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Posts Tagged ‘Utopia

“A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at”*…

 

A proposed cross-section of the Minnesota Experimental City

The future had arrived, and it looked nothing like what city planners expected. It was the early 1960s, and despite economic prosperity, American urban centers were plagued by pollution, poverty, the violence of segregation and crumbling infrastructure. As the federal highway system expanded, young professionals fled for the suburbs, exacerbating the decay…

One man had a revolutionary idea, a plan so all-encompassing it could tackle each and every one of the social issues at once: An entirely new experimental city, built from scratch with the latest technology, entirely free of pollution and waste, and home to a community of life-long learners.

The Minnesota Experimental City and its original creator, Athelstan Spilhaus, are the subjects of a new documentary directed by Chad Freidrichs of Unicorn Stencil Documentary Films. The Experimental City tells the story of the tremendous rise and abrupt fall of an urban vision that nearly came to fruition. At one point, the Minnesota Experimental City had the support of NASA engineers, Civil Rights leaders, media moguls, famed architect Buckminster Fuller and even vice president Hubert Humphrey. Many were drawn to the plan by Spilhaus’ background as well as his rhapsodic conviction for the necessity of such a city.

“The urban mess is due to unplanned growth—too many students for the schools, too much sludge for the sewers, too many cars for the highways, too many sick for the hospitals, too much crime for the police, too many commuters for the transport system, too many fumes for the atmosphere to bear, too many chemicals for the water to carry,” Spilhaus wrote in his 1967 proposal for an experimental city. “The immediate threat must be met as we would meet the threat of war—by the mobilization of people, industry, and government.”…

Creator of the comic “Our New Age,” which featured new science and technology in easy-to-digest fashion (including inventions he wanted to feature in his experimental city), Spilhaus had worked in the fields of mechanical engineering, cartography, oceanography, meteorology and urban planning. He initiated the Sea Grant College Program (a network of colleges and universities that conduct research and training related to oceans and the Great Lakes), helped invent the bathythermograph (a water temperature and depth gauge used in submarine warfare), and designed the science expo for the Seattle World’s Fair in 1962. But above all, the longtime dean of the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Technology was a futurist, and the experimental city was his brainchild that combined his many passions…

 

The Quixotic tale in toto at “How a $10 Billion Experimental City Nearly Got Built in Rural Minnesota.”

But the Modern Utopia must not be static but kinetic, must shape not as a permanent state but as a hopeful stage, leading to a long ascent of stages. Nowadays we do not resist and overcome the great stream of things, but rather float upon it. We build now not citadels, but ships of state.
― H.G. Wells

* Oscar Wilde

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As we’re careful what we wish for, we might send polymathic birthday greetings to the painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, physicist, chemist, anatomist, botanist, geologist, cartographer, and writer– the archetypical Renaissance Man– Leonardo da Vinci.  Quite possibly the greatest genius of the last Millennium, he was born on this date in 1452.

Self-portrait in red chalk, circa 1512-15 [source]

 

 

 

 

Written by LW

April 15, 2018 at 1:01 am

“The imaginary is what tends to become real”*…

 

Tik-Tok of Oz, L. Frank Baum, Chicago, 1914.   Courtesy, Houghton Library, Harvard University

Maps enjoy a long tradition as a mode of literary illustration, orienting readers to worlds real and imagined. Presented in conjunction with the bicentenary of the Harvard Map Collection, this exhibition brings together over sixty landmark literary maps, from the 200-mile-wide island in Thomas More’s Utopia to the supercontinent called the Stillness in N. K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. Visitors will traverse literary geographies from William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County to Nuruddin Farah’s besieged Somalia; or perhaps escape the world’s bothers in Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood. At this intersection of literature and cartography, get your bearings and let these maps guide your way…

The map above is one of over 60 currently on display at the exhibition Landmarks: Maps as Literary Illustration, at Harvard’s Houghton Library, as part of year-long celebration of Houghton’s 75th birthday.  In addition to the examples mentioned above, the collection includes the work of authors such as J. R. R. Tolkien and the late Ursula K. Le Guin, and spans everything from love stories to fairy tales. It runs through to April 14, 2018.

See also “Charting the Geography of Classic Literature.”

* André Breton

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As we find our way, we might send the best of all possible birthday greetings to lawyer, social philosopher, author, statesman, Renaissance humanist, and councillor to Henry VIII of England, Sir Thomas More; he was born on this date in 1478.  He is probably most widely known these days as the subject of Robert Bolt’s A Man For All Seasons, which dramatized More’s fate (he was beheaded) when he refused to accept his old friend Henry VIII as Supreme Head of the newly-established Church of England.  (More was acting in accordance with his opposition to Martin Luther, William Tyndale, and the Protestant Reformation…  for which he was canonized in 1935 by Pope Pius XI.  Interestingly, he is also remembered by the Church of England as a “Reformation martyr.”)

But also importantly for the purpose of this post, More was also the author of the widely-read and widely-influential Utopia— his map from which is on display at the Houghton.

Hans Holbein the Younger’s portrait of More

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Written by LW

February 7, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Astonishment is the root of philosophy”*…

 

When we speak of a “presidential philosophy,” we do not ordinarily have in mind the intellectual debt a president may have had to Renaissance natural philosophy. But Herbert Hoover’s intellectual development seems to require that we widen our ordinary scope. Hooverism may in fact be the last echo of a sort of statesmanly engagement with philosophy that probes somewhat deeper into the order of things, and into humanity’s place in that order, than does the recent genre of campaign-minded, policy-focused, ghostwritten memoirs…

Herbert Hoover, the last “philosopher President”?  Justin E. H. Smith makes the case in “Between the Mine and the Stream.”

* Paul Tillich

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As we contemplate contemplation, we might send the best of all possible birthday greetings to lawyer, social philosopher, author, statesman, Renaissance humanist, and councillor to Henry VIII of England, Sir Thomas More; he was born on this date in 1478.  While he is probably most widely remembered as the author of author of Utopia, More was beheaded by Henry for refusing to accept the king as Supreme Head of the newly-established Church of England (More was acting in accordance with his opposition to Martin Luther, William Tyndale, and the Protestant Reformation)…  for which he was canonized in 1935 by Pope Pius XI.  (He is remembered by the Church of England as a “Reformation martyr.”)

Hans Holbein the Younger’s portrait of More

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Written by LW

February 7, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Utopia is the process of making a better world, the name for one path history can take”*…

 

“Robinson Crusoe and his Pets,” Currier and Ives, 1874 — Source

How do you get to utopia? You don’t, of course. It’s unreachably distant. Thomas More’s Utopia (1516) and Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis (1627) are set in what were then uncharted waters, far enough away to have escaped both the attention and interference of the rest of the world. That’s what makes these islands, for a moment, plausible: no one can deny their existence with positive knowledge. And that’s how they stay perfect: no one’s colonized them, traded with them, influenced them in any way. Distance and difference were understood as directly relational: the greater the distance, the greater the difference. And utopias are radically different. Granted, in some cases, the distance is temporal; we call these “euchronias”. The point is we’ll never get there, never live long enough, never see fiction turned to fact.

Today’s readers demur. Too far-fetched, they complain, rejecting the distance. Others see utopias as prescriptive, rigidly so, even fascistic. People think of head-in-the-clouds dreamers or dogmatic philosopher kings, though Fredric Jameson argues, persuasively, that utopias give us not blueprints but open-ended possibilities. At any rate, we now prefer dystopias: The Road, The Hunger Games, and countless others, many adapted as films. Such scenarios seem not distant but close, potentially imminent, and fans of the cult movie Idiocracy have already noted, with horror, the accuracy of its predictions: our vulgar entertainment; the corporatization of everything; the dumbing down — and worse — of the highest office in the land. Dystopias speak to us because they’re practically adjacent…

Of course, we still have to try. Do nothing, and we get dystopias. Extrapolated from the present, they project a future that might seem inevitable, pulling us forward as if by tractor beam. For Margaret Atwood, this is literature that deals with “things that really could happen”.

The great power of utopias is to disrupt our surrender to orthodoxy, freeing us to understand the status quo as contingent, not predetermined, as changeable, not inevitable. And by smuggling utopia home, Defoe unsettles our notion of the totality of state power, the power to which his utopias are opposed…

The full and fascinating essay at “Defoe and the Distance to Utopia.”

C.F. also: “Every Society Invents the Failed Utopia it Deserves.”

* Kim Stanley Robinson, Pacific Edge

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As we hope– and work– for the best, we might spare a thought for William Butler Yeats; he died on this date in 1939.  A poet, essayist, politician, and mystic, he won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1923.  His gravestone in Ireland bears the epitaph he composed: “Cast a cold eye / On life, on death. / Horseman, Pass by.” Larry McMurtry took the title of his first novel from these lines (filmed as Hud.)

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

– “The Second Coming,” W.B. Yeats

 source

 

Written by LW

January 28, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Design is neither an intellectual nor a material affair, but simply an integral part of the stuff of life, necessary for everyone in a civilized society”*…

 

Architect Walter Gropius founded the Bauhaus in 1919 in Weimar by merging the state schools of fine and applied arts. In this pamphlet with a frontispiece by Lyonel Feininger, he called on artists to return to craft and to collaborate on architecture, and outlines the new school’s curriculum.

The Harvard Art Museums hold one of the first and largest collections relating to the Bauhaus, the 20th century’s most influential school of art and design. Active during the years of Germany’s Weimar Republic (1919–33), the Bauhaus aimed to unite artists, architects, and craftsmen in the utopian project of designing a new world. The school promoted experimental, hands-on production; realigned hierarchies between high and low, artist and worker, teacher and student; sharpened the human senses toward both physical materials and media environments; embraced new technologies in conjunction with industry; and imagined and enacted cosmopolitan forms of communal living. The legacies of the Bauhaus are visible today, extending well beyond modernist forms and into the ways we live, teach, and learn.

In its mere 14 years of existence, and across its three locations, three directors, and hundreds of students from around the world, the Bauhaus entertained diverse political and artistic positions, and served as hothouse for a variety of “isms,” from expressionism, Dadaism, and constructivism to various hybrids thereof…

Tour the collection at “The Bauhaus.”

* Walter Gropius

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As we grapple with Gropius, we might spare a thought for another kind of utopian– physician and health-food pioneer John Harvey Kellogg, who died on this date in 1943, aged 91.  For 62 years before his death, Kellogg operated a sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan that was run along holistic lines:  a vegetarian, he advocated low calorie diets and developed peanut butter, granola, and toasted cereals; he warned that smoking caused lung cancer decades before this link was studied; and he was an early advocate of exercise.  For all that, he is surely best remembered, for having developed corn flakes (with his brother Will, who went on to sweeten and commercialize them).

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Written by LW

December 14, 2016 at 1:01 am

“It is easier to go down a hill than up, but the view is from the top”*…

 

Miami Beach, from above

Last weekend, tens of thousands made their annual end-of-summer pilgrimage to the beach…

On ground level, these crowds look like tidal waves of coconut-oiled flesh, but as seen in the work of Belgian photographer Antoine Rose, the effect is much different: from above, the crowds that gather on the beaches of New York and Miami take on splendid geometries that make each beachgoer’s place in the sand seem almost methodical.

The project that eventually became Rose’s Up In The Air series started back in 2000, when he was head photographer of the Kiteboarding World Cup. Using a helicopter to film kiteboarders as they raced, Rose became fascinated with aerial photography. But it was only after flying over the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana during a kiteboarding final in Rio that Rose turned his lens from athletes to beachcombers, snapping the herd-like patterns of their oiled hides and colorful beach towels and umbrellas from the air…

The photographer insists he doesn’t coordinate his shots, nor does he alter them after the fact with Photoshop, aside from some standard color correction and post-processing. The beaches appear to us just as Rose saw them leaning out of the side of a helicopter with his camera pointed down.

Read more at “Beach Crowds Are Beautiful From 5,000 Feet In The Air,” and see more of Rose’s remarkable photos at his site.

* Arnold Bennett

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As we head for the high ground, we might recall that it was on this date in 1516 that Thomas More sent Libellus vere aureus, nec minus salutaris quam festivus, de optimo rei publicae statu deque nova insula Utopia (or, as we know it today, Utopia), his fictionalized work of political philosophy, to the printer.  It was edited by Erasmus, and printed later that year.  More, a lawyer, social philosopher, author, statesman, Renaissance humanist, and councillor to Henry VIII of England, was beheaded by Henry in 1535 for refusing to accept the king as Supreme Head of the newly-established Church of England.  More was acting in accordance with his opposition to Martin Luther,  William Tyndale, and the Protestant Reformation…  for which he was canonized in 1935 by Pope Pius XI.  (He is remembered by the Church of England as a “Reformation martyr.”) Utopia wasn’t translated into English until 16 years after his execution.

An illustration from the 1516/first edition of Utopia

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Thomas More

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Written by LW

September 3, 2014 at 1:01 am

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