The Model: First Week
conceived 1958, written 1969, online 1996
Time: A Beginning
Place: A College of Design
“All right, what’s next?”
“Is this it?”
“Yes, it’s almost finished. I’ve been working on it all week.”
“Good. Let’s see … Hmm … Nice use of horizontals. Not many verticals, but the paralleling of the two planes gives something of a vertical balance. It gets sort of vague toward the outer reaches though.”
“I know. I wanted to use infinity as one of the dimensions of the system, but I concentrated the detailing toward the center.”
“But it’s not infinite: it ends right there. And there.”
“Yes, but being flat and diffuse like that, I thought it would suggest infinity.”
“Well, you’ll do something with it, won’t you? And what’s all this?”
“That’s chaos. I had it left over from my last charrette. It’s not really part of this system. I’ve just been using it to cradle my model while working on it. I left it there because I thought it made a nice background.”
“OK, we’ll ignore that for the moment. You may begin your presentation.”
“Ahh … ahhk … Umm, ahem. Basically, … I wanted a unified system composed of, or rather breaking down into, dual complementary sub-systems. The theme is Existence, and most of the variations range between this set of complements which seem to be opposites. I have a few variations with three, but everything still goes back to one.”
“That’s fine. It’s best not to have too many dynamics at first. Always keep it simple. But you’re being too general. Too general and far too abstract. Illustrate what you say in your system, and try to be concrete.”
“Well, you see, first I made the light and divided it from the darkness. Then I separated the heaven from the earth.”
“Which is the heaven?”
“This, up here. And when I divided the light from the darkness, I automatically made day and night. The day is lit by the sun and the night by a lesser light which I call the moon. I’ve been thinking of having a little bit more light at night by adding stars to the firmament of heaven, but I haven’t gotten to it yet.”
“I have a few questions and comments on this point, but we can come back to them later. Go on.”
“From here on the variations proliferate. I’ve populated the inanimate earth with vital things in two intermingled groups of two: the immobile plants and the relatively mobile animals, and I’ve made the animals, all of the complex ones, and some of the plants, male and female. If you examine the model closely, you’ll see that there’s a great range of type. Some crawl or creep, some walk-I hope it’s all still fairly coherent, because here’s where one of the threes comes in-some swim and some fly. Different combinations of the dual systems now make systems of three. There are the waters and the earth with their creatures and there’s a kind of commerce between the earth and heaven because there are some creatures which can fly above the earth in the heavens.”
“Yes, I like that idea too. But I’ll tell you my criticism of the basic system and its dominant theme.”
“Oh, sir, let me add one last thing? It’s a self-perpetuating system as well. And a self-complicating one. The dynamics which I’ve already mentioned to you ineluctably create other dynamics, endlessly. It’s part of the dimension of infinity that I’m working on.
“So the variations among the creatures will inevitably create, have already created, another dynamic of dominating and dominated. And I’ve created a special creature, a man, to dominate the earth and its creatures. And I’ve made him male and female. There, see?”
“Ah , yes. But he’s not particularly mobile.”
“True: I’ve held back on that a little bit because I’ve given him so much else. And by dominating the other creatures, he can use some of their attributes. I spent the better part of yesterday creating him. Then I was so exhausted I had to rest today, even though this charrette was coming up.
“I’ve give him reason. And understanding: something of my own understanding. And free will, so that he can generate his own variations on the variations of the theme of the whole system. That way I get a certain aleatory element, an element of uncertainty about it.”
“That’s a very interesting idea. A few years ago it would have been avant-garde. I see fine possibilities here; but there’s too much of it that’s clumsy. Clumsy and inefficient.
“For your basic theme, I have no quarrel. Existence. That’s grand. And you’ve done a good job of limiting your treatment to that subject. A significant improvement over last week.
“And I like your approach. It’s essentially esthetic and that shows great promise and already great understanding. Your contrasts are clear and simple-I think you even have one that you haven’t mentioned, between order and chaos. Of course, that’s an accident. As you said: it’s not a part of your system. And you have a good sense of complexity developing from simplicity.
“But look what you’ve done with it. Look what you haven’t done with it. How flat it all is. And you’ve concentrated all your details on the earth, and even then, only in its center. Check that: it’s east of center.”
“Sir, I’ve … If you knew how much of myself I’ve put into this …”
“I know … I know … You couldn’t have worked harder. … And you have an excellent talent. But you’ve got to do even more with your time.
“What’s this? This is your ‘sun’, isn’t it?”
“What’s that carrying it?”
“A barge. I thought of that after I separated the heaven from the earth and the land from the water. I thought it would be funny to have a barge in the heavens when I had put all the water on the earth.”
“That’s amusing, I suppose. You’ll need to move it a bit quicker though if you ever want to light much more than just that area around those couple of rivers.”
“It does sort of drag, doesn’t it? How about a chariot?”
“That might cover your whole land mass. And you’d still have your anomaly … your joke. There’s no earth in the heaven either.”
“Yes, I like that. There. It’s changed.”
“But now. Still. Look what the chariot has to go through. All the way across the earth and then behind it.”
“I thought it would be simpler if it kept an east to west motion. I didn’t want reciprocating motion. And I couldn’t have any night that way.”
“You have too many divisions as it is. That wasted motion of the sun going behind the earth is unacceptable. It doesn’t light anything but the chaos. As it is, it’s just wasted motion. Of course, you could bring the chaos into the system, and then it wouldn’t be wasted. But, as I said, you’d have to do something with it.”
“But that would destroy my balances.”
“I realize. …”
“I could make an upside down world on the other side and it could have the chaos as its heaven.”
“No, listen. I have a suggestion which will solve both problems and still harmonize with your esthetic. In fact, I’ll give you all my suggestions in a pile.
“Look closely now. You’ve concentrated your efforts on the earth, and even then, in only this one part.”
“OK, Eden. So chaos is just a decoration and heaven is bare.”
“I worked as hard as I could. I wanted to impress you. I was sure you’d like it. Even though it’s unfinished.”
“Yes. Yes. I do like it. But look how rough it is at the edges. And the roughness goes all the way back to the middle.
“Don’t be upset. I have to be hard. Here. Junk any ideas you have about infinity right now. At least for this project. Make it a finite system, which is what it really is anyway.”
“But that won’t harmonize with my basic idea. As it is, it’s infinitely extendible, even if it’s not infinite.”
“Infinity isn’t too difficult for you. It just doesn’t belong here. Save it for another project.”
“But … I … Uh … Frankly, I was hoping that man would imagine that I am also infinite. It would be a harmless deception. Man makes it an incipiently self-aware system. He’s surprisingly smart. Already, he’s figuring the system out, and quite rapidly. Look. Already, they’re arguing between the barge and the chariot. And he has a good beginning awareness of me. He talks to me all the time. I don’t think it would be bad if he made a few mistakes about me, especially if they’re on the generous side.”
“It looks to me like you’re falling in love with your own special creation. That’s touching, but always dangerous. And it suggests something of vanity in you yourself. It’s good to love your work. But a particular part of it? Especially while your still working on it? You’ll lose your harmony that way.
“No. Let man think whatever he wants. The system would be more cohesive, more efficient, if … Look, let’s bend the lower dimension back on itself and make a sphere. Now, the firmament above it follows quite nicely. Whoops. I’m afraid I’ve jiggled your waters and splashed your creatures about. They should recover. Nevertheless you see, the sun can go around continuously now without having to run around the under side.
“And you don’t have ‘under’ and ‘over’ or ‘up’ and ‘down’ anymore. You have ‘in’ and ‘out’.”
“That’s fantastic. That’s exactly what I wanted. The whole system bends back on itself now. The basic dualities sort of kiss at every point, yet every way it turns away. Now the earth is completely surrounded by the heaven and I can have day and night at the same time. What a wonderful thing roundness is. I’ll have everything round. No more straight lines.
“This fully realizes a subtlety I had in mind which I hesitated to point out because I didn’t feel it was complete. Just as I had had some light in the darkness, I had wanted some darkness in the light. And now I have it. Every way it turns away. From now on, I’ll have all of my dualities like that. They’ll be like a rubber glove. When you have it half inside out, it’s neither right nor left. The one orientation is being annihilated into the other. Unity and multiplicity. Everything is beginning to work.”
“I hope you don’t mind my making a major change like that. Sometimes it’s hard to be just a critic. But it’s your project and I don’t mean to interfere.”
“No. Not at all. It’s exactly what I wanted. And see? My creatures are all right. The man has built a boat.”
“Very well then. You have enough to work on for the next week.”
“You mean I can keep this project? You’re right: I’ve become very fond of it.”
“Yes. Design regularly and you’ll pick up solutions like I suggested on your own. You also won’t care what the critics say. I’ll look at your model again next week. … And do something with that chaos.”
“I will do such things …”
Ars sine scientia nihil est!
A charrette is the judging of a project’s outcome at its deadline.
Panic typically also attends.
The term is from the French for the carts which drew each artist’s
necessarily out-sized painting to their Academy’s annual competition.
Invariably, the artist was still at work, despite the cobblestones.
All rights reserved.
It was meeting Bucky Fuller that triggered me to write the story that had lolled on a back burner for a decade. I’m very pleased at how architects in particular have responded to it: it’s been passed around more than one Ivy League architecture school.
These four decades after writing it though I am most proud to see my common purpose of introducing dynamic models where static models have ruled so well represented so long ago.
In a video essay on the subject Simon Schama says that Rembrandt’s mature style is a compliment to us, a faith that we would be able to see it. Unfortunately, for us even more than for Rembrandt, he was wrong: we didn’t see it, and we don’t see it. At least Simon Schama sees it, and a few others without him, and thanks to him, still a few more.
My writing too is a compliment to readers. By golly, now that Schama mentions it, I see: my style is very much “the same”: most of the information is there only by hint: hints few readers have bothered to take. I now believe that few readers are capable of taking my hints. I now believe that you’ll find the fewest among the educated, though you’ll find none at all except among the highly intelligent, and the deeply read.
My writing is like an IQ test.
Thus far though very few have qualified for further testing.
2013 09 28 I have yet to link the Afterward and related files: I’ll try to get to them now.
|The Model (a triptych of stories)||The First Week
The Second Week
The Third Week