English, Department of


Date of this Version

Fall 1999


Nebraska History 80:3 (Fall 1999), pp. 109-122.


Copyright 1999 Nebraska State Historical Society.


It is a long way from Black Elk's tipi to the Stuart building. Clearly most cultures and periods impose one or more narrative plots on time and space (I have written of four that were part of the recent past of this state). It may be that we will need soon to return again to a celebration of the cyclical in our architecture. If the ethos of domination that goes with linear, progressive notions of time is as destructive to our environment as the Club of Rome (and other successor study groups looking at the future of the planet) have suggested, then perhaps we will have in the future to return to more modest visions of simultaneity and human possibility in the buildings that we create.40 Such an architecture will have, once again, to make use of local materials, stress the cyclical in human culture and in the natural world, and allow for an openness and vulnerability before the latter. Instead of emphasizing massiveness and reach in the collection of arch itectural materials, we may have to emphasize parsimony and elegance, what the oldest occupants of this territory sought in their build ings. Earlier I argued that the words that document history and the spaces that are tokens of time past go together to form what we know of what has happened. The extreme textualist view of history does not believe that history is something from which we can learn . It makes time become our entirely subjectively understood texts. But the textualists are wrong. Space does tell us about time. Often the spaces of buildings tell us not only about what time has done to them, but about what conceptions of time were foundational to the buildings. If we explore the time and space of the first buildings in this region, it is altogether possible that we will empower ourselves to relearn what a parsimonious use of time and space would be like. In that case we would be circling back on the past to recover from the effects of over-domination. We would be reaching, once again, toward a circular view of time.