life as something that lives within the greater flow of history, and within that even greater giving-taking, expanding-contracting of Universe. For him, life is navigation,not drifting with the current. He teaches us arts of navigation: how to sail safely through all the dangerous inside/outside currents. Who’s in the boat? We’re all in the boat, and it’s much larger than we think. It’s called Spaceship Earth.

To learn our roles as crew members on Spaceship Earth, he believed we should…

2. Saturate ourselves with information…the data and facts. And then again, more data, since it constantly changes with shifting circumstances. A snapshot of data reveals information. A series of snapshots reveals trends, countertrends, patterns, and critical paths. “One picture won’t tell you that a butterfly flies.” For Bucky, the Brain analyzes, categorizes, and compares, but the Mind synthesizes, intuits, and creates. Let both Mind and Brain work on the patterns of data until the generalized principles at work in Universe are revealed.

3. “Don’t waste your talents.” In his lectures during the 1960s, Bucky had an uncanny ability to place our lives back in our own laps. Those times were fiercely divisive, but Bucky cut unpredictably across all the usual lines of division to ask, “What can the little man do?” In the sixties and seventies, at the peak of his powers, he turned dropouts and loners into problem solvers. He seriously challenged us to ask: “What do I see that needs to be done, that no one else seems to see needs to be done? What do I need to learn to set about doing it? How can I define and solve problems without anyone else’s permission?”

4. Schooling kills initiative. Genuine learning releases biologically inherited initiative. “Educate” comes from a word meaning “to draw out.” Great teachers draw out the best in us. Schooling can be blamed on teachers and parents, but learning is the individual’s primary and most important gift to self and others.

5. Life is a fifty-year experiment. The individual is the experimental initiative. What’s your experiment? There is no such thing as failure. If you pay attention, there is always an increase in knowledge.

6. Design Science joins art with science to make the world work. As Hugh Kenner said about Bucky, it’s a poet’s job he does, to clarify the world. A poem is “a made thing.” A poet is “a maker of things.” Poetics is “a theory of making things.” Theaters have traditionally been places for poets. They should help poets do the jobs that need to be done.

7. For Bucky, love is a tool, solid as a monkey wrench. It brings about change by creating low pressure points, where locked up energy can start moving again. Bucky brings us back to the best in us. America’s heritage is an aspiration: a faith that truth, love, fair play, and individual imagination are the necessary building blocks of a livable future.

D. W. Jacobs is the writer and director of R. Buckminster Fuller: THE HISTORY (and Mystery) OF THE UNIVERSE

Spring 2011 Guide

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