Bridge Iconography Page 3


The abandonment of the 'Greek Classics' from general education, back in the 1950's, in the aftermath of their 'pollution' by Fascism (pace Hitler's taste for Greek Architecture, albeit 'Westernised'with avenues of howitzers) was intended to loosen the grip of the old, fuddy-duddy, 'elite', literary culture and allow a new, science-oriented, and putatively 'popular' culture to emerge. It was supposed that a new, International-Style culture might come into being borne along by the universality of Science and technology, and the founding medium of mathematics.

Then, in the early 1980's this model of progress finally, after 20 years of protest at its enthusiasm for cultural destruction and its impoverished powers of invention, finally gave way under attacks from many quarters, the most lethal being from Scientists who were often women. Science was seen to be far from globally unitary. Even mathematics is conceived in different ways in different cultures. In short the variety of cultures was seen to be a permanent feature which did not appear to be changing even though all else might be converging into a seemingly universal lifestyle.

Global variety was seen to be couched, specifically, in spoken language. Universality was seen to be situated in the mediated image transmitted, above all, by television. The two sides of the brain were in a conflict of global scale. What can mediate between them? Clearly only something that is, itself, a medium that synthesises words and objects into a new, original unity. This medium is the icon. Icons are universal, yet they also tap into the specifics of many cultures and languages. The wheel of history has turned a full revolution during the 20C, but what was taboo at its outset, is now the best hope for dialogue, intercourse and 'understanding', at its end.

The Greek Classics are, for a Westerner, the best route out of the suffocating parochialism of Europe. How else are we to understand the plots of the latest media phenomenon to enthuse Britain - Bollywood films?

The worst enemy for the restitution of 'the Classics' into our general culture, and therefore their restitution into general education, are, as often as not, the double-breasted Doric fogeys who preach the idea that all of our problems would be solved if we covered our buildings with stones cut to imitate the shapes of Greek Temples. No tendency needs enemies with friends like these, committed, engaging and clever people though they often are.

The Competition for an Inhabited bridge, 1995-6