Thursday, December 26, 2013

The History of Heaven and Earth 08: From Weight to Light

Note: Please click to enlarge all images of this blog post. In all cases except one, the illustration of my point at least partially depends on seeing as big of an image as possible. This first one, of the entrance to Hagia Sophia, although it visually begins to illustrate the title of this blog post, will contribute to a later point.

In my last post, I discussed how the first scientific experiment constituted the invention of perspective. This radically changed man’s perception of his environment. The vertical axis between heaven and earth was replaced by the horizontal axis of the eye; man’s perception became an extension of his eye. In the process, light replaced weight; man became light. The intention of this post is to show what I mean by that. It might sound like crazy talk, but it is clearly presented in man’s technologies.

Remember the previous discussion on hierarchical causation in this blog series? It was HERE, on the post on the Pythagorean Theorem. There, I noted that, with Pythagoras’ theorem, he demonstrated a cosmological order hidden in how sensible reality appears to us. This order IS the ordering of classical architecture, as depicted in the image to the right (of the classical orders of architecture). Again demonstrating the presence of a lens, the previous sentence is nearly impossible for us now to understand, because our model for how we think of these orders is found in the Home and Gardens catalogue. The classical orders are now presented as frozen and fixed photographs and thought of as stylistic choices of taste to be made by the consumer. No message is even considered to be possibly conveyed by an actual classical column other than the one conveyed through a photograph. On top of that, the actually photographed columns are poor copies in the first place and made of painted wood (which is much LIGHTER than stone).

The truth, however, is that the actual message conveyed by the classical columns of ancient Greece (or of the ancient world in general) is quite different from what comes across by reading Architetural Digest. The actual message would have been clearly and rather simply conveyed to ancient man simply by his perception of them. Because their appearing in the world is hierarchically governed, ordered, or caused in a very different way from today’s world, being engaged with the actual columns (and buildings) of ancient life may even ALTER the perception of a contemporary college student who travels to study them! That alteration, in fact, was, in large part (along with studying Pythagoras, among other things), how I FIGURED out that ancient man’s perception was dominated – as discussed in the previous post - by his ear and by the relationship between the gravity of his body and of earth, on the one hand, and the levity of the LIGHTER parts of himself and of heaven on the other.

In other words, man’s perception reflects his idea of how the world appears to him. Man's crafting of his world then reveals his perception. The details of the classical orders, then, tell the story of how man perceived. The details of the orders of architecture, shown in second figure of this blog post, tell the story of heavy stone rising to the light of heaven along the vertical axis of the columns themselves. In fact, the whole purpose of the differences between the orders – what causes the different orders to appear AS SUCH in the first place! – are the different ratios between gravity and levity that govern the different orders.

Pictured here is a row of column bases of the Parthenon, which is in Doric order. The Doric order, depicted in the three columns on the left of the drawing showing the classical orders, causes the column and building to appear as the heaviest. The ratio between the diameter and height of the Doric columns is the smallest of the three orders (about 1:8 at the Parthenon, if I remember correctly), making the column “look wider and heavier” in a drawing or photograph, but, in actuality, CAUSING the column, and the whole of the building, to be PERCEIVED, felt, or sensed, as heavier. The same goes for the capital, the head of the column. In the Doric order, the capital is a short, stunted little thing, as if being weighed down by the seemingly weightiest of the three ordered entablatures (the architectural element between the column and roof). And, in the Doric columns in the above drawing, as in the ones on the actual Athenian Acropolis, there is no base. As shown in the picture of the Parthenon bases, it is as if the columns crash into the earth like a massive thunderbolt of marble. Not only does the column feel heavy, but so does the man’s foot who beholds it.

The Ionic order, depicted in the middle three columns shown in the picture showing the classical orders, causes the column and building to appear much lighter than columns and buildings governed by the Doric order. The shaft of the column appears much more light and slender. If I remember correctly from my geometric studies, the ratio between diameter and height is about 1:10. As depicted in the top figure, and as in the actual columns of the Erechteum of the Athenian Acropolis, there is a base. And the base ELEVATES - both the column and the man to whom it appears. The base is a joint between shaft and ground, thus it joins. It also, however, separates column from ground in a way that strongly distinguishes the Ionic order from the Doric. Also, the capital of the Ionic order is much taller than that of the Doric; the head takes up more real estate, so to speak, haha. Again, this detail ELEVATES. Also, you can see that the entablature (the architectural part between the column head and the roof pediment) of the Ionic column tends to be broken UP into smaller, lighter parts, and to be more ornate.

The Classical architectural orders DEMONSTRATE a cosmological order of a higher scale, just as Pythagoras did with his clay or wood tiles. Namely, the architectural orders demonstrate the ordered relationship between heaven and earth. This order was thought, then, to be governed by gravity and levity, as discussed previously. The ELEMENT (St. Paul’s “stoicheia”) of Earth (and Water) was governed by gravity. Heaven, which contained – or even is made of - the element AIR, was thought to be governed by levity (as was the element of fire). The columns, and the temples themselves, were made of the element of earth. The vertical axis of the columns along which the demonstration occurs, the same vertical axis on which humans stand upon the earth and head toward heaven (figuratively speaking), thus, is very appropriate.

It is, however, the DIFFERENCES between the architectural orders that allow the audience to decode their language, to receive their conveyed message, to participate in the demonstration. You can stand in front of the Parthenon and very clearly sense with your body the weight of the temple bearing down upon the base. The details above the base, however, even though it is of the Doric order, which is the heaviest of the three, as well as the overall plan of the building, make it appear as though the weight of the base is figuratively holding the roof down. Having been impressed with such a con-figuration, then, the Erechteum - shown in the third picture of this post - which is of the Ionic order, appears to want to just fly away. (Note: if you enlarge that third image showing the temple face of the Erechteum, the effect, discussed primarily in this paragraph and the next, is much greater)

In that third photograph, of the Erechteum, you can clearly see the different ratios of gravity and levity that govern the two different orders – Ionic (Erechteum, in the foreground of the picture), and the Doric (Parthenon, in the background of the picture). The predominant perceptual impression of each temple front, in and of itself, upon the man who beholds them clearly occurs along the vertical axis between heaven and earth. The differences between each leave no doubt in the skeptical modern man of the weight of his body, despite his customary habit to perceive primarily through the light of his eye. For the ancient man, the differences between the Parthenon and Erechteum (and the other buildings on the Acropolis) leave a strongly affirmed impression of a beautifully ordered relationship between heaven and earth. Because we become what we behold, the gravity of earth and the levity of heaven are unified in the man who beholds them.

The first Christian Cathedral (which wasn’t really called a Cathedral yet) was “ordered” by the Emperor Constantine just before the Roman Empire broke up into the medieval world. In terms of the purpose of this blog post, its purpose was also to affirm the beautiful order of the cosmos by demonstrating the relationship between heaven and earth, primarily along the vertical axis. You can begin to see that in the enlarged photograph of the entrance to Hagia Sophia (the first photograph of this blog post). The very existence of a monumentally scaled dome high above your head, intended to APPROXIMATE heaven’s dome, makes it impossible not to look up when you walk in. The primary source of LIGHT being high above you (and in or from the dome) has the same effect. As you can see, however, other architectural features orient your feet to the weight and darkness of earth. The primacy of the vertical axis in man’s perception of his environment established by the classical orders of architecture at the Acropolis, then, carried on in the Roman (and medieval) man.

The first photograph of this blog post is the real entrance, the real beginning of the demonstration. The “exterior façade”, as you can see from the image on the left, was pretty much just where you walk inside the building. The view from one side of the exterior of Hagia Sophia isn’t but so very distinguished from that of any other side.

As mentioned in my last post, zero then arrived in the West around 1200 AD. Since beholding nothing makes man significantly lighter, it is no coincidence that, soon thereafter, man’s perception began to be more dominated by the light of his eye. It was right about this time when painting began to make more of a concerted effort to mimic precisely what the eye sees in the world. The construction of the version of Reims Cathedral that you see pictured to the right was begun at that time, as well, in the first part of the 1200s. As you can see, unlike Hagia Sophia, it has a very clear, distinct, and rather pronounced “exterior façade.” This was not an isolated incident but a general theme found on the Cathedrals of this time. This “exterior façade”, being a product of a new emphasis on the light of the eye, was a foreshadowing of Brunelleschi’s perspective experiment of the early 1400s, which affirmed the “point of view” which had clearly and obviously already begun to become a point of interest 200 years prior.

The point of this blog post, however, is to highlight the differences between the buildings on the Acropolis and Hagia Sophia on the one hand, and the later Cathedrals like Reims on the other. Hagia Sophia is clearly dominated by the relationship between heaven and earth (and the heady light and weighty foot of man) that occurs along the vertical axis. And, although the temples on the Acropolis have temple fronts, I think I made it clear that the vertical axis was primary there, as well. At the least, with further explanation and exploration of the architecture at the Acropolis, it would become clear that there is simply no such “point of view” like what suddenly and clearly began to become a concern after about 1200 A.D. with the introduction of the number zero to the West. At that time, perception began to extend from the eye – WHICH BEHOLDS BY LIGHT - along a horizontal axis.

It should be noted, then, that the title of this blog post has a double meaning. In reference to perception, it is about the classical column's demonstration of the relationship between heaven's levity and earth's gravity, which also appears in the man standing under the dome of Hagia Sophia. In reference to the Tower of Babel that is the history of man's perception, the title of this blog post is about how, through the course of history that we have examined so far in this blog series, the light of the eye replaced the weight of the body.

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