Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The other big Other

When I returned to Decorah after the Object-Oriented Ontology Seminar (OOOIII) in New York, the Luther College wind turbine was up! From many vantage points in town, it appears atop the bluffs. Stand on the dike next to the Upper Iowa River and you see its triple-pointed curves and cylindrical base in the distance, for the moment standing still, counterpointed by the sounds of the river running over rocks.

Look the other direction at the downtown of Decorah, and you will see cross-tipped church steeples rising highest amongst the human-made-architecture.

Look out of my office window in Valders Hall of Science, and you will see the cross atop the Center for Faith and Life (the CFL) and behind, slightly to the left, larger and higher, two complete and one partially-obstructed turbine blade and their attachment to the base.

The new sight reminded me of a recent visit to Salt Lake City in which one of my handlers explained to me that from outside the city one used to see predominantly the Tabernacle, but that the bank/finance buildings have dwarfed the temple in stature, so that now driving into Salt Lake City one sees the concrete housings of specular capital.

In Decorah, the Christian crosses still stand tallest when one looks to the town, but turn from town and the turbine rises high into vision.

From my office they are closely juxtaposed, yet they do not seem in competition. The cross is affixed to a brick building nearby, and the turbine is in contact with the clouds and points at the limestone bluffs in the distance, yet it is connected, wired to us.

Rather than competing symbols, I see an other big Other, watching over the town, or, more succinctly, another symbol through which we project our self-watching.

Talking to an emeriti faculty, he told me another person had “run the numbers” and discovered the turbine would be lucky to break even for Luther College. “It’s largely if not wholly symbolic,” he criticized. For me, the experiment is part of a larger, and yes perhaps utopian, project, but why is its symbolism a point for denigration? The symbolism is an aesthetic function of the machine—one function among many of the machine.

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