WHAT WERE THE ANCESTRAL VOICES prophesying war that Coleridge heard in a dream?
Oh that deep romantic chasm
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
The shadow of the dome of pleasure,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! Those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
They were the starchitectures of Gigantotomy, a lot to take in one, let alone many: the Tower of Babel, Ishtar Gate, Capitol Dome, Washington Monument, Nebuchadnezzar’s gold statue, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, EU Parliament, Denver Airport, the eyes of Oculus Horus in the subway beneath the 9/11 site, a vortex swallowing the globe. Name your own. Goat statues don’t count.
Shrines more or less equivalent to embodied ideas, political-religious metaphysicals repeat and mimic that sunny dome. But whether the milk of paradise of Coleridge’s "Kubla Khan" or the artificial paradises of the French (Les Paradis artificiels), “the dreams of a maniac who would replace solid furniture and a real garden by decorative canvas backdrops,” it strikes us that Baudelaire, the poet of sulphur flowers, moralizes against artifice as much as William Burroughs is against drugs (Naked Lunch). Both reputations go against this grain, but they learned hard, as did Rimbaud who embraced Christ on his death bed.
Starchitectures come to every species. The bizarre Spider of Bilbao and the Blue Horse of Denver live in the shade where Frabel designed glass botanicals, “flowers like the lily, Dogwood, Cherokee Rose and various Orchids recreated in borosilicate glass” (Life in the Gardens). Star doctrine says “there is not one single invention of Nature, however subtle or impressive it may be that the human spirit cannot create; no forest of Fontainebleu or moonlit scene that cannot be produced on a floodlit stage; no waterfall that hydraulics cannot imitate so perfectly as to be indistinguishable from the original; no rock that paper-mache cannot copy; no flower that specious taffetas and delicately painted papers cannot rival!”
They do not call themselves Earthitects who turn flowers into glass, trees into gold and fulfill a dozen fantasies from material riches to immortality. Starchitecture is as old as we make it, or find it, the hedge of yellow metal of Claudian, the ambiguity of gold refined from earth, an image of wisdom as deadly as Midas killing the plant with a touch. This vision of reality, a forgery, counterfeit, artifice is what Baudelaire says substitutes the vision for reality itself. The fruit of gold, the glass orchid, immortality satisfy no hunger for food any more than hunger for beauty or life. The fraudulent towers, sculptures and buildings, if we judge by the gold plant, lose all their nature in seeking to touch the sky, to enshrine the starchitects as absurdly as the golden age.
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by Jami Beck
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