Friday, November 19, 2010

"Time in ruins"

Already with "Non-places", his 1992 contribution to the still ongoing discourse about hypermodernity, and the "super-modern" structures of transitory places, the so-called "non-lieux" (non-places), the french anthropologist and sociologist Marc Augé could gain considerable recognition. Strange enough, the majority of the books by the world-renowned author were either translated in only one other language, or, even worse, not translated at all.

One sad example is a rather interesting reading, "Le temps en ruines" (engl.: Time in ruins), a small book published in France back in 2003.

Since my French is quite awful, I can call myself lucky to have found it at least in an Italian translation: "Rovine e macerie" (engl.: Ruins and debris).

Somehow I felt it close to some considerations of my own that pertain to Terra Usurata. Here I want avail myself of the opportunity of giving my own translation of some passages from the chapter "Il troppo-pieno e il vuoto" (engl.: The brimful and the void).


"Fallow and abandoned land, areas apparently void of any precise purpose. They enclose the city in which they infiltrate, carving zones of incertitude that leave unanswered the question where the city begins, and where it ends. The villages bend towards their 'historic center' [...] with the same motion with which they project outwards their zones of activities. At the same time the access roads and roundabouts are multiplying in order to permit the prying visitor to leave the highways or ring roads, to have a quick glance at the locality.

[...] A void opens up between the expressways and the residential areas, or between wealth and poverty. Sometimes this void gets adorned, sometimes it gets abandoned, - and sometimes it becomes a retreat for the poorest of the poor.

[...] Within the urban neighborhoods the evidence of the the 'brimful' is being concealed, it is being lined (in the same sense a dress is lined). Here it becomes mingled with the mistery of the void. The fascination of these neighborhoods, of this fallow land, which is pending a decision, ensnared cineastis, novellists, poets. Nowadays this fascination is depending, I think, on its own anachronism. Against the obviousness it stages the incertitude. Against the present it emphasized the still palpable presence of an irrecoverable past, and, simultaneously, the incertain imminence of something impending: the possibility of a rare instant, fragile and ephemeral, breaking away from the arrogance of the present and the obviousness of that what is 'already here'.

The neighborhoods, contingently at the expense of an illusion, are poetical places in the very meaning of the word: here one can still move freely; their incompleteness holds a promise.

[...] Like ruins too, the neighborhoods bear the imprints of a multitude of foretimes, indefinite foretimes that run far off the course of the memories of vigiliance. But, unlike the ruins that get caught up by tourism, they escape the present of restoration and dramatisation. Maybe they won't be able to escape for a long time. Yet they do involve imagination, as long as they exist, as long as they rouse a sense of anticipation.

Now, at least for the time being, the fallow land and the neighborhoods are exceeding the present on both sides. They embody spaces in anticipation that, whereas vaguely, rekindle memories. They awake again the temptation of the present and the future. For us they undertake the function of ruins. This is because, in conformance with the logic of obviousness, the eternal present and the brimful, today the ruins are no longer conceivable. They do have no future, so to say, - exactly because buildings are raised no longer in order to grow old. The perfect reconstruction, identical to the original, and, in general, the substitutions are the antipode of ruins. While recreating a present functionality they do eliminate the past.

Today's drama is that we are treating nature in the same way we use to treat the city: we do conserve certain parts of it, for the spectacle; we presume to substitute one nature with another (with reforestation, for example). But nature, if maltreated, proofs to be tenacious.

[...] Today only catastrophe can produce effects comparable to the slowly marching of time; comparable, but never similar. In fact, the ruin is nothing else but time escaping from history, a conglomeration of nature and culture, losing itself within the past to emerge right within the present, as a sign without a signifier, or, in other words, as a sign without any other signifier than time itself, passing and enduring concurrently."