PRINT September 1989


THE PEOPLE OF BABEL, we are told, tried to build a tower to the sky; tried to storm the infinite regions of God. The story has an inhibiting moral—it is arrogant to imagine a life other than the one we already know—but like the Greek Prometheus myth, it also testifies to an enduring desire to try the limits of the possible. Actual history has shown that the consequences of that desire can be both as liberating and devastating as the myths imply. The early European visitors to the Americas, for example, such as Christopher Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci, broke through the boundaries of an age’s comprehension; through them, the whole earth could be described by the name we still call the lands they explored—not the New Countries or even the New Continents, but the New World. Yet the gilded increase in the power of the conquerors was effected through a subtraction from, a destruction of, the

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