There is something wondrously nostalgic about Rose Macaulay’s “Pleasure of Ruins”. Perhaps it is her tremendous learning. The book just drips arcane knowledge about a past long lost to us, but extraordinary in its power. We all love ruins, though we don’t know why. Perhaps its because we like to think of the striving of people long dead, who like we also fought, who won and lost, who loved and hated, who yearned for peace or meaning, just like we do.
Meaninglessness is the greatest fear for those of us who love ruins. We don’t fear death, that will come to all of us. We don’t fear a fight, in fact we live for it – though it scares us. What we fear is that nobody will be able to tread the ruins of our lives, long spent and over. That there will be nothing there – a grass hut that was burned or trampled, long vanished; a mud and wattle construct washed away in the first storm; a cave bare and empty of personality, no witness to say “I WAS HERE!”. That is what we who love ruins fear.
Because ruins remind us of the tremendous fights of the past. They are deeply conservative entities, that we love because they are so and we hope they will always remain so. We don’t want our ancient castles rebuilt to become dens of modern iniquity. We don’t want the ancient medieval churches re-roofed and converted into a bar or a chic restaurant for the moderns. We want them old and rusting beneath the sun, we want their ghosts to still tell us of bygone times when people struggled, as we struggle today, and whose works of their hands and backs and minds have endured to tell the tale long after their names even have been washed away by the snows and the rains.
We don’t want ruins in the making either, because those are a sad affair, still smelling of blood and hair – before time has lent a sense of nostalgia and inevitability and swept them clean, sterile. Nor do we want ruins rebuilt – stripping that which once was of what it was supposed to be in order to fill it with something which it was never intended to represent. The usurpation of the work of another, mostly unknown hands. That is what we conservatives fear. But give us a broken down castle which still hums with untold stories of a glorious past – and we are at peace.
And that is, frankly, a little weird, isn’t it?? – but also infinitely satisfying.
Or as Rose Macaulay wrote “The intoxication, at once so heady and so devout, is not the romantic melancholy engendered by broken towers and moldered stones; it is the soaring of the imagination into the high empyrean where huge episodes are tangled with myths and dreams; it is the stunning impact of world history on its amazed heirs.”