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November 04, 2006

Nikos' New Book

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I'm delighted to pass along the news that a new book by my friend and intellectual hero Nikos Salingaros is now available.

For people who have begun visiting this blog only recently, a word of explanation. A conviction that I think all Blowhards share is that the fine arts in America have gone badly off the rails in recent decades. Though I "get it," though I enjoy occasional examples of it (Joe Brainard! Jeff Koons' puppy!), and though I'm often eager to endorse weirdo-ness and experiments, it's just plain bizarre how specialized, antagonistic, and off-kilter fine-art-making generally has become. Who but brainwashed insiders can care about much of this stuff? And why shouldn't civilians throw mud while muttering bitterly about turncoat elites?

How did this state of affairs come about? After all, the usual thing is for the fine arts to crown, extend, and complete culture more generally, not to outrage and betray it. One of many plausible explanations is that the fine-arts world has been led astray by politically-motivated thinking and theory, much of it of a seductive, French-derived, chic-academic, wheel-spinning nature.

So one of the things we like to do at this blog is to celebrate the contemporary thinkers who seem to us to put the fine arts back on more solid footing -- from philosophers like Denis Dutton to literary types like Frederick Turner to anthropologists like Ellen Dissanayake to evo-bio cats like Steven Pinker to architectural thinkers like Christopher Alexander and Leon Krier.

Even among this high-powered crowd, Nikos Salingaros is a standout and a special case. He's a University of Texas mathematician who has worked closely with Christopher Alexander and who has become a major architecture-and-urbanism thinker in his own right. A hyper-civilized guy, responsive to and knowledgeable about the arts, he's appalled by fraudulent and destructive culture-thinking. Nikos is urbane and witheringly funny when he examines what passes for contemporary architecture theory, for example. How can such utter nonsense possess and transfix so many? He has an intriguing theory about that too.

But Nikos isn't just a devastating critic of folly. He has also made profound contributions. Though he's aligned in many ways with the New Classicists -- his book has an introduction by the New Classicism fan, the Prince of Wales -- Nikos's own urgings are, like those of Christopher Alexander, style-independent, and should be of great use to any designer, patron, or township. How can ornament be justifed, and why is it necessary? What are the ratios and hierarchies that promote neighborliness and beauty? What is it about our biological nature -- perhaps even about the nature of matter itself -- that makes us feel one thing in the presence of one kind of structure and something else in the presence of another?

"A Theory of Architecture," Nikos' new book, is on its most basic level a textbook for architecture students. Slim, witty, and thorough -- as well as sophisticated-yet-accessible (a favorite combo of mine) -- this is one of the half-dozen books it'd be great for all first-year architecture students to be marinated in. Time spent with it would orient gifted kids in positive directions, and might even inoculate them against destructive idiocy.

But please don't let that "textbook" label put you off. "A Theory of Architecture" is far more than a textbook -- it's a rich trove of wisdom that should be a stimulating read for anyone interested in the arts. What are the regularities that underlie and nourish artistic production? How best to make use of tradition? When is it fair to conclude that pure-geometry has been overused? These are just a few of the major topics Nikos bites into.

No matter how you choose to use Nikos' book -- whether as educational matter, as gospel, or just as browsing material -- I guarantee that you'll get a lot of out it. Actually, I suspect that your thinking about the arts will never be the same again. But, shhhhh, let's pretend I never said such a thing. I'm wary of overselling, even when what I'm selling is really great.

Nikos has written a number of pieces for 2Blowhards. (I'm forever inviting him to write more.) You can type his name into the search box in the left hand column of this blog to turn them all up. Perhaps the best way, though, to get up to speed with Nikos' mind-blowing thinking is to read our five-part q&a with him. Generative patterns, fractals, biology, harmony, memes, Darwinian processes -- all of it mixed with an open recognition of the aesthetic dimension, and a love for beauty and feeling. What's not to be excited about? You can access all five parts from this one posting. Settle back and savor. Nikos also maintains a very generous website of his own where you can sample a lot of his work.

You can buy Nikos' new book here and here.



posted by Michael at November 4, 2006


Are there any reasons why Salingaros' books arent available through Amazon? I ordered one of his other books and it was a real difficult process getting it partly because, although not surprisingly, it was sold out.

Posted by: J on November 5, 2006 7:11 PM

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