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2005 04 02
Empire of Bricks - 4
imageVery shortly after our son Jones was born we were shocked to hear that he was going to be visited upon by his maternal grandmother, a woman who had never been north of the Mason-Dixon line let alone to a foreign land, a biographical footnote of which she was fiercely proud. However Jones, named for her father, at one point the oldest practicing lawyer in the state of Florida, represented the last of her family’s line. There was a tremendous genetic responsibility heaped on the shoulders of this wee bundle fortunately too young to feel that burden. After the initial and extended fawning period we thought we should show the grandparents around the city, just to give them a little context in which to visualize their sole heir. The fawning over their grandson seemed to be interrupted only to allow for amazement at the quantity and style of brick houses and civic buildings in the city.
I had actually not ever noticed this about the city. It seemed to be a rather dull thing to fix upon. In fact I secretly thought that they, especially Jeanne’s mother, ever the southern belle, was trying to find something to fasten on out of politeness. She went on and on about how it seemed so much like England, a country whose character for her was largely derived from movies, television and a very supple imagination but was however I grudgingly concede, shockingly accurate. A cultural connection to which I admit not having given a great deal of thought. I suppose to Jeanne’s Mom the colonial character of the place was unavoidable. They never visited again. We resumed the usual pattern of once or twice a year making the trek southward, not an altogether an unwelcomed break especially mid-winter. This pattern was interrupted finally when we were shocked by our son’s pronouncement at age ten that he would no longer travel to a country which he considered ‘the great satan’. Our visits became more sporadic, never with Jones. We had somehow missed out on that part of child-rearing that explained how to ‘lay down the law’. In retaliation Jeanne’s Mom refused to speak to anyone with purple hair. It was an international stand-off. But on our first visit to the Southern U.S. after the ‘visitation’ I did notice the quite rare use of brick, Capitol buildings and court houses, mostly, kind of a Jeffersonian look. I believe the post-revolutionary style switched to Greek revival, a nod to the birthplace of democracy. While brick was looked upon as overly British.

The only concern here is to spot the degree of effect which the alphabet had on its first users. Lineality and homogeneity of parts were ‘disocveries,’ or tather changes in the sense life of the Greeks under the new regime of phonetic writing. The Greeks expressed these new modes of visual perception in the arts. The Romans extended lineality and homogeneity into the civic and military spheres, and into the world of the arch and of enclosed or visual space. They did not so much extend the Greek ‘discoveries’ as undergo the same process of detribalilzation and visualization. They extended lineality into and Empire and homogenization into the mass-processing of citizens, statuary, and books. Today the Roman would be quite at home in the U.S.A. and the Greek by comparison would prefer the ‘backward’ and oral cultures of our world, such as Ireland or the Old South.
[email this story] Posted by Bernie Miller on 04/02 at 08:39 AM

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