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Buckminster Fuller conversations continue starting Jan. 22

R. Buckminster Fuller, the polymathic visionary or quixotic egomaniac (opinion swings in both directions), is the subject of an ongoing critical examination by Stanford scholars and students.

As part of that inquiry, a series of interviews with Fuller's collaborators, interlocutors and contemporaries began last Winter Quarter and will pick up again starting Jan. 22. All events are free and open to the public.

Jeffrey Schnapp, the Rosina Pierotti Professor of Italian Literature and director of the Stanford Humanities Laboratory, will interview Allegra Fuller Snyder, Fuller's only child, from 3 to 5 p.m. Wednesday in the Bender Room of Green Library.

Snyder, a professor emerita of dance and dance ethnology at the University of California-Los Angeles, is chair of the Buckminster Fuller Institute board of directors. She started her career as a dancer and choreographer, and has been interested in the relation between dance and film since the late 1940s. She has directed several documentaries on dance and was the 1992 American Dance Guild Honoree of the Year.

The next scheduled interview, set for 3 to 5 p.m. Feb. 12 in the Cantor Center for Visual Arts, will feature Kenneth Snelson. Snelson was a student at Black Mountain College when he met Fuller in 1948 and began conducting experiments with discontinuous-compression structures, which form the basis of many of his sculptural works. His outdoor sculpture Mozart I (1982), which sits between Meyer Library and the Stanford Bookstore, is one such example of this principle. Fuller called it "tensegrity." A rift eventually developed between the two men, with Snelson maintaining that Fuller had appropriated his ideas without properly crediting him.

The final conversation of the quarter, featuring California State University-Hayward history Professor Theodore Roszak, is scheduled for 3 to 5 p.m. Feb. 26 in the Bender Room. Roszak, who earned his doctorate in history from Princeton, has taught at Stanford, the University of British Columbia, California State University-San Francisco and Schumacher College in England. His books include Longevity Revolution: As Boomers Become Elders, a study of the cultural and political implications of lengthening life expectancy in American society, and The Making of a Counter Culture: Reflections on the Technocratic Society and Its Youthful Opposition, a best-selling book on the turbulent 1960s.

Stanford University Libraries acquired Fuller's vast archives in 1999. Scholars with the libraries and the Humanities Laboratory are collaborating to produce a critical, contextual picture of Fuller's life and work, said Michael John Gorman, associate curator of the libraries' R. Buckminster Fuller Collection and lecturer in the program in Science, Technology and Society. (The Cantor Center for Visual Arts joins the libraries and lab in sponsoring the conversation series.)

Fuller -- called "Bucky" by friends and colleagues -- dedicated his life to looking for ways to end suffering cheaply and efficiently through technological innovation -- or, as he put it, to provide "more and more life support for everybody with less and less resources."

Probably most famous for inventing the geodesic dome, which was embraced by both hippies and, ironically, the military, Fuller also is known for such creations as the Dymaxion car and Dymaxion Dwelling Unit, and as the author of such books as Utopia or Oblivion, 4D Timelock, Synergetics and Critical Path.

Thanks to Fuller's Dymaxion Chronofile, in which he documents his life in 15-minute intervals from 1915 (he was born in 1895) to this death in 1983, scholars have a lot to work with.

"His is probably the most documented human life in history," Gorman said, adding that the archive contains roughly 45 tons of material. "It's very rare that researchers find someone who creates problems through an abundance of information, not a lack of it."


By John Sanford

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