|‘Marge Gets a Job’, The Simpsons, Season Four, Episode Seven (source)||The Patiala Necklace, Cartier, Paris, 1928 (source)
‘One admires the mild Erasmus, who thought that heaven would be full of conversation and sociability, with noble and famous souls wandering around, as if on a celestial college campus. In this vein, Isaac Watts suggested that various dead fellows of the Royal Society would be made available to give lectures to the younger spirits’.
—James Wood, London Review of Books, April 14, 2011
In Christianity, the theological conception of heaven approaches the original utopia of Greek philosophy, described in Plato’s Republic, in so far as it is understood as an achievable ideal for a class of elites (Philosopher kings, the predestined). As is required to realize any sort of good idea, Christian and non-Christian social utopia alike must be sought after—and assurances made along the way. Because if heaven exists, then what does it look like?
John Milton named the fallen angels ‘architects of pandemonium’ (one wonders how chaos is best designed), although it is subject to interpretation who decides the shape of eternal bliss. Regardless, the strength of imagination required for ambitious utopian thinking must be supplemented by reliable imagery—bliss as geodesic dome, for example.
Because empathy is more easily transferred through representation, the visual arts and especially painting have benefited tremendously from moral speculation—in the history of not only Western religion, where believers are taught to reach paradise by imitating Christ.
In architecture, the avant-garde bears the responsibility for evangelical social thinking. Thus Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, Buckminster Fuller, Team X sympathizers and even the Japanese Metabolists should be remembered for their designs as much as their expectations for the communities of people who may inhabit them. With the dawn of global architectural consumption, the concept of ‘the new’ has become impoverished—and yet boredom risks the danger that we dream of no better utopia than that which imitates the (hyper-)reality already engulfing us.
Adorning Maharajahs, Bollywood brides and the average woman shopping in a local market, fine jewelery is a popular accessory throughout India and its surrounding region. In a culture where precious stones and metals are typically considered critical investments, imitations are valued in relation to rarer specimens. High-quality resemblances may enhance the value of a substitute, but can also simultaneously diminish the status of the original by propagating sameness, rendering all associated versions mediocre.
Taking this understanding of the imitation’s function into account, the Sikh leaders in charge of Amritsar, Punjab’s Sri Harmandir Sahib (also known as ‘The Golden Temple’, real gold, of course) have recently protested the construction of a duplicate shrine—Sachkhand Angeetha Sahib—in the nearby Malwa region. Some leading religious figures fear this shrine may detract from the significance of the original.
Ultimately, in the complex dialectic between an original and an imitation, it is difficult to predict if re-creation leads to degradation of a design through dilution, or fortifies desire by permitting a measure of access. Purveyors of luxury goods understand this dilemma and are known to manipulate it in their favor by permitting the production of recognizably cheap iterations of their higher-end designs out of lesser materials and workmanship: awareness is piqued, while distance from the covetable original is maintained. Perhaps a semi-precious replica of the Sri Harmandir Sahib can produce a similarly beneficial outcome.
Erandi de Silva