Imagine a river whose source waters are high up in the mountains—a river whose long, winding course terminates in the sea. This river is our Western culture. Two principal sources converge, forming the main body of this great river: the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian source-streams. The river’s course begins to make a conspicuous turn around the time of the Renaissance. It flattens out considerably after completing this turn, embracing a wide expanse as it slowly makes its way to the sea, where—like all rivers—it dies. Those of us alive today reside in the broad, marshy delta near the river’s terminus in the sea.
In this delta wherein we are planted, there are numberless shallow, narrow channels fanning out, following their slow journey to the sea just up ahead. In the silt of this broad delta lies buried all sorts of debris, the broken remains of towers and bridges that once bestrode and connected the banks of the river—when those banks were both more solid and closer together, upstream. What were these towers and bridges—the scattered fragments of which we presently stumble upon here in the narrow-shallow channels of this ramified delta we inhabit? Who built them—and to what purpose were they erected?
These original towers and bridges were built by exceptional spirits who managed somehow to master and to free themselves from the powerful current and eddies of the river, thus establishing themselves on the bank. These towers and bridges enabled the builders to survey the vast, wonderful landscape through which the river was passing, the same river that was carrying away all those persons to whom the builders were personally attached (in love or enmity), but who were unable, for one reason or another, to break free from the current and crawl out onto the bank—and stay there!
Nonetheless, from their stable, tall towers and bridges, these constructor-surveyors were able to shout down to their far more numerous brethren and sistren who were immersed in the river, passing swiftly onward and out of earshot. They could offer them valuable clues about where they’d just come from and about what lay up ahead—since they could clearly see these topographical features from their higher, leisured vantage point. More importantly, these tower-and-bridge-builders were able—from their quieter height—to converse with each other. This sharing of observations between the ‘towering’ and ‘bridging’ minds in each major region along the river’s lengthy course led to improved knowledge all the way around. Knowledge of each individual region—because it was being viewed from a variety of perspectives—was enriched and clarified. Knowledge of how to construct stronger and taller towers and bridges was improved, as well.
Periodically, terrible floodwaters would rise up, and even the strongest and tallest towers and bridges would be battered and submerged. Occasionally they would even be uprooted, broken up, and washed downstream. Such devastating floods took place during the 16th and 17th centuries, washing away, for good, many of the oldest towers and bridges which had remained solidly intact for ages. After the floods had subsided, the silt and erosion had done their level(ing) best to alter the terrain. Now, the well-defined, deep and powerful river flattened out and splintered into the narrow-shallow, muddy channels we are mired in today.
There are a few ambitious souls alive in this delta—men and women who aspire to climb out of their murky-muddy channel and construct a tower or a bridge. But where’s the real incentive to undertake such projects when so many objections and obstacles must first be confronted? To begin with, the terrain itself is flat and generally uninteresting. It is nothing but a vast treeless marsh where only grasses and cattails can grow. Because the ground is saturated, it is impossible to secure a solid foundation for a tall tower. There are, moreover, all the blood-sucking leeches, horseflies, and mosquitoes that flourish in the stagnant swamp-water that abounds. And perhaps the most formidable and mysterious objection to building, of all: the nearby sea, which calls so wistfully to those of us who know where we are and from whence we have come…dominions the likes of which we are not likely ever to revisit again.