I have to admit it – even though I guess you already know – I loved Solnit’s book A Field Guide to Getting Lost
I love her style, and the way her writing strolls around in the world of history and literature, putting together thoughts in a way that makes the ordinary seem unfamiliar and exotic, and I am impressed by how her text is drawing lines between situations and events I never before saw as connected.
Field Guide to Getting Lost is a piece of Nature Writing, but it is also a book on human relations and civilization. My last citation from the book (in this turn) will be about the city
What is a ruin, after all? It is a human construction abandoned to nature, and one of the allures of ruins in the city is that of wilderness: a place full of promise of the unknown with all its epiphanies and dangers. Cities are built by men (and to lesser extent, women), but they decay by nature, from earthquakes and hurricanes to the incremental process of rot, erosion, rust, the microbial breakdown of concrete, stone, wood, and brick, the return of plants and animals making their own complex order that further dismantles the simple order of men. This nature is allowed to take over when, for economic or political reasons, maintenance is withdrawn. Ruins are also created by vandalism, arson, and war in which humans run wild.
A city is build to resemble a conscious mind, a network that can calculate, administrate, manufacture. Ruins become the unconscious of a city, its memory, unknown, darkness, lost lands, and in this truly brings it to life. With ruins a city springs free of its plans into something as intricate as life, something that can be explored but perhaps not mapped. This is the same transmutation spoken of in fairy tales when statues and toys and animals become human, though they come to life and with ruin a city comes to death, but a generative death like the corpse that feeds flowers.
An urban ruin is a place that has fallen outside the economic life of the city, and it is in some way an ideal home for the art that also falls outside the ordinary production and consumption of the city.
The illustrations in this post is from Lucy Walker's fantastic documentary Waste Land. I just now realized that there can be made some very interesting connections between Solnit's book and this film, I haven't thought it through yet ... maybe someone else has?
If you want to know more about the film, have a look here