Autochthon of Stone: Architecture and the Philosophy of History
The arch gives us an interesting image to understand the arc of history. In it we see a repetition and reformation, a clear enframing of being within time, the outside which bears upon the form with a gravity demanding a harmonious series of lines struggling towards unity and completion. One may ask whether those in power are creating the arc themselves or merely perceiving its already existing form and attempting to live up to it. In other words, is their own form contained within the arch or do they exist beyond it?
It is a romantic notion to think that man may overpower the course of history, surpass entire societies, even continents, and bend the ideology of an era to his will. But if we take the recent examples of America and Germany we see that this is simply not the case, both failed miserably in their aims of determining history through law or martialism. The arches collapsed upon them due to forces that the building could not withstand. If some of the most powerful nations in history were incapable of determining the will of their era, what does this say of the human ability to escape time and determine a territory beyond its laws?
The idea of material flourishing is dominant in our era, that the human is much greater than he seems even in failure. It is a false notion perhaps most easily seen when related to Zeno's Paradox of the Tortoise, as if our command of the abstractions of time allow us to overcome it, as if a conception of complex mathematics allows Achilles to easily overcome the tortoise. But all this is doing is rewriting the rules, refusing to see the essence of the problem. Both apart and together Achilles and the Tortoise form One Being, there is only passage within instantiated time—surpassing the criticism lodged by the Aristotelians by prefiguring it.
Similar to this, one may view the arc of history as if looking upon the Roman Colosseum, an entire enclosed elliptical shell with arches built atop one another into an imposing facade. There is linearity within the moment of its construction but in its completion time can be seen as a whole, every arch flowing into another and forming a beautiful and powerful creative dominion—one can then imagine an epoch as a single arch within the entire architecture. And from this viewpoint the single arch stands complete when it is self-supporting, when it is entirely self-contained; the opposing forces of each exerting themselves against neighbouring stone so that the whole may stand against time. Shifting eras and great wars often perform this function, terrible inertias tearing apart whole nations as they are reestablished into entirely new formations.
One should set aside theories of degeneration and degradation to allow the image to convey its full power, an ugly or asymmetrical building can be conjured up after the ideal building reaches completion—as form is easier to perceive within that which is striking, arresting. These are not ruins that we are dealing with, the arches do not fall into each other, invading the structural integrity of the opposite walls, for this could set into motion a chain of collapse threatening the entire building. It is also important to remember that the great architect is not only concerned with material integrity, the endurance of stone—he is not merely skilled, he realises the necessity of his city and nation to fulfill a greater purpose, thus his construction is formed within the arch and arc of the city's essence. The great building rises from the earth as if a natural forming of the city's being, a reflection of the autochthon, a perfect image of the citizenry communing with eternal dominion. Just like his city, the architect's creation exists as a duality, in two places, against time and space yet forming within it.
Here we can situate the individual and his strength, the possible reach of his laws, the potential for success of his mobilisation of material against metaphysical realms. Is he capable of realising what remained hidden to the rest of the populace? Does he allow completely opposing laws and aesthetic celebrations to rise from the earth? Or is he an arbiter of some greater force? A harbinger of coming gods? It should be obvious that the individual is not more powerful than the building which takes entire communities to raise it from the earth—and certainly no one would estimate his power as greater than the city itself. At best, his image helps to complete the aesthetics of the Colosseum, he appears as perfect within his short time standing within one of the arches. Yet, even this is no small task, we moderns tend to forget the power residing within the simple.
It is possible to liken this image to that of the Shield of Achilles. The great heroes of the ancient world saw themselves as minor figures within a greater whole, and it was this humility which permitted greatness. Contrasted against this, perhaps we can say that the modern individual who sees himself cutting away at the world only does so because he has lost sight of time, he perceives of himself as beyond its laws. He sees the archway standing on its own, floating in the air, a portal dedicated to nothing more than his own being. The city and nation, even the world and its gods, are subsumed by personal feeling. And so the rest of creation disappears against the approaching horizon of a single image. Time consumes, and we see the construction of our era as the disgorgement of all that resides outside of it—a necessary adaptation of the impossibly weak.
Where romanticism attempted to apprehend beauty within ruins, the post-humanists imagine a technicalised ruination where matter is self-organising, forming its own architecture within realms of immaterial intellect. If man is to prove that his being is more powerful than the surrounding constructions of city and country then he must set himself apart from time even more than the building towering above him—just as his buildings sought to devour nature, he devours his own creation. He must mine materials and condense them into explosive powders, placing them within the support columns which collapse the archways. Done properly the construction will disappear into dust, forever divided from reality and memory. And it is here that material is formed out of the condensation of time, man has surpassed the need of the old architecture and now envisions a form of material which flows against itself, encircles its own dominion as the architecture which can never be stepped into the same way twice. Yet one may understand that these are only hidden archways, a construction based upon a monstrous planning.
When we consider the sovereignty of man over nature we tend to assume an opposed territory as something lesser—the qualities of that which is greater are somehow flattened, turned into a simplified and tangible abstraction. But we must imagine these forms as something much more powerful; where the intricacies of our own life seem to collapse eternity upon us as a great trial of pain and endurance we will nevertheless have to reconcile with the fact that the rivers and forests standing before us will endure far beyond our imaginations. Entire worlds will play out from within the smallest territories to the extent that even the greatest men will appear as nothing. There is always a looming sublimity, a greater force threatening to return us to something less than nihilism.
The man who believes in his superiority over the archway does not understand its laws, the instantiated techne which must be set against itself to create something beautiful. And thus he is destined to create something ugly. Even in ruins the image of the Colosseum persists as a whole, if not as reality then as some lost law. Even in war, when countless explosions threaten the arches, when people struggle bleeding beneath fractured stone, the arc looms as possibility—an unending languor betraying the will of man.
Ages persist. The image may never be perfect, but to deny it is to constrain time and space within the imperceptible. There are laws of the Golden Age, just as there are laws of the Heroic and Iron Ages: the Colosseum falls into disrepair; is covered in scaffolding to return it to a previous age; sectioned off for multiple celebrations; is overrun by the spectacle of violence becoming an insurrection; or even falls into silence as time surpasses its need. Just as the arch must contain its arc and entryway the human must combine strength and humility; time its sovereignty over space and nothingness.
The arc of history is man's setting upon his own territory to contend with and reconcile present necessity with eternal laws. Beauty and strength rise as an era seems to surpass the laws of time—the great and monstrous archways towering above the others, and giving a glimpse of what resides within.