Around the world, gateways of human culture have left lasting marks on human civilization. Their timeless forms arise, take shape, and fade away, only to re-emerge and repeat the cycle all over again.
We come upon these first before we can walk well or even talk — when sound, movement, gesture, and facial expression make up our only vocabulary — and where, usually in the tow of someone older leading us by hand, we toddle up to the edge of a patch of trampled ground or cleared open space where crowds assemble, and we stop there teetering a moment to take in the eery fullness and felt presence such places harbor. All at once, nudged by an inaudible “Use me!” they whisper to us from deep within, we squeal our glee as our tiny legs trip-toddle out into the beckoning expanse. As the years of youth roll by, these and other forms continue to reappear, in towering civic structures at the heart of most any sizable town, or on some college campus maybe, in the guise of things dubbed “academic disciplines” or “fields of study,” from which we are urged to select a major or perhaps even pick a profession.
In those to whom this happens, another discovery soon comes to join it: these structures lead to grand undertakings in interesting places far away. And for the ones fortunate enough to actually follow these further, they become still more, deepening and broadening into vivid and varied passageways into the world at large and a bigger way of living in it. Taken all together, these gateways sketch in bold-stroke outlines things that confront humanity currently, giving representative pieces of “the big picture” of whatever is going on in human civilization at any one time.
When seen this way, these gateways lead not into the past but into the future, stretching into the world at large and revealing formative aspects of human culture both east and west. Take the origins of theater in the west in Greece, for instance, at a place like the amphitheater in Epidaurus, as seen from the very highest seats . . .
from another angle . . .
or, as felt when seen from the open playing space of those in the chorus below . . .
. . . it towered above and around everyone there in a gigantic semicircle that seated a rousing throng of 12,000 to 14,000 people.
But what do these enduring forms signify?
The world has long had its share of archeological and architectural wonders, but what we are dealing with here is of a major difference on every significant count. Not only were they of an impressive size to show the importance they held in their varying cultures, but the forms show themselves in countries around the world, and continue manifesting themselves across the ages right on up to today.
We’ve already noted they are portals to far-reaching places and formative undertakings the world over, but that doesn’t sufficiently explain their pervasive prominence. But on closer inspection, they also reveal basic ways in which human beings go about the business of living out their lives day after day. And this, surely, is what points more directly at deeper reasons why these forms keep recurring in cultures around the globe: for they are nothing less than fundamental modes of human becoming.
The chief aim of this blog is to explore these underlying gateways — delving into them one by one — to identify the way each mode embraces a particular activity, constituting a pronounced and distinctive way of experiencing things generally, and therefore of also living one’s life in the world.
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Copyright © 2012 by Gene Ruyle