Shrikant Rangnekar

Louis Sullivan's Kindergarten Chats

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Louis Sullivan was a giant. Howard Roark’s ideas about his work in The Fountainhead are Louis Sullivan’s ideas. While he has had a profound influence on my life, many of my friends have found his ideas inaccessible, partly because of his poetic flair, partly because of his unusual terminology and partly because his pre First World War world and sensibility are alien to them.

I am going to paraphrase some of his thoughts as I reread his masterpiece “Kindergarten Chats” (originally written in 1901 and edited in 1918), in the hope that it might make his work more accessible to others. This book is about art of expression – about how to grasp the world deeply in a first-hand way, and how to create works based on those insights. Currently, I have no capacity to equal the beauty of his language, or the life transforming power of his work–you will need to read the “Lieber Meister” in original for that. I will simply select and freely reword his formulations as I understand them, chapter by chapter.

As I begin, I do not know how productive this endeavor will be, or whether I will be able or willing to carry it through the whole 175 pages of the book. Please do let me know if you find this attempt useful and if so why. And if you are familiar with Sullivan, please do share your thoughts.

Here are the links to my first few posts followed by some quotes. Please visit

ShrikantRangnekar.com for the latest updates:

Louis Sullivan's Kindergarten Chats: Foreword

Louis Sullivan's Kindergarten Chats: Pathology of a Building

Louis Sullivan's Kindergarten Chats: the University & the world

Louis Sullivan's Kindergarten Chats: On Thought

"This book is about art of expression – about how to grasp the world deeply in a first-hand way, and how to create works based on those insights. The central purpose of this work is to liberate the mind from serfdom to traditions, by demonstrating man’s natural powers in their cognitive and creative capabilities as they interact openly and freely with nature. The book places the historic feudal/platonic/static mind in sharp contrast with the advancing scientific/transformative/dynamic mind."

"But you cannot do this in a day, in a week, in a year. It must be for you a life-work, a long steady, continuous endeavor. The more you think, the more you will delight in thinking; the more you contemplate, the more you will delight in contemplation; the more you act, the more you will delight in action. Bear in mind that you are not to think merely on occasions, as a sort of ceremonial, but daily, hourly, all the time–it must become your fixed and natural habit of mind. So will your thinking steadily grow in power, clearness, flexibility and grace; and you will ever thereafter feel what the spirit of independence and self-control truly means."

"Having received the conventional college education, you were not taught to observe what was going on in the great world in which your university was engulfed and sealed up tight. In consequence your mind was hermatically closed by your so-called teachers, after they had put into it whatever product of the past they thought it should contain. And thus, like any other sample of canned goods, you remain quietly on the shelf where you were put. Naturally you do not know what a man of unfettered observation and fair average intelligence might soon have learned to grasp."

"Every building, every work, you see is the image of man that created it. Man is the cause and the building his offspring. The bricks, stones and steel you see came together in place by an impulse that was mental, not physical and that impulse came from a man. The more the man departed from the normal, the more diseased and degenerate his mind, the more perverted and degenerate the building–which is nothing but his image."

[i am posting this in the Metaphysics/Epistemology section because the theme of the book is epistemological.]

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Louis Sullivan's Kindergarten Chats: Parasitism of Universities

Anyone who will take the trouble to investigate universities will shortly discover that, as institutions of learning, so-called, they are bankrupt. Not only are they useless to human aspiration, they are actively pernicious, and their theory of operation is a fraud on the commonwealth that supports them. Their teachings are one long continuous imbecility. They are feudal to the core of their dried-up medievalism, although freedom pays their bills and houses and feeds them. They are essentially parasitic–sucking the juices of healthy tissues and breeding more parasites...

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Regarding your remark above about Sullivan's "poetic flair", I had the same issue with Wright. In a class In my graduate program conducted by an English Lit prof, we read American poetry almost exclusively, from the revolutionary era to today. I wanted to do a paper on Wright and how his buildings reflected his "philosophy". I started his Autobiography, but put it down after a week, unable to cope with his style. So I read poetry for about six weeks, something I had not done in a long time. I picked up Wright's biography and it dawned on me he never meant to write in what I call "Critical/Analytical" style. Indeed, I doubt Wright could write in Critical/Analytical style. I suspect Wright wrote his "Philosophy" after his powerful, indeed dominating, sense of life produced his works. He realized that any hope of conventional acceptance necessitated a literature, so he produced one, but heavily dominated by his sense of life. Critical/Analytical analysis of his works don't provide much. I illustrated this with Wright's concept Simplicity. I have no doubt he would tell you Falling Water is a simple house. Yes it is structurally very complex, but that's not what Simplicity speaks to. He asked the Kaufmans what they did there. They camped out on the ledges over the falls, sunbathed, cooked over campfires and bathed in the pool. They wanted to have those experiences year round, in that beautiful setting. That is all Falling Water does, all it was intended to do. It is a Simple building. After my visit to the Peoples bank in Sidney, I am now looking forward to reading Sullivan.

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Louis Sullivan's Kindergarten Chats: Parasitism of Universities

Anyone who will take the trouble to investigate universities will shortly discover that, as institutions of learning, so-called, they are bankrupt. Not only are they useless to human aspiration, they are actively pernicious, and their theory of operation is a fraud on the commonwealth that supports them. Their teachings are one long continuous imbecility. They are feudal to the core of their dried-up medievalism, although freedom pays their bills and houses and feeds them. They are essentially parasitic–sucking the juices of healthy tissues and breeding more parasites...

Richard Feynman, a great American physicist was educated at three universities and went on to revolutionize physics. Columbia, MIT, Princeton. Some bankruptcy that is.

ruveyn

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Richard Feynman, a great American physicist was educated at three universities and went on to revolutionize physics. Columbia, MIT, Princeton. Some bankruptcy that is.

Feynman hated university management and politics and, despite various pressures, made all kinds of excuses -- some of them outrageously funny -- to avoid getting involved in it. He just wanted to do research and teach and universities are where that happened. That's also why my late husband Stephen studied for his PhD with Feynman at Caltech and later worked there for 14 years as a research scientist.

The sciences are the last bastion of rationality. Sullivan, on the other hand, was discussing the humanities which were being corrupted by German philosophy in his day and are totally hopeless now.

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I have listened to Feynman on YouTube, and just love the way he approached a complex subject. He used everyday examples to get the point across in an attempt to explain the core idea. Here was a man I admire. Not for him the the wish to show how smart he was by confusing those who listened. He was so smart he had the confidence to come down to meet lessor intellects and help them understand.

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Louis Sullivan's Kindergarten Chats: Parasitism of Universities

Anyone who will take the trouble to investigate universities will shortly discover that, as institutions of learning, so-called, they are bankrupt. Not only are they useless to human aspiration, they are actively pernicious, and their theory of operation is a fraud on the commonwealth that supports them. Their teachings are one long continuous imbecility. They are feudal to the core of their dried-up medievalism, although freedom pays their bills and houses and feeds them. They are essentially parasitic–sucking the juices of healthy tissues and breeding more parasites...

Richard Feynman, a great American physicist was educated at three universities and went on to revolutionize physics. Columbia, MIT, Princeton. Some bankruptcy that is.

ruveyn

Important, world-changing research is always happening in the modern American university, but that doesn't remove the fact that the modern American university has become a bloated, expensive quagmire of bureaucracy that has deviated profoundly from its original ideal as an institution of higher learning. The universities are bankrupt, often both figuratively and literally, and (within the hard sciences at least) are more government subsidized research-corporations than they are schooling institutions. The brilliant and productive scientists just work there because that's the only place they can get a job doing what they do.

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Louis Sullivan's Kindergarten Chats: Parasitism of Universities

Anyone who will take the trouble to investigate universities will shortly discover that, as institutions of learning, so-called, they are bankrupt. Not only are they useless to human aspiration, they are actively pernicious, and their theory of operation is a fraud on the commonwealth that supports them. Their teachings are one long continuous imbecility. They are feudal to the core of their dried-up medievalism, although freedom pays their bills and houses and feeds them. They are essentially parasitic–sucking the juices of healthy tissues and breeding more parasites...

Richard Feynman, a great American physicist was educated at three universities and went on to revolutionize physics. Columbia, MIT, Princeton. Some bankruptcy that is.

ruveyn

The modern American university system as it operates vs how it self-advertises is a massive fraud perpetuated on Americans. Every year parents eagerly read magazines that list "America's top universities", and are told that their child's fate depends on admittance into these elite institutions. What isn't said is that a large part of what determines "rankings" has nothing to do with education, and everything to do with research and funding for research. The basic education you will receive is probably largely invariant with respect to the tier of school.

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The modern American university system as it operates vs how it self-advertises is a massive fraud perpetuated on Americans. Every year parents eagerly read magazines that list "America's top universities", and are told that their child's fate depends on admittance into these elite institutions. What isn't said is that a large part of what determines "rankings" has nothing to do with education, and everything to do with research and funding for research. The basic education you will receive is probably largely invariant with respect to the tier of school.

It is one thing to criticize the hype and exaggerations, it is quite another to imply that nothing of value is done at universities or comes out of universities. The fact of the matter is the scientific research is very much in the domain of universities and research institutions, an is not done to any great extent in industry. In fiction, John Galt invents a perpetual motion machine working for an automobile company. In the real world, John Galt would more likely be at CERN.

ruveyn

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The modern American university system as it operates vs how it self-advertises is a massive fraud perpetuated on Americans. Every year parents eagerly read magazines that list "America's top universities", and are told that their child's fate depends on admittance into these elite institutions. What isn't said is that a large part of what determines "rankings" has nothing to do with education, and everything to do with research and funding for research. The basic education you will receive is probably largely invariant with respect to the tier of school.

It is one thing to criticize the hype and exaggerations, it is quite another to imply that nothing of value is done at universities or comes out of universities. The fact of the matter is the scientific research is very much in the domain of universities and research institutions, an is not done to any great extent in industry. In fiction, John Galt invents a perpetual motion machine working for an automobile company. In the real world, John Galt would more likely be at CERN.

ruveyn

He would have worked in the university, but probably had his career destroyed before his radical ideas could ever be accepted, presuming he hadn't wasted all his effort on boondoggles like string theory, or bridled his creativity by focusing on maximizing publication count by focusing on less ambition short-term projects which more rapidly turn-out the least-publishable-unit.

Don't get me wrong, science is obviously moving forward, but from the inside looking out, modern academic science research is one hell of an inefficient and screwed up way to go about it.

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