The Buddha in the Machine: Art, Technology, and the Meeting of East and Westby R. John Williams
The famous 1893 Chicago World’s Fair celebrated the dawn of corporate capitalism and a new Machine Age with an exhibit of the world’s largest engine. Yet the noise was so great, visitors ran out of the Machinery Hall to retreat to the peace and quiet of the Japanese pavilion’s Buddhist temples and lotus ponds. Thus began over a century of the West
The famous 1893 Chicago World’s Fair celebrated the dawn of corporate capitalism and a new Machine Age with an exhibit of the world’s largest engine. Yet the noise was so great, visitors ran out of the Machinery Hall to retreat to the peace and quiet of the Japanese pavilion’s Buddhist temples and lotus ponds. Thus began over a century of the West’s turn toward an Asian aesthetic as an antidote to modern technology.
From the turn-of-the-century Columbian Exhibition to the latest Zen-inspired designs of Apple, Inc., R. John Williams charts the history of our embrace of Eastern ideals of beauty to counter our fear of the rise of modern technological systems. In a dazzling work of synthesis, Williams examines Asian influences on book design and department store marketing, the commercial fiction of Jack London, the poetic technique of Ezra Pound, the popularity of Charlie Chan movies, the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, and the design of the latest high-tech gadgets. Williams demonstrates how, rather than retreating from modernity, writers, artists, and inventors turned to traditional Eastern technê as a therapeutic means of living withbut never abandoningWestern technology.
Meet the Author
R. John Williams is assistant professor of English at Yale University, teaching courses in literature, film, and media studies.
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Can zen and technology coexist? If you ever wondered about the relationship between people and the technology they create - how we both embrace it and fear it - then "The Buddha in the Machine" is a great place to start. Author R. John Williams takes readers on a journey through history, examining various pivotal moments in the push and pull of Western technology and how we have turned to Eastern culture to act as the antidote to our own over-mechanization. One example of this, explains Williams, can be found by examining the Chicago World's Fair in 1893 and looking at how spectators were at first fascinated by, then frightened by, the machines they witnessed in action and so retreated to the peace and quiet of the Japanese pavilion. Williams skillfully weaves stories like these together to create a bigger picture of this phenomenon. From Jack London to Lafcadio Hearn to Ezra Pound, from book design to architecture to film, he looks to the experiences of others to illustrate the way in which Eastern ideals are embraced as a way to counter the fears associated with the rise of modern technology. Let's face it, we live in a paradox - we love technology, but we often hate it at the same time. The best thing we can do (as Williams' analysis shows us) is to find a way to live with the machines, in a harmonious way. And what better example than Eastern cultures, who readily accept that beauty is an essential part of life. "The Buddha in the Machine" may be dense, but as I learned with The Awakening of the West: The Encounter of Buddhism and Western Culture, the history of Buddhism is fascinating!