The cold heart of Frank Lloyd Wright

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MOman2
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Joined: Thu Jan 14, 2016 7:32 am

The cold heart of Frank Lloyd Wright

Post by MOman2 »

Biography|Book Review
Architect of his own downfall
The cold heart of Frank Lloyd Wright
By joyce carol oates
https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/plag ... rol-oates/

jay
Posts: 259
Joined: Mon May 02, 2016 8:04 pm

Post by jay »

Wow, the headline(s) of this piece are wildly misleading.
Quite enjoyable, thanks for sharing.

SDR
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Joined: Sat Jun 17, 2006 11:33 pm
Location: San Francisco

Post by SDR »

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joyce_Carol_Oates

We can be grateful that a well-respected and prolific author has taken the time to look at this controversial biography. She writes:

"At one point, in his indefatigable pursuit of 'the gothic, the tragic, the darkly improbable' accruing, however peripherally, to Wright’s life, Hendrickson
travels to Virginia to interview the despondent father of a three-year-old boy who’d drowned in a pond, in 1941, near a house designed by Wright years
before. One half-expects Hendrickson to solemnly note that everyone who came into contact with Frank Lloyd Wright eventually died."

And:

"Such a choking muddle of words suggests the biographer’s impassioned commitment to a subject he has failed to understand fully, because he so
identifies with it, and has so immersed himself in it that his research could be continued ad infinitum, sprawling out horizontally to include anyone,
anything, and any place Frank Lloyd Wright came near in his long lifetime."

If it bleeds, it leads ? A consensus grows over the sensationalist concoction . . .

One error mars this revealing and perceptive review: John's book was originally titled "My Father Who Is on Earth," not "My Father Who Art on Earth."

S

Roderick Grant
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Joined: Wed Mar 29, 2006 7:48 am

Post by Roderick Grant »

It is apparent that any writer should be very careful if Joyce Carol Oates sets out to review his work.
I had not intended to buy "Plagued By Fire," and now I am convinced that was a correct decision. $22.95 saved.

Tom
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Joined: Sun Jan 30, 2011 7:53 pm
Location: Black Mountain, NC

Post by Tom »

When someone recommends a book for me to read I will consider it.
When someone tells me not to read a book I put them on my suspect list and go read the book.
Negative books reviews are a little like someone telling another not to read the book.
Most of the reviews of Plagued By Fire that I've read do this.
And most of them do exactly what JCO does in hers.
Yes, there are silly sentences and silly ideas in Hendricksons book.
Yet when you isolate a sentence from the flow of any narrative it is magnified beyond the dilution of it's context.

JCO is a world famous novelist and playwright. Wiki says she's written 58 books!
I've heard her name all my life yet never read anything she's written until now.
Hendrickson is a journalist who has written a biography on Hemingway and Wright. He wears baseball caps.

Plagued By Fire was not a waste of my time. It contributed to my knowledge and appreciation of Wright.
I enjoyed the long digression into Julian Carlton and the expose on Wright's first cousin who was the first
person to meet him when he got off the train from Midway Gardens the day after the murders.
His account of those hours in Wright's life is good and I would not have known about them had I not read it.
Hendrickson's portrayal of Wright and Corwin is worth the read too.
They were close, no question. Corwin probably was gay and probably was in love with Wright.

But what is more, Hendrickson has a feel for Wright's architecture.
None of the reviewers say anything about that.
I found his descriptions and discourse on the buildings a pleasure.

JCO is writing about writing. She is criticizing writing.
She's not writing about architecture. She's not writing about Wright.
"taste is less important than non-conformity"
FLLW

DRN
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Location: Cherry Hill, NJ

Post by DRN »

I'm on page 159 of "Plagued", and finding that it may be different things to different people.

For some, who might be new to the subject, this is an odd biography that maddeningly veers onto tangents about Wright's surroundings and acquaintances at every other page, without sticking to the subject of Wright himself. To others who may be interested in the architecture alone, the book offers little. For those who are looking for a glowing appreciation of Wright's genius, this book thoroughly studies Wright's personal character and his interpersonal relations, particularly where things went awry...This is NOT a hero worship book. For those who are interested in anything related to Wright, this book may provide a lot of background to the scenes painted in sections of Wright's autobiography, or the stories behind those who commissioned him.

I do get the sense that this book was thoroughly researched, there are a lot of essay notes at the back of the book that flesh out much of it. I had researched Cecil Corwin a few years ago, and Hendrickson seems to have found the same arcane and not so arcane bits of information and made the same connections, and gone beyond: actual interviews of descendants of his relatives. This is not Brendan Gill winging it.

I'm finding that much of what I have read so far is a report on Hendrickson's findings in his deep dives into the milieu that surrounded Wright at certain key points in his life. Significant people: family, friends, employers, and clients have been researched to give the reader a sense of these characters and how their characters might have interacted with Wright's character and how that shaped Wright's life and vice versa.

There is a significant amount of supposition and commentary on Hendrickson's part when he knits the facts he found together...I choose to take or leave that bit. I believe the book is worth a read for those who are interested in who and what surrounded Wright at these points in his life, and what some of the back stories are.

Tom
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Location: Black Mountain, NC

Post by Tom »

BTW: Hendrickson cites two houses of Usonian type that were designed before Jacobs.
He does not include Wiley.
The first is the Robert Lusk house.
The second is the Charles Hoult house.
I don't think I know the Hoult house. Anybody here got a line on that?
"taste is less important than non-conformity"
FLLW

Roderick Grant
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Joined: Wed Mar 29, 2006 7:48 am

Post by Roderick Grant »

Hoult (Kansas), Lusk (S. Dakota) and Jacobs I were all designed in 1936. Hoult and Lusk were not built.
"FLW and Wichita, the First Usonian Design" (1992 Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum) by Pamela Kingsbury is the book to get for a history of Hoult (plus Mono 5/232-3). Possibly out of print, but may be available through the Henry J. Allen House Museum.
Lusk appears in Mono 5/243, notable for its very tall chimneys, which would have probably drawn excellently.

SDR
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Joined: Sat Jun 17, 2006 11:33 pm
Location: San Francisco

Post by SDR »

Practically any Wright subject you can name has been dealt with here, at one time or another. Google "savewright_______" to find previous threads.

Not that we don't have more to say on any subject, or to show . . !

http://wrightchat.savewright.org/viewto ... t&start=30

S

Tom
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Location: Black Mountain, NC

Post by Tom »

Thanks
I think I recognize the exterior perspective of Hoult but other than that
it's an unfamiliar house for me.
Thanks again.
"taste is less important than non-conformity"
FLLW

SDR
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Joined: Sat Jun 17, 2006 11:33 pm
Location: San Francisco

Post by SDR »

And now you know . . . 8)

Wright, like Bach, is a stream with many tributaries, a treasure chest or cornucopia always ready to reveal new riches . . .

S

jay
Posts: 259
Joined: Mon May 02, 2016 8:04 pm

Post by jay »

JCO is writing about writing. She is criticizing writing.
She's not writing about architecture. She's not writing about Wright.
Perhaps it's worthwhile to remember that the medium here is in fact a work of writing. The subject is Wright, with incidental nods towards architecture, if I understand correctly. But the object here is a literary presentation of its biographical subject. That JCO is focused on the literary presentation of the subject is absolutely "proper"....

Say an architect were to give a review of Zaha Hadid's Doha soccer stadium. We'd expect that architect to remark primarily on the quality of the architecture, both its form and how it serves its needs. In this case, soccer games.... We would find it perplexing if the architect focused the review on the merits of soccer itself.

Regardless, JCO talks plenty about Wright in her review. Starting with the "Born in 1867" paragraph, she lays out both Wright's basic biography and design approach(es) with an efficiency we're not used to in book reviews. I find this besides the point though; she is reviewing a book; she's not on a parallel adventure to write her own biography of the subject.

Surely, even if one buys into the judgment that this book is fundamentally flawed, this doesn't mean that simultaneously one can't find things to enjoy in its pages. Tom and Dan both point out that the research is more than worthwhile. For me personally, especially with non-fiction, I don't mind "hit or miss" books generally as I'm a good skimmer, flying over passages I'm disinterested in. (Perhaps JCO could've acknowledged areas where some people might find particular enjoyment.) The problem I see is that the passages Tom and Dan imply would be skimmed over are the very same passages that JCO finds, for lack of a better term, literarily offensive.

As I wrote in one of the other threads about this book, I also find the overall premise of 'quasi-psychoanalytical biography' to be obnoxious. These premises are about as worthy as any fictional book is, yet they often have the consequence of generating counter-narratives about their subjects. (Next up, 'not only did Wright have zero interest in any of his client's wishes, he was b i s e x u a l too!')

And while on the subject of psychoanalysis, I'm going to transcribe a thing Sigmund Freud said in an interview with Giovanni Papini. I find this to be the most important thing Freud ever said about his work:

"Everybody thinks that I stand by the scientific character of my work and that my principle scope lies in curing mental maladies. This is a terrible error that has prevailed for years and that I have been unable to set right. I am a scientist by necessity, and not by vocation. I am really by nature an artist... And of this there lies an irrefutable proof: which is that in all countries into which psychoanalysis has penetrated it has been better understood and applied by writers and artists than by doctors. My books, in fact, more resemble works of imagination than treatises on pathology... I have been able to win my destiny in an indirect way, and have attained my dream: to remain a man of letters, though still in appearance a doctor. In all great men of science there is a leaven of fantasy, but no one proposes like me to translate the inspirations offered by the currents of modern literature into scientific theories. In psychoanalysis you may find fused together though changed into scientific jargon, the three greatest literary schools of the nineteenth century: Heine, Zola, and Mallarme are united in me under the patronage of my old master, Goethe." (1934)

To take a bunch of historical facts and then widely speculate on their cause to the subject's psychological state (which is also a speculation), therefore, should be considered a fictional application.... Joyce Carol Oates, while reviewing this book––which is indeed found on the Non-Fiction shelves––clearly illustrates the fundamental flaw of this type of book:

"With the elan of a writer of fiction, Hendrickson is given to blunt statements: “[Wright] lived his preposterous life in a kind of beautiful rage, and flames ran through it. It’s just a fact, and you will know it by the end of this book�."

My take is, as Wright fans, we should be happy that a person of Joyce Carol Oates' esteem took this author to task, regardless if aspects of his book are enjoyable... This "anything goes" sensationalism towards Wright's character is so tiresome....and its consequences lead to a Wrightian narrative that is wildly sporadic in its accuracy....and moreover, diverts so much attention away from his architecture.

SDR
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Location: San Francisco

Post by SDR »

I suppose any successful Hollywood actor---read, "star"---could say the same: that he or she finds the successful application of craft to be sometimes---often, even
---overshadowed by misinformation about a personal life, spewed by a popular press (the ubiquitous Hollywood gossip column, for starters). Thus the price of fame ?

In Wright's case, whether for reasons of publicity or simply because he couldn't help himself, the architect both said and wrote much more---about himself, about
his quest, and (to a lesser degree perhaps) about the resulting work---than any of his peers, and so fueled the gossip machine, extending down to the present day . . .

S

jay
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Joined: Mon May 02, 2016 8:04 pm

Post by jay »

A testimonial may be full of fiction; but as an article of testimony, it is therefore factual in of itself.

Nevertheless, I'm no fan of psychoanalysis in any respect, including using Wright's own words to "figure him out" on a psychological level.

(I’d also add that Wright never said anything close to some of these assertions� such as he didn’t care about client wishes or that he was b i s e x u a l)

Tom
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Location: Black Mountain, NC

Post by Tom »

I don't think 'Plagued By Fire' is a fundamentally flawed book.
There is much more in it to enjoy and learn from than to be indignant about.
This is not 'The Fellowship' by any means.

I'm glad I own the book so I can continue to refer to it.
I found the speculative exploration into Wright's emotional life intriguing,
never conclusive, not intended to be.

For people on board here I think it would be a mistake not to read this book just because of reviews one has read.
Judge for yourself on this one.
There is much more to it than the offense it seems to trigger.
An equitable discussion has not been served by what I remember
of most of the reviews I've read.

I would say, however, that to read this book one does need to be able to enjoy detail.
Furthermore one needs to be able to enjoy detail about people whose lives crossed paths with Wright.
It was very impressive to me how much research was done on Mamah, Corwin, Carlton, Richard Lloyd Jones, and others.
Also, I really enjoyed the exegesis on all the photographs.
I especially enjoyed how the buildings and their creation was woven into Wright's life.
"taste is less important than non-conformity"
FLLW

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