Monday 18 October 2010

Less Is More, Up Is Out

R. Buckminster Fuller is often said to be the inventor of the geodesic dome and the motto Less is More. Neither are his. The geodesic dome was invented by Walther Bauersfield (Fuller obtained the patent) and the phrase less is more by Robert Browning in the poem Andrea Del Sarto: called "The Faultless Painter".

Del Sarto was a renaissance painter who acquired the title Senza Errori because he was considered the most technically accomplished painter in Italy, but without inspiration, without a spark, without anything to say. He had wings and nowhere to fly to. Browning depicts him talking to his wife, Lucrezia, about his failure as she waits for her lover to arrive:

I do what many dream of, all their lives,
- Dream? strive to do, and agonize to do,
And fail in doing. I could count twenty such
On twice your fingers, and not leave this town,
Who strive - you don't know how the others strive
To paint a little thing like that you smeared
Carelessly passing with your robes afloat, -
Yet do much less, so much less, Someone says
(I know his name, no matter) - so much less!
Well, less is more, Lucrezia: I am judged.
There burns a truer light of God in them,
In their vexed beating stuffed and stopped-up brain,
Heart, or whate'er else, than goes to prompt
This low-pulsed forthright craftsman's hand of mine. 
Their works drop groundward, but themselves, I know,
Reach many a time a heaven that's shut to me...

Del Sarto's tragedy is that "a man's reach should exceed his grasp", although I don't know how original that line was to Browning. Anyway, it's a fantastic poem and you can read the whole thing here. There's also a lovely, and I'm sure deliberate, etymological joke about "Such frank French eyes".

Buckminster Fuller never wrote a poem that good, but he did have a funny idea about banning the words up and down. You see the earth is (so modern science claims) round. So my up, would be an Australian's down*. Buckminster Fuller proposed using in and out, downstead. When you go up you go outward from the centre of the earth and when you go down you go inward. So he proposed going outstairs and instairs.

This idea has a frivolity that I could find myself supporting, were it not that I fear it would cause unnecessary distress and confusion to those who are down and out.

The Inky Fool wonders where he left his shirt

*This will be significant during the Ashes.

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