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The Tower of Babel: April 9-10, 2003

The question of whether the Tower of Babel rose on the ancient Mesopotamian plain that is now modern Iraq does not lessen its cultural significance. Compelled by the yearning and curiosity it symbolizes, artists render the mythical Tower visible, indelible; archaeologists and theosophists investigate its traces; poets and politicians ply it as metaphor; and internet users adopt it as a model for the future. The dream of a common language underscores our fascination with the Tower, for it seems to promise community, understanding, and peace. The dream also elides difference, cries "English Only," and supports American hegemonic power and globalization. Evoking our nostalgia for the imaginary homeland, for home, the Tower speaks to a population of exiles and displaced others; it represents a spiritual fortress in an increasingly secular world. Like science, it stretches toward the heavens, a symbol of humankind's will-to-progress-both ordering and overreaching. A sign, after all, of desire and regulation, transgression and power, the Tower of Babel is both wish-fulfillment fantasy and gothic nightmare for an increasingly global community.


And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the sons of men had built. And the Lord said, "Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.


-Genesis 11: 1-9


No one sleeps in this room without / the dream of a common language.

-Adrienne Rich


I fear we are not getting rid of God because we still believe in grammar.

-Friedrich Nietzsche


available here

Conference Coordinators:

Meghann Ahern
Ananda Jacobs
Suzanne Ogden
Caitlin Price
Tristan Stein
Laura Voisin George