Wednesday, March 28, 2012

More than g-strings and sex changes

The strange tilt mirrors the natural formation to it's right (Sugarloaf Mountain).  It is nature regularized.  Perhaps an explicit reference to the doctrine of the rational imposition of order upon nature, defying it or improving it.  Something Gid's been looking at in the checkerboard motifs, echoed in images of regular furrows in plowed fields and perpendicular fences, perhaps as a reflection of a Pietist doctrine.  Perhaps this also implies the doctrine of human perfectibility.  It would also imply a civilizing mission....

The theology of turning the wilderness into a garden has most explicitly been vocalized by Protestants, but this idea was also present in Catholic thinking, excited by the discovery of the New World.  Which is what this pyramid celebrates: it is a monument to Estácio de Sá (1520-1567), the Portguese soldier who founded Rio de Janeiro.  Rio, like many another New World burg, doesn't have an origin lost in the mists of time, thus given a mythical founding.  Romulus and Remus for Rome.  Isis for Paris.  No.  In the Americas we have dates, concrete starting points for cities founded out of whole cloth, laid out in orderly grids.  The utopian impulse in urban planning.  The fresh start.  Regeneration.  "Order and Progress" as the flag of Brazil states.  Rationality and improvement, the themes we began with.

Now, I might be willing to write this monument off as just another pyramaid, albeit one with a nifty lilt; nothing esoteric here, folks....but damn it all if this one doesn't have, like our old friend in Blagnac, 13 layers.  I'm sorry, but artists and architects mean something.  This isn't just random chance, coincidence.  This pyramid is trying to communicate something.  Given that 13 colonies formed the basis of that utopian experiment of order and progress to the north, it's hard not to create a link.  Weaving spiders and whatnot.

Before the pyramid is a glass triangle on the ground which lets light into an underground "crypt", where a reproduction of Sá's tomb, the city seal and sand is illuminated from above.  (A picture of this can be found here:

No need to go back into the solar connections of the pyramid, obelisk and pyramidion, but this aspect of the monument does call to mind the Voortrekker monument, which also has a cenotaph illuminated from above by natural sunlight.  The Voortrekker Monument also celebrates a hearty band of colonists looking to create a new life out of whole cloth and more specifically, a group which thought it had a special covenant with God.  In addition to the theology of human improvement and the mastery over nature, New World theology is also one of covenant theology.  You'll have to take my word for that.

This Sá monument was designed by Lúcio Costa, a Brazilian architect in love with modernismwho privileged Brazil's Portuguese architectural heritage over the contributions of other cultures, resulting in losing a significant amount of non-Portuguese urban architecture over the years he held sway in these matters.  Costa, incidentally, was the chief designer of Brasilia, capital of Brazil.  Brasilia holds the distinction of being the world's only major metropolis inexistent at the beginning of the 20th century.  It was designed and constructed where nothing had existed before, rife with utopian idealism, much like the early colonial cities of the New World.

Costa lived to ripe old age, a visionary, a schemer and a political hack.  Sá died at 46 after an arrow went through his eye.


  1. When I read your statement, "the theology of turning the wilderness into a garden," I thought of the biblical narrative wherein humans were kicked out of the Garden of Eden and cast into the wilderness.

    Maybe this is obvious, but it hadn't occurred to me that by turning the wilderness into a garden--are we seeking a return to the Garden of Eden?

    In an earlier post (or comment?), I suggested that there was an irony in imposing order upon nature as an expression of piety--but if the Garden of Eden is God's purest creation, and if wilderness is a shithole into which sinners are cast, then perhaps there's no irony at all.

    Seen like this, it makes perfect sense that imposing order upon wilderness is an act of redemption.

    (On the other hand, I think that many Catholics believed that the New World was, or contained, Eden, so it would seem ironic that the Catholics attempted to impose a New Order upon the New World....)

  2. That photo's really cool, the way the pyramid echos the mountain.

    The name of that mountain got me to wondering: why are there so many Sugarloaf Mountains?

    (Maybe there aren't and I just dreamed that?)

    So I googled "sugarloaf" mountain--and found out why.

    Check out the images of sugarloafs!

    (BTW, I am a big fan of starting sentences with "so." True, it does usually result in a sentence fragment and does not, therefore, work too well in formal writing, but "so" is so much more pleasing the pedantic "therefore.")

  3. I wasn't sure that I understood covenant theology, so I followed that link.

    That Wikipedia article has some absolutely terrible writing. Good lord.

    I was impressed, however, to discover that my upbringing so completely immersed me in covenant theology. It was somewhat startling to see it laid out as an interpretation. It was like when the fish says to the other fish, "The water's great today!" And the other fish replies, "What's water?"

    I mean, I've spent lots of time considering ways of thinking about the Bible that were fundamentally different from my upbringing. I've thought about biblical interpretation from a gnostic point of view and a Jewish point of view and a Muslim point and a agnostic pov and an aethiest pov and a mysterian pov and an historian pov and a literaturist pov and etc., etc.

    But never from a more subtlety Christian point of view that was not covenant theology.

    Or maybe I have--maybe that's what Mel Gibson's all about?

    No, I think that there more subtle considerations at play here. I'll be pondering this one for a bit.

  4. Wow. A sugarloaf is something like a monstrous dildo. But I see why they name mountains after them. "Monstrous Dildo Mountain" would be pretty cool though!

    Great comments, btw. I think you're spot on about the return to paradise idea implicit in the utopian impulse. I hadn't thought of it exactly that way. I suppose it could also be linked to the psychoanalytic "return to the womb" discourse.

    The act of taming the wild as an act of redemption is as you say the water to the fish that are Americans. That the colonists of all kinds were the foot soldiers in that redemption, it's "logical" that covenant theology takes root so easily. Like, we're the ones turning earth back into paradise, God must be smiling upon our endeavors. Which of course all echoes the flinght of the Israelites into the wilderness to create Israel....hence the "Mosaic" covenant....Mosaic as in both Moses and Tessellation....

  5. Theopedia:


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