Bicycling across large bridges is one of the joys of my life. The great bridges are beautiful and sensuous, sweeping across the sky with geometric perfection. At night, their lights trace elegant curves that float free of the earth and urbanity below. Riding across them is both calming and thrilling, following a gentle rise and fall while taking one into the middle euphoric panoramas and revealing precipitous drops into churning water. Form, function, thrill, beauty, utility, and even a sense of spiritual uplift—it is all there in one perfect package. Riding the arc of a bridge is one of those rare moments when my random thoughts and worries fall away, when I am exactly where I want to be.
But as I come down from that arc, returning to my thoughts and learning, bridges become a problem, a challenge to my intellectual habits. They exemplify all of those things that my ego is invested in criticizing. They are a challenge to my historical career devoted to elaborate skepticism of modernity, social technology and power. Because the bridges are modernity, power and technology perfected, in all of their inhuman scale, coldness, order and utility. They are the product of state intervention, big money and big corporations, with all of the hierarchy, greed and hubris that these things imply. They epitomize the modern drive to dominate nature, to make the surface of the earth ordered and transparent, to mock and destroy natural barriers with mountains of steel and asphalt. They are less the product of individual human creativity than of decades of accumulated technical knowledge, political bartering, infrastructural obsession, and the rampaging egos of men like Robert Moses. They sacrifice human community and the organic landscape for the sake of speed, steel and pomposity.
And they are gorgeous, erotic, mysterious. They reveal the folly of my alienation from much modern human endeavor. They speak to my soul. They show that my soul is not only a product of nature, but also entwined with those complex and frustrating collective endeavors and hubristic ambitions of human society.