20 June 2007


Dublin is not a city of skyscrapers. This isn't a matter of spontaneous equilibrium, either. The city's Site Planning Committee is vigilant on the point. It's a city of four or five story buildings for long stretches.

So when something does stand out of this low-level pattern, the site line extends a long distance. This is true of the two fine Gothic Cathedrals -- St. Patrick's and Christ's Church -- it is true of two beery corporate buildings -- Heineken's and Guinness -- it is true of "the spire," a 120 meter high needle-shaped hunk of concrete in the center of the shopping district.

Nobody to whom I spoke quite knew what, if anything, the spire is supposed to symbolize. A cabbie sardonically suggested that, given the drug activity on O'Connell Street at nights, it might symbolize a syringe. More serious suggestions made it out to be a matter of civic pride. "We're an important town and we can have a high needle if we want to."

The aesthetics of the needle didn't appeal to me. But there is much in Dublin to delight the eye. The two cathedrals I've mentioned above are examples. The eighteenth century neo-classical architecture of Trinity College is another.

On my tour through Trinity my group had as a leader a first year student of economics there who knew that he was attending a fine old college with a distinguished history but seemed vague on the particulars. He was telling us that a certain building -- which once housed a printing press -- is ("now that the college doesn't print its own books anymore") devoted to music and the recording arts. Another student, who just happened to be walking by, said, "Excuse me, that's electrical engineering." Our guide immediately accepted the correction and apologized.

The Trinity Library is known as "Berkeley Library," after the subjectivist philosopher George Berkeley, who was a fellow here early in the college's history. Our guide, of course, pronounced his name in the original old-world way, Barkley. (It has been Americanized in the name of the city in California and its university, though they too owe their names to the philosopher.)

Our guide didn't know the famous limerick illustrating Berkeley's philosophy with a tree in the quad, even though he had just led us through that very quad and any number of trees. Not to worry, reader, I informed him of the limerick.

As his last duty, our guide led us to a building where Trinity keeps some of its medieval treasures under glass. There I saw half of the Book of Kells. The book appears to have been chopped into four parts in the 1950s, the better to display it. Two of the quarters were put in one building, two in another. In each of the displays, one of the portions of the book is open to a page chiefly of text, the other is open to a page dominated by an illustration/illumination. Both are convincing demonstrations of early-medieval Celtic piety -- the force that pulled the west of Europe through the darkest of the dark ages.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.