Monday, March 19, 2007

Future present

I don't know how many of you good people out there have read any of Geoff Dyer's books. Dyer is extolled by the Daily Telegraph as "Quite possibly the best living writer in Britain".
This may well be a true statement, but if it is, it is lost on most bookshops I visit. I find it very hard to find his books. I search the shelves at the far side of the "D"s only to find an "E" where Dyer should be. Yes - I know I could order his books off the net - but that's not the point! I love the thrill of the chase, and just simply pressing a few buttons on my computer and exposing my bank details (very risque) just doesn't float my boat.

Anyway, why do I like Dyer? Well if you have read any of Dyer's books you will know why I like Dyer, and if you haven't read any of Dyer's books then read one of Dyer's books and then you will know why I like Dyer. If it is still lost on you, its no good me trying to explain it - you are obviously a lost cause!

In "Yoga for People Who Can't be Bothered to Do It", Dyer talks about an ancient ruined town he visited as a child with his parents - well, his mother at least. He had a yearning to go back, and eventually did, and the journey is recounted in his book. The place is Leptis Magna in Libya. Apart from being a very funny writer, he is also very deep at times - and profound. On visiting Leptis Magna, he talks about the common view that ruins and ruined places take us to the past. We are led to think about the people who built these places, their lifestyles, and the tragedies and pitfalls of time which led to the once-splendid building, village, town, city becoming the ruin we find today. However, Dyer doesn't see it like that. He stands that view on its head. The ruins do not point just to the past, but they equally point to the future. Ultimately, ruin and decay is where all our civilization is headed. That is what the passage of time does. Whenever I stand in front of a mirror, I see a ruin of my former self! I am a two legged ruin!

I love visiting old ruins. The one pictured here is Slains Castle near Peterhead in Scotland where I visited last November. Slains has an atmosphere all of its own. It is particularly attractive for me, because I find it very photogenic in a Gothic sort of way. Also, you don't have to pay to visit it because it is a genuine ruin - its not "preserved" by any society, so you can just jaunt along the track and explore its exposed stones and hidden places. A reason why it might not be in the possession of some such society is its position: it is perched at the top of a sheer high cliff with jagged rocks below waiting to rip your flesh and crack your bones. Explore at your peril. The castle has a dark ambiance about it. This was not lost on the writer Bram Stoker who stayed there before it became a ruin - I don't suppose he was in the habit of waiting for places to become ruins before staying in them........ Anyway, what the hell was I saying?? Oh yes - Stoker found in Slains the inspiration for Dracula Castle in his book "Dracula".

Whilst it is true that I do not believe in ghosts, or any other supernatural entities for that matter, I can nevertheless understand why people think they see, hear or feel ghosts in such places. Its as if the stones have a kind of an imprint in them, an echo if you like, of past events within and around them. Just sitting, or standing quietly in amongst ruins, you get a sense of timelessness, and a sense of the passing ages cocking a snoot at our perceived superiority made manifest in stone. But now, those stones are falling, and their cutters and builders have long since returned to dust, as will we also, and our great buildings of today which command so much awe and wonder, go the way of Leptis Magna.

Dyer was right.

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