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Symmetry

52 53 formAlism symmetry symbolising stability Symmetry is frequently involved in places and occasions that seek to project the notion of formality, which itself is necessarily bound up with concepts of the status quo and, by extension, of social order and constitutional rule. This is the underlying reason for the symmetries in the architecture of palaces, governmental buildings and places of worship. Ceremonial displays, formal gardens and formal dancing are also based on regular arrangements for similar reasons. Symmetry is used here to symbolise qualities of endurance and stabilitywhich of course any established order would wish to identify with and which its followers would wish to imitate. The tacit intention of formalism then, in any sphere, is an alignment with some or other perceived notion of order. In any formal scheme of this kind individualism tends to be submerged within the greater pattern. The socalled Ancient Mature civilisations, such as those of Pharaonic Egypt, Mesopotamia and MesoAmerica in which all behavior was highly prescribed, provide the most extreme examples of formalised societies. The massive monuments that they left offer the most compelling evidence of their rigid world views. The awesome symmetries of pyramids, ziggurats and the like were not only the link between heaven and earth, but were models of the intensely hierarchical societies that produced them. Above all, their impressive, symmetrical monuments symbolised enduring stability. These ancient civilisations declined under the impact of more dynamic societies, but their use of symmetry as a metaphor for official order and decorum persisted. Ritual and ceremonial still have an important role in political life, and symmetry is still an important part of the whole symbolism of legitimacy.
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