Aufheben Bridges

Betcha didn’t know that John Roebling, father in the father-son team that designed and built the Brooklyn Bridge, was a student of Hegel’s: (from David McCullough’s The Great Bridge p. 42)

In Berlin, [John Roebling] had studied architecture, bridge construction, and hydraulics. He also studied philosophy under Hegel, who, according to one biographical memoir, “avowed that John Roebling was his favorite pupil.” The renowned philosopher had been preaching a powerful doctrine of self-realization and the supremacy of reason to a generation of ardent young liberals hemmed in by an autocratic Prussian regime. The effect was pronounced, and not the least on Roebling. The contact with Hegel was a privilege and a calamity for Roebling, according to an old family friend in Trenton. Hegel had taught Roebling to think independently, he said, and to rely on the validity of his own conclusions, but the experience was a calamity “because it begat a pride and arrogance of opinion and a frigid intellectuality that came near putting the heart of him into cold storage.” But according to family tradition, it was Hegel who started the young man thinking about America. “It is a land of hope for all who are wearied of the historic armory of old Europe,” Hegel taught. There the future would be built. There in all that “immeasurable space” a man might determine his own destiny.”

As an example of Roebling’s “frigid intellectuality,” see how his family life suffered because of his dedication to work: (ibid. p. 53)

On New Year’s Day, 1855, his wife had been delivered of still another child, but this apparently came as a great surprise to the bridgebuilder when the news reached him at Niagara Falls. “Your letters of the 2nd and the 3rd came to hand,” he wrote quite formally to Swan. “You say in the last that Mrs. Roebling and the child are pretty well. This takes me by surprise, not having been informed at all of the delivery of Mrs. R. Or what do you mean? Please answer by return mail.” Swan was to waste no money on a telegram, in other words.

I can’t help wondering if Roebling was (consciously or unconsciously) trading off the ambiguity of Hegel’s “Geist,” when in his later years he became obsessed with contacting the dead, holding numerous séances.

One Comment

  1. I wonder if Roebling was abused at childhood and that what started off his architectural and philosophical endeavours.

    Frank Lloyd Wright was known to be cold to his family as well as many of the greats who consciously or unconsciously alienated all diversions.

    The problem of architects is that they keep building walls…
    The materials they are using are dead…
    Hikikomoris on a constant mend?

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