Chapter

Prologue: Humboldt's Bridge

in The Passage to Cosmos

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print September 2009 | ISBN: 9780226871820
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226871844 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226871844.003.0001
Prologue: Humboldt's Bridge

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This chapter begins by considering one of Humboldt's first books, Vues des Cordillères, et monumens des peuples indigènes de l'Amérique (Views of the Cordilleras and monuments of the indigenous peoples of America), and then argues that Humboldt, in his writings, created his own natural bridge. This is not a light structure thrown across like a plank to provide perilous passage between two great realms. It is pulled into place by gravity and by its weight supports the whole, becoming the keystone to Humboldt's cosmic architecture. Humboldt chose the title for his late work, Cosmos, with care; though it daunted him a little, he stood by it, for it allowed him to articulate both landings of his bridge: first, what Thoreau called “hard matter and rocks in place,” the physical universe as it exists apart from human purpose; and second, the beauty and order of that universe, the very idea of the whole. The physical universe exists without us, no doubt, beyond us and other than us; but the Cosmos needs us. Only in the dance of world and mind, subject and object, does Humboldt's Cosmos come into being.

Keywords: Alexander von Humboldt; Cosmos; bridges; cosmic architecture

Chapter.  4425 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of the Americas

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