- Our Church Steeple
Last week, I was in a downtown room with Knute Berger, a local veteran journalist and Crosscut's "chief Northwest native." The reason for us being in this room was to prepare for a big Town Hall event coordinated by Ampersand, a journal that recently published our thoughts on density. When it comes to opinions relating to the city of Seattle, Berger and I have many disagreements, one of which is the Columbia Center. He is a very low no; I'm a very high yes. But his deep no would surely be lifted to a yes if he just read 7 pages (65 to 72) of the first and most famous book, Swann's Way, of Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. (I will always remain faithful to Scott Moncrieff's English translation of A la recherche du temps perdu—Terence Kilmartin did more harm than justice to Moncrieff's language.)
In those few pages, Berger will find beautiful passages that concern the steeple of the cathedral that grounds the fictional town of Combray. Our tower is equivalent to that steeple. But whereas the steeple represents the power of the church in the medieval times (it was built in the 11th century, according to the narrator, who shares the same name with the author, Marcel), our tower represents the power of the market in our economic age. What must not be forgotten is that the city is the proper home of the market. The business of a town is to begin with business. Any Marxist who tells you otherwise is not worth his salt or your time. They are lying to you and themselves. Capitalism is nothing but the unification of the castle and the town, the king and die Bürger.
Despite representing very different social institutions from very different periods, the steeple and tower still serve the same human function. They center us, and unify the variety of spaces and doings of the city we are in. With the Columbia Center, you know not only where you are but that you are with many others who too are centered by this tower. Proust:
It was always to the steeple that one must return, always it which dominated everything else, summing up the houses with an unexpected pinnacle, raised before me like the Finger of God, Whose Body might have been concealed below among the crowd of human bodies...Lose the tower, and we lose all of this.