Discarding the Past

That the Notre Dame burned down because of stupid carelessness deepens the analogy. Westerners are throwing away their civilization because they can’t be bothered to care. It isn’t evil design. It’s stupid carelessness.

And no, it can’t be “rebuilt.” And the artwork can’t be xeroxed. 800-year-old timbers can’t be replaced with plastic. I’m kind of terrified people don’t understand that it can’t be rebuilt. A plastic replica can be shoved into a gaping wound where history and an incredible gift to us from the past used to be. But the feeling that inspired its creation no longer exists. Without that structure of feeling, the structure of the building is meaningless. We don’t know how to feel what its creators felt.

The whole point is that it offers a connection with the past. You can’t swap it for a newer, shinier version.

I highly recommend Borges’s “Pierre Menard, the Author of Don Quixote.” I don’t think anybody explained this better.

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10 thoughts on “Discarding the Past”

  1. I have the feeling that Notre Dame as any kind of meaningful spiritual entity died years ago… hasn’t it mostly functioned as a tourist attraction?
    Most reactions have been incredibly disheartening… even those who are upset mostly speak of it as an attraction, a point to be ticked off on the Paris bucket list..
    I’m incapable of religious faith but I understand it as a huge spiritual loss (reflected more in peoples’ reactions than anything else).
    Without that there’s no need to even try to rebuild it as anything more than a secular tourist “experience” (with corporate sponsorship)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. It’s been nothing but a consumerist destination point for a very long time. The whole way of being that is embodied in it is long gone.

      I scrolled through my news feed, and the number of people who are sincerely incapable of seeing anything but an easily fixable failure of fire regulations in what happened is huge. The loss of one of the major achievements of their civilization doesn’t wound them. I saw some loser on Twitter point out that the cathedral was somehow a result of colonialism, so to hell with it.

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  2. It sounds like much of the interior and most artworks were not destroyed, so it could have been worse. But I agree that reconstructions never manage to capture the magic of a truly old building.

    I made a special trip to Dresden a few years ago to see the reconstructed Frauenkirche. It’s a pretty church, but it was a bit of a disappointment. There’s something just not quite right about the new stones shaped by modern tools and baroque details that show no signs of aging.

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  3. I agree that the war on history is one of the more noxious trends of the woke era.

    In the case of Notre Dame, though, the responses I’ve seen are less that it’s no big deal and more that a structure that’s been in continuous use for centuries is less like the Pyramids and more like the Ship of Theseus. Apparently the iconic spire that collapsed was a recent addition that’s only about 200 years old.

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  4. That Borges work is one of my favorite short stories. I wish my Spanish were good enough to read it in the original. It has so much comprehension of how art is dependent on context, and it reminds me of how the so-called progressive condemnation of all of the past is not some deep revolutionary statement but rather a firmly ahistorical and reactionary response that abandons all knowledge and historicity, discarding much that is useful and true to careen along paths that have no proven validity bur rather rely on identity and feeling, which are guides to nothing and proof of nothing.

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  5. And now, some billionaires will want to rebuild the cathedral, because they fancy so. The connection with the past will be replaced by a connection with today’s free market. This is all very sad.

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  6. Various parts of it have been rebuilt before, though. Apparently a lot of the glass is 19th and 20th century.

    What my feed says is that it is a terrible loss and everyone has a very personal connection to it. I understand but am most partial myself to the Sainte-Chapelle.

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  7. If they can “keep rock and roll going” in the manner they’ve been doing so the past 20+ years they can equally engage in the faux “rebuilding” of Notre Dame.
    We’re now, essentially, a world of facsimiles anyway.

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