There are no ruins without the triumph of vegetal life over thatwhich one day proudly rose over the earth. Clearly, everything that isbuilt on the earth in a certain way humiliates the earth. And so, it wasan ancient rite to make sacrifices to the gods of the place – each placehad an owner – in order to placate them so that they would permit therising of the fabric built by human hands. The act of setting up anedifice shows the triumph of man over nature, as well as over history,the historic work that would be so strange to a non-human beholder,if there were one. And in the ruins, the human has been laid wastebut not erased. From that triumph – and all human triumph brings ortakes away pride–there remains something, which already entwineswith triumphant vegetal life, which freely runs, budding among thebroken columns and the torn-down walls. A fusion between natureand history takes place; a pacification, a reconciliation that gives birthto a special beauty that is dispensed by Greek Tragedy, brings with it‘catharsis’. The contemplation of ruins cures, purifies, and expandsthe spirit, making it approach the fluctuations of history, like animmense tragedy without an author. Ruins are really a metaphor thathas reached the category of a Tragedy without an author. Its author issimply time.And tragedy springs from hope in an exaggerated fight with thefatal limitations of destiny, of circumstances. Hope, the most human aswell as the most divine element in the life of man, remains free andexposed, freed from its fights, in ruins. It is the pure transcendence ofhope.To be sure, all ‘culture’ is the realisation of a dream–or ratherthe attempt to realise it; one of those dreams that inexorably pursuesman and from which it is impossible to escape because it is born in theindestructible depths of hope searching for its plot and at the sametime its realisation [la esperanza que busca su argumento, y al par surealización]. Not all dreams ask to be realised, but there are somethat are so endowed with this request that they do not permit humanconsciousness to rest, that they will throw man into any adventure.Realisation is always a frustration. To that extent all history, even themost splendid, is a failure. A failure that carries within also its triumph:the incessant rebirth of human hope symbolised by ivy. Ivy is themetaphor of a life that is born out of death, of the transcendencethat arrives each time something is finished [el trascender que siguea todo acabamiento]. It comes after the cessation of something thatwent far on hope and into it [algo que fue lejos en la esperanza]. And ifCalderón exhorted us ‘to do good [obrar bien], because good is not losteven in dreams’, it would be possible to understand this by thinkingthat from all reality the only thing that may remain will be a dream.To dream up the good [soñar bien] because good is not lost even indeath.
Most likely we travel to exist in an analogue to our life’s dilemmas. It’s like a spaceship. The work for the traveler is making the effort to understand that the place you are moving through is real and the solution to your increasingly absent problems is forgetting. To see them in a burst as you are vanishing into the world. Travel is not transcendence. It’s immanence. It’s trying to be here.
Eileen Myles in her essay “Iceland” from The Importance of Being Iceland. (Just after this, she narrates her trip to Ísafjörður, the largest town (pop 1,200) in the Westfjords. I long to go back there.)