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477Re: classical?

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  • John Massengale
    Feb 9, 2000
      > I neglected to respond to what you say about "classicism" or "classical".
      > Classical has several denotations and connotations, not only the ones you
      > use. Neither you nor Thomas Jefferson nor any other individual can get away
      > with colonizing the term, but rather, since communication takes place among
      > various souls, i will use the term in the variety of ways that have come to
      > be understood among us. Your limited definition of the term, your

      Ms. Upton,

      I assure you that my intent was not to insult you. But I did think you were
      throwing out the baby with the bathwater, and in this telegraphic medium, I
      perhaps too cryptically said why.

      Classical, with a capital "c," does have a precise meaning, which the
      materialistic Modernists of the twentieth century intentionally subverted.
      After 1940 or so, even the sympathetic theorists and historians reduced
      Classicism to a materialistic style. But that really is not accurate.

      When you use "classic" as an adjective, it is ambiguous whether or not it
      refers to Classical principles. And "classical" with a small "c" is even
      more ambiguous. But in the end, an anthroposophist should keep in mind that
      Classicism refers to the earthly expression of divine archetypes. I don't
      know what Steiner's term for those archetypes was.

      Langston Hughes was a great writer who was not a Classicist. The first part
      of that sentence is a qualitative judgement, but the second part is a
      quantitative one. I think you have been taking some of my quantitative
      statements as qualitative judgements.

      If you go again to look at Monticello, I think you will find that its
      Eurocentric Classical architecture has an undeniable power and energy,
      resulting from the FACT that it is an earthly rendition of divine energy. Or
      as Jefferson would have said, an expression of Nature.

      Romantic Classicism, a la Goethe and Schinkel, is one step removed from the
      archetype. Romanticism is a further step removed. BUT, a Romantic genius
      will produce greater works of art than an average Classicist. Goethe and
      Schinkel were geniuses, and it is not pejorative to call them Romantic
      Classicists. At the same time, we understand their work better when we
      understand what they were.

      The quotation by you that I repeated, whether intentionally or not, included
      Classical principles in the ideas that you call soul-deadening, and that is
      where we strongly disagree. The Romantic tradition says that many of the
      principles of Monticello are wrong, and perhaps soul-deadening. But I am not
      a Romantic, and I don't believe that Romanticism ever produced a house as
      great as Monticello. And many of the American small towns that I and many
      others find the most beautiful and invigorating have simple grids.

      Many other Americans still live in a Romantic reaction to the industrialism
      of the 19th century. You see it in an extremely debased form in modern
      suburbia, which often confuses kitsch with art. Kitsch is always Romantic.

      America's greatest landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, was somewhere
      between a Romantic and a Romantic Classicist. He illustrates my point,
      because he is the greatest landscape architect we have produced, and many of
      our cities would suffer tremendously without his creations. Central Park, in
      my opinion, is the greatest place in New York City, and I can only live in
      New York by living near it.

      Olmsted produced some great Romantic suburbs, like Riverside, near Chicago.
      But a great deal of what followed in his tradition in the twentieth century
      is comparable, at best, to Muzak. It is pleasant but completely unmemorable.
      More often, as in the exurbia all over America, it is soul deadening and
      anti-social. It is not a coincidence that all of the high-school shootings
      have taken place in exurban settings like Littleton, Colorado and Conyers,
      Georgia. These are very difficult places for children to learn about the

      If you look at my rather skimpy website (http://www.massengale.com), you
      will see that I am involved in something called New Urbanism. Many New
      Urbanists would not agree with some of the things I have said above: quite a
      few, for example, are Modernist architects. But all agree about the
      importance of communities, neighborhoods, the Public Realm and the Common
      Good. New Urbanists believe that we have to get out of our cars and parking
      lots and have some public interaction in places other than the mall. New
      Urbanists reject the Romantic, 19th century idea that the man-made city is
      inferior to the natural world. Or to put it another way, sprawl is not
      enough to sustain civilization.

      You can find the New Urban Charter at http://www.cnu.org.

      An important issue right now, you and I agree, is recognition of the fact
      that we are all connected and that East and West must learn to get along.
      That is not the same as saying, as anthroposophists know, that spiritual
      Westerners should abandon Christ for Buddha. Nor does it mean that the
      Chinese principles of chi and Feng Shui are better for the West than the
      principles of Feng Shui.

      This is longer but still somewhat telegraphic, because you catch me on the
      eve of a trip. First to Florida for the founding of something called the
      Institute for Traditional Architecture, and then to Italy for a conference
      called The Other Moderns, about twentieth century architects who were NOT
      Modernists (there were many, like McKim, Mead & White at the beginning of
      the century, and more and more at the end). One thing these have in common
      is the idea that the time has come for the end of the Modernist disconnect
      from the past.

      If that didn't make any sense, or if you would like to know more, you might
      look at a book called The Geography of Nowhere, by James Howard Kunstler.

      Sincerely yours,

      John Massengale


      John Montague Massengale AIA
      Architects & Town Planners

      Commoditas o Firmitas o Venustas
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