Relics of London Past: Afterword


The contraposition inherent to death and memory are beautifully and modestly recorded by W. G. Sebald, who speaks of the lost tangibility of past civilization, and the concurrent weight of this loss upon the living individual in his remarkable book Austerlitz. As he walks down through the concrete tomb-like spaces of the Breendonk fortress in Belgium;

‘the darkness does not lift but becomes yet heavier as I think how little we can hold in mind, how everything is constantly lapsing into oblivion with every extinguished life, how the world is, as it were, draining itself, in that the history of countless places and objects which themselves have no power of memory is never heard, never described or passed on.’

Where Harold Clunn and his generation of Brutalism-empowered socialists discussed the optimism and potential of new urban systems, out of which more life could be sustained and supported, and in greater conditions, Sebald, and Benjamin as well in his way, suggests that all of this progress serves only to aid the process of recovering from/forgetting past realities. By thus forgetting, our collective ability to learn from the dead, or more importantly, to allow their histories to sound, is kept present only by a minority, including certain artists and writers, who shun this understanding of progress and who seek to return to the individual through a kind of anthropological and phenomenological salvage, digging at the hard stuffs of the made world or landschap, to reconstruct pasts as real and as fundamental as our own.


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