Chapter 1 - Network Artists as Anticipatory Design Scientists

1.12 Philosophy as Performance: Fuller and Marshall McLuhan

1.12.1 In the 1960's and 70's McLuhan and Fuller were frequently cited together. But after Fuller's death, he was often ignored in favour of McLuhan. This is particularly true of the digital arts community that started emerging shortly after his passing. His ideas, broad, comprehensive, and complex, were never easy to digest and were also closely linked to his magnetic persona. Thus once his physical presence ceased to exist, so did immediate public engagement with many of his ideas. Many were transfixed by his presence and fed off his energy. Many took just a few concepts from the stream of consciousness that flowed relentlessly out of him, distilled them, and brought them back in a form easier to digest.

1. 12.3 In the chapter "The Prophets: Buckminster Fuller and Marshall McLuhan" of Peter Drucker's Adventures of a Bystander, he makes a keen comparison between these two men, both of whom he knew from 1940, before they became celebrities. He first met Fuller at Fortune magazine while working as a "technical consultant" hired by Henry Luce. At one point Luce told Drucker that he did not know what Fuller was up to, and did not understand a word he said, but thought he was a good performer and was willing to bet on him. Drucker describes Fuller's talks as Happenings with no time limit. McLuhan, on the other hand, had a very straight, clear, and academic delivery. In many ways, the two men were opposites and could not have been more different. Drucker differentiates the primary contrast in their approach to technology: "Bucky is a transcendentalist, very conscious of the legacy of his great-aunt, Margaret Fuller, the last of the New England transcendentalists of the nineteenth century. Bucky's world is pantheist, man approaches his divinity the more he identifies with universal technology. Marshall McLuhan sees technology as human rather than divine. Technology is the extension of man . . ." (Drucker, 1978, pg. 244)

1.12.4 There is some evidence, however, that this very idea, identified by many as that which defines McLuhan's philosophical stance, may have come from the transcendentalist Fuller. From 1960 to 1970, Constantin Dioxides, an engineer, architect, and urban planner and founder of the Athens Technological Institute in Greece, organised summer ship cruises on which he would invite fifteen cutting-edge guests such as Margaret Mead, Jonas Salk, and many other luminaries of the time. Many, including McLuhan, were guests more than once, but only Fuller was invited to participate on every single trip and was a passenger for twelve years straight. In the Synergetics Dictionary, under the heading "McLuhan," notes such as these were made by Fuller: "Marshall McLuhan told me the first day he met me-on one of the early Dioxide cruises-"I am your disciple." (Synergistic Dictionary, 1973, 203.08 ) He held up copies of No More Secondhand God and Nine Chains to the Moon and said to me, "I've joined your conspiracy!" Even the ownership of the phrase "Extension of Man," which is always attributed to McLuhan, is brought into question in examining these notes. For instance, Fuller writes: "McLuhan has never made any bones about his indebtedness to me as the original source of most of his ideas. The 'Global Village' was indeed my concept. I don't think he has an original idea. Not one. McLuhan says so himself. He's really a great enthusiast, a marvellous populariser and teacher. He has an irrepressible sense of the histrionic, like no one I've known since Frank Lloyd Wright." Indeed, in Nine Chains to the Moon, a passage reads, "Through the leverage gained by his INANIMATE INSTRUMENT EXTENSIONS OF SELF, he has attained an extended mechanical ability far in excess of his own integral mechanical energy content ability." (Fuller, 1938, pg. 57) Fuller goes on to claim that his idea of 'Man backing up into his future,' appears in his books Rear-Mirrorism and that his concept of the 'Mechanical Extensions of Man' is the basis for his talk of the "Electrical Extensions of Man." (Fuller, 1975, pg.51) Ironically, even though resentment for not being acknowledged shows through in these notes, Fuller wrote a glowing letter of support for McLuhan's application to the Canadian Council for a grant to write an inventory of all breakthroughs in arts and sciences since 1900. In the letter, he enthusiastically supports McLuhan's project, overriding his personal feelings in realisation that the most important thing is to have the ideas live on. [11]

1.12.5 Fuller, as someone who channelled an endless stream of information and ideas, inspired many. Unfortunately, few of those inspired, unlike John Cage, ever credited him. A blatant example is a book that sits on his library shelf [12] at the Buckminster Fuller Institute-Spaceship Earth by Barbara Ward. The book has a warm, hand-written dedication inside the cover expressing gratitude to Fuller. But Ward never acknowledges that the name Spaceship Earth was coined by Fuller, nor that much of her writing is directly related to his ideas. In the same book there is a hand-written note by Fuller in which he writes that she heard the name Spaceship Earth at one of his lectures on the Dioxides cruises and that even though she acknowledges this influence in the copy she gave him, it is never mentioned in the book itself. [13]

1. 12.6 Fuller was at once slightly contemptuous and impressed by the creative abilities of people such as McLuhan and Frank Lloyd Wright to absorb new-found ideas and recreate them into their own. Very early on, in his Nine Chains to the Moon treatise, Fuller qualifies genius and talent:

1. 12.7 The function of genius is to provide new instruments, and to process-means for the progressive growth of man; talent's function is the precise and harmonious popularisation of the otherwise undetectable, and, therefore, otherwise non-useful products of genius. What is often mistermed as 'plagiarism' is more precisely "talent." 'Plagiarism' is an ethical off- shoot label of the false property illusion described in our phantom captain chapter. (1938, pg. 98)

1. 12.8 Unfortunately, Fuller runs into the same self-contradictory problem artists working with digital media face today. On the one hand, it is wonderful that work can be endlessly reproduced and the idea memetically spread. On the other, the ego finds it hard to come to terms with the sacrificed identification mark on the idea manifest. Perhaps this contradiction will be resolved when methods of watermarking are perfected, or perhaps when our consciousness truly shifts and ideas are shared without fear of loss of identity.

1.12.9 With the introduction of television and other mass media technologies into the palette of the artist, creation of a media persona becomes essential in delivering the message no matter what form it may take. But network art draws from conceptually- based movements much more than media-based art, because its essence is in making non-linear connections between disciplines, people, and ideas. As artists embrace technology and tools of scientists and address questions concerning culture that address theoretical issues, we find ourselves working in an entirely new context-between the humanities and the sciences. [top]


11. Excerpt from Fuller's letter of support for McLuhan, dated March 11, 1975. ..."McLuhan, like many of us, as the expression goes, "wears many succession of hats". Some of the hats that pioneering individuals wear are impersonal inventions. McLuhan Centre for Culture and Technology consists entirely of himself...." (courtesy of Buckminster Fuller Institute) . The letter is courtesy of BFI and can be accessed in the thesis CD-ROM. [back]

12. Fuller's entire library is housed at the BFI. Much about Fuller's broad interests can be seen in the scope of subjects he showed interest in. It is also interesting to pay attention to which books have been used a lot and to read the various dedicated volumes. [back]

13. Fuller's notes inside Barbara Ward's book Barbara insists that she said clearly in this book that she had taken it's name from having heard me give the title Spaceship... lectures on the Dioxides cruises... See also dedication. She acknowledges it to me, but not to the public..." (courtesy of BFI) [back]


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