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Angels on the head of a pin.


By Jennifer L. Roberts. London: Yale University Press. 2004. [pounds sterling]30

Assistant Harvard lecturer, Jennifer L. Roberts' book is strictly for contemporary academics. It reads rather like a candidate's essay for entry to membership of the US academic inner clerisy via an elaborately obscure text on an almost impenetrably dull topic. I could be wrong but the latter seems to be about a possible relationship between Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty and the nearby site of the driving of the Golden Spike in 1869, the joining-up of the east and west tracks of the first US transcontinental railway.

Roberts is one of those people who infinitely prefers prolixity and repetition to clarity and precision; the use of non-Shorter Oxford words at crucial parts of sentences which renders them meaningless without extensive use of internet dictionaries; and a mind-gnawing earnestness. As a fairly conscientious reviewer I have to confess that I started skimming after the first couple of chapters so the rest of the book may be a model of clarity--and even grippingly interesting.

It's a bit unfair to take bits out of context but towards the end of the book where you look for some kind of conclusion, Roberts writes: 'We might say that the Jetty performs a centennial counter-reenactment here, reenacting not the timelessness and universal product of labour, the Golden Spike, but rather that which the Golden Spike model of history must repress--the duration, extension, and materiality of that labour. The Jetty provides a form of rescue of the time that went into the railroad's construction, and thus poses a monumental rejoinder to the goings-on a few miles away at the Golden Spike National Historic Site [on Promontory Summit]. It functions as the Spike's supplement, as if the spiral, sprawling out into the lake, were a plume made up of all the interstitial time that was being swept out of the way by the punctuated temporality at Promontory'. On the other hand, since the Spiral Jetty is located 15 minutes away down a winding dirt track--and since Smithson, otherwise a prolific correspondent, says nothing to this effect, maybe not.

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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Mirror-Travels: Robert Smithson and History
Author:Lyall, Sutherland
Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2005
Previous Article:Mario Botta, Light and Gravity, Architecture 1993-2003.
Next Article:Delight.

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