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The Tower of Babel: To render a myth

Part 2 Dissertation 2015
Jessica Davidson
Newcastle University Newcastle-Upon-Tyne UK
The story of the Tower of Babel is a concise 200 words in the Book of Genesis, beginning with the united people of earth conspiring to build a tower to heaven, concluding with God confounding the people with multiple languages. On the one hand the passage describes a story of linguistic evolution, on the other it constructs a mythical architectural edifice - with origins in Jewish folklore, but its foundations, possibly, in ziggurats of Mesopotamian history.

This study is concerned with parallels between language and architecture provided by the myths re-tellings, exploring how translation and interpretation are involved in myth-building, asking how architecture communicates cultural meaning and questions the role of architect as author. Part I uses Structuralist linguistic theory of Saussure to construct a diachronic map of the Babel, showing how meaning sediments from its early appearance in Hebrew folklore to its later repetition in Flemish painting.

Part II proceeds to deconstruct this narrative by exploring a synchronic analysis, referring to Deleuzean theories of human perception and the ‘potentials’ of virtual realities, introducing versions of the tower such as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Its transversal horizontal structure proposes that mythical edifices are = always in construction – and open to re-imaginings.

Jessica Davidson

Adam Sharr
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