Surfaces: A History

Surfaces: A History

Language: English

Pages: 310


Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Human beings are surrounded by surfaces: from our skin to faces, to the walls and streets of our homes and cities, to the images, books, and screens of our cultures and civilizations, to the natural world and what we imagine beyond. In this thought-provoking and richly textured book, Joseph A. Amato traces the human relationship with surfaces from the deep history of human evolution, which unfolded across millennia, up to the contemporary world. Fusing his work on Dust and On Foot, he shows how, in the last two centuries, our understanding, creation, control, and manipulation of surfaces has become truly revolutionary—in both scale and volume. With the sweep of grand history matched to existential concerns for the present, he suggests that we have become the surfaces we have made, mastered, and now control, invent, design, and encapsulate our lives. This deeply informed and original narrative, which joins history and anthropology and suggests new routes for epistemology and aesthetics, argues that surfaces are far more than superficial façades of deep inner worlds.












ascending levels. City walls, though vulnerable and, from a geologic perspective, ultimately temporal and frail, stood on the human landscape as foundational and monumental. They seemed to be the enduring face of their ages and the measure of memory. They represented social permanence and read as the longest page in the book of history. Walls, the largest, flattest, and most definitive surfaces of built architecture, formed the shell and cover of the human hive and egg. Yet they wrapped life in

lives and minds into walls. Literally joining people’s material artifacts to their sense of the sacrosanct, city walls functioned as bonds of religion that etymologically tied (re-litigare) people together. Walls visibly defined a sacred boundary, encapsulating a society and geography into a cosmos, which people experienced, named, and came to know by a mere glance. Walls staked out a landscape, a place, a people, and a time. Walls, foundational in human building, anchored places at the edge of

virtue, honor, and wealth. Politics itself was idealized as the craft of governance and the art of legislation. Through it citizens fashioned the boundaries and substance of their free lives in the polis.66 Not without conscious analogy to the skillful carpenter, Greek intelligence chose, cut, fashioned, and joined ideas to describe and explain the world. Like other and older civilized peoples of the Near East, Egypt, and China, the Greeks measured things and reckoned the order of being. With

joined, and crossed realms of things and meaning. An alternative and more humble way to express this web of meanings is to consider the declarative and connective power of a pair of shoes. They belong to an individual. They carry a person from morning to night and through his days. They are often associated with a certain class and way of life. A great classifier, over ages, distinguishes those with shoes and those who are barefoot, those with tattered and torn rags for footwear and those who

for the cathedral, an integrated work of geometry, stone, and glass. Mathematically proportioned through the systematic and rigorous application of ratios, the cathedral expressed the perfection of form. Derived from ancient Greek thought and resonating with the endorsement of the Old Testament, the cathedral represented the glory of God’s universe as a system of eternal order and beamed forth the radiant and transfiguring promises of the risen Christ. THE TELLING EYE AND THE MAKING HAND But

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