"Choose the [carpet] which seems better able to represent your whole being, the essence of yourself, good and bad, all that is human in you."
— Christopher Alexander, A Foreshadowing of 21st Century Art: The Color and Geometry of Very Early Turkish Carpets
Christopher Alexander is one of those intellectual giants whose talents blur the lines between art, philosophy, engineering, and mathematics. His books A Pattern Language and A Timeless Way of Building might be familiar. He is at the top of his profession, having won numerous architectural awards and honors, and has taught at Berkeley since the early 1960s. The list of his published works goes on for pages.
He also owns a very fine collection of early Turkish carpets.
Others might look at this fragment and see only a carpet that probably should have been a bargain at any auction or sale, as most of it seems to have been left somewhere else. Alexander sees patterns, symmetry, wholeness, the essence of being. His isn't a book on carpets in the same sense that James Opie's very fine Tribal Rugs of Southern Persia is a book about handmade carpets. This is a book with chapters named "Objective Wholeness: the Mirror of the Self" and "The Creation of a Complex Center."
Part geometrical discussion tinged with philosophy, part treatise on art history, A Foreshadowing of 21st Century Art is a beautiful book that honors the collection that Alexander has built. He writes of the small scale on which the carpet's pattern is built — which he sees as an eighth of an inch — and concludes that the wholeness and harmony of homes and buildings also depend on patterns, on details and organization, down to that eighth-inch scale.
All of this makes me think that Alexander is a very, very expensive architect. Then I have to wonder: what if he and Edward Tufte of Envisioning Information fame were stuck in an elevator together? Is there any way to make that happen?
What most of us think of as "oriental" carpets are an incredible art form. If rugs, weaving, or textile arts appeal to you, take a look at the new virtual aisle here at Powells.com, built by our internet and marketing daemons: Textiles Special Collection.
The books that we shelve in this aisle are all part of a private collection, recently acquired by Powell's. While some very scarce titles such as Alexander's Foreshadowing, Bijoy Mohanty's two-volume Brocaded Fabrics of India and Rugs of the Peasants and Nomads of Anatolia reside in a rare book category, the majority of the special collection will be cataloged into this virtual aisle.
"Book News" that Brockman didn't report: Don't Piss Off a Jane Austen Fan
British car star Jeremy Clarkson summoned the shade of Jane Austen during a test drive that aired last week on the show Top Gear. The result? A huffy yet elegant stab at Mr. Clarkson, whom I suspect actually likes Jane Austen. He once wrote that the Cadillac SRX4 is "Jane Austen with windscreen wipers."
Mr. Clarkson, you have an open invitation to write about Jane Austen in this blog space anytime.