The inestimable Richard Powers in stellar form. An op-ed piece that starts quite sedately as an homage to architecture as the preeminent artform..
“…Buildings embody our most profound, ambitious, and capital-intensive attempts to overhaul the conditions of existence. More than any other aesthetic instrument, monuments stand metonymically for whole cultures and eras. Old chestnut definitions for the field attest to how it incorporates the expressive capabilities of the other arts. Cathedrals are the bible in stone. The exterior of a classical facade sounds as frozen music in the mind. Archaic spaces are said to open onto pure theater, infinity made imaginable. The architect Mulciber was one of the first to be cast out of heaven. Writers, painters, and musicians had to take a number and get in line behind him. And this demonic creators masterpiece, the city of Pandemonium, has stood the test of time, outlasting all other created works except, perhaps, the first…”
..but doesn’t take long to concoct a soaring parable, somehow encompassing J.S. Mill, data structure, maps, Borges, Bayreuth, Chartres, Lewis Carroll and, of course, Manhattan..
“…You take on a virtual character and move in. For a while you are thrilled, the thrill of dice baseball, of dress-ups, of massively persistent, parallel, populated role-playing games, the rush of lying to someone at a wild party, completely reinventing who you are, and, for a while, getting away with it. You have finally found another life, a sculptable, moldable, replayable thing. You make yourself into the Count of Monte Cristo, come back to set this sleepy little bourgeois fable alight. You make yourself into Tess or Anna or Emma, and vow to stay alive, to get it right this time. You thrill to your growing stats, the heaping up of fortune here, the unlooked-for, surprising, incremental addictive payoffs of this alternate existence…”
“And then, in time, another sadness sets in. The sadness of consummation. The sadness of infinite freedom. Of save and reboot. Of having the world, in all its heft and bruise and particularity, go utterly your own way.”