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« What to Buy After the Bailout | Main | Lists »

December 16, 2008


Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Tricycle's Katy Butler speaks with the architect and theorist Christopher Alexander, a hero of mine.

It's a fascinating interview. Though I'm convinced that his recent four-volume mega-opus "The Nature of Order" is -- despite the fact that its apparent subject is architecture -- the great spiritual autobiography of our age, I've never seen Alexander speak so openly about religious matters.

FWIW, I buy the wholeness / void / unfolding model entirely, and not because I'm making any willful effort in the direction of "belief," but because that's just what life has always seemed like to me.

Related: Enjoy an eye-opening 2Blowhards interview with Nikos Salingaros, an associate of Christopher Alexander's and a major thinker about architecture in his own right: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five. Nikos' website is here, and is well worth exploring.

The best place to start for those curious to try an Alexander book is, IMHO, with this one. Expensive, yes, but well worth the price. How often do you read a book that really turns your head around?



posted by Michael at December 16, 2008


Sigh. Much lurve to you, Michael, for the post and the link. While I had come to believe in God again many years ago after a long bout of youthful atheism, my belief only came alive a few years past after I had put in place some major changes in the way I lived. I had read APL some time before that, and was immediately convinced, but in a rather bloodless way, that the "Quality Without a Name" was real, and indeed was God, or the Tao, or Buddha-Nature. But...bloodlessly so.

Then I read TNoO and all that changed. Alexander seems to me in that work to give to the Void a distinctly personal, even theistic, cast--note in the interview his use of phrases like "to make God smile", and in TNoO of "making an offering to God", and so forth.

Alexander covers his tracks (ahem) by making the ritual putdowns of the image of God as an old man in the sky. But he has become a theist in everything but name. I have never met anyone ever in my life who thinks of God as an old man in the sky or on a throne, including a friend who is devoutly religious. All religious people I know recognize well the virtual impossibility of capturing God in concepts. So when CA makes that kind of "I'm not talking about that God" statement, he's being a bit disingenous.

Not that I mind! But...Alexander has, IMO, succeeded in restoring to those alienated from traditional religion but otherwise of a religious cast of mind, a living concept of a personal God, a God to whom you can make offerings, who "wants" things done some ways and not others, who can "smile" in a way that we humans can know is a smile.

A God in short, with whom we can have a relationship. Whom we can worship. The theistic God. Alexander has come to this place from a conception of God that was quite impersonal, Taoist-sounding or Zen-like. But I don't think he's really in that place anymore. I think CA has found a new, fresh way to describe a theistic God.

And I thank him for it. to my copy of volume 1, which, in addition to much richness about God, (though vol. 4 is the capstone: I mean, dig the title: The Luminous Ground--sounds God-like to me!) contains a beautiful description of how a traditional crafstman would work, a description that I think you would agree, Michael, sums up perfectly what destructive modernism utterly lacks in its soulless empty depths. Hope I can find it.

Sigh. I heart Christopher Alexander. Colour me fanboy. Colour my feelings all man-crush. Don't care. Loves me my Christopher A.

Posted by: PatrickH on December 16, 2008 9:53 AM

My first intro to Alexander, I'm a bit embarrassed to say. However, very grateful - looks like a wonderful discovery.

Posted by: Judith Sears on December 16, 2008 3:42 PM

What's with the embarassment over belief?

In my opinion religious belief has nothing to do with all this intellectualizing. Religious belief is a duty to our fathers. When my father died, I finally understood this: God is the father. My father was the representative on this earth of God. And, indeed, he was. This has nothing to do with whether my father was a good or a bad man. That's not the point.

Myrna once got tired of listening to my childish disappointment in my father, and she said:

"The commandment says: 'Honor thy father and mother.' It doesn't say honor them when they do what you like."

Myrna was a Buddhist, and in many ways an animist. Still, what she believed in was her duty to the elders.

I follow the religion of my father as a duty, to honor him, and to maintain my connection to God. There is no intellectual component in this. It is what my father educated me to do. That is the only reason I do it.

Not incidently, Stuff White People Like has a post today about sweater parties as a substitute for Christmas parties. No intellectual worth his weight in the modern west would sink so low as to simply celebrate the traditions of his father.

This is a weakness. It is not a strength. The "authenticity" that white people so often talk about lacking is precisely this need to intellectualize something that has no connection to intellectualism.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on December 16, 2008 5:25 PM

"God is the father. My father was the representative on this earth of God. "

Easily reverse engineered. But I do like the repeating pattern of it, which I think fits well with Alexander's thesis.

Posted by: JV on December 16, 2008 6:05 PM

Um, I dunno if ST was referring to my mention of embarrassment - but if so, I wasn't embarrassed about belief, but embarrassed not to have heard of CA.

Posted by: Judith Sears on December 16, 2008 11:10 PM

Michael, read a bit of A Pattern Language tonight at the local Border's (they didn't have The Nature of Order). Fascinating. I read the intro and the section on family homes. The wisdo, there is so simple, so logical and obvious, even, yet so easily overlooked. I'm hooked. Thanks for introducing me to him.

Posted by: JV on December 17, 2008 3:32 AM

I loved that he found inspiration in the grass. He and Walt Whitman. Must be onto something.

Posted by: Bradamante on December 17, 2008 11:24 AM

The interview suggested that Alexander's books have sold well. So I'm wondering why there seems to be so little evidence that they have influenced actual construction. Lack of publicity? Only small-scale projects that fly below arch-crit radar? Buyers being amateurs and not professional architects? Something else?

Or are reports of Alexander-influenced works flying below my not-always-switched-on radar.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on December 17, 2008 3:45 PM

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