Thursday, July 31, 2014
In 2012 the double-height library at Trinity College in Dublin reached the age of 300 years. Cambridge University Press published a memorial book by Peter Fox about this ponderously dignified space. Photos were taken by special privilege to simulate the viewpoints of hypothetical readers, but here is where deception starts to bother me. Granted, any modern person with exceptional access might still enjoy these bays and recesses almost like actual 18th century researchers. I even rather dishonestly picked photos that would sustain this fantasy, with thrilling ladders extending to infinite heights. But to accomplish this, I was forced to exclude the majority of available views – which tended to include plastic signage, barrier structures, and much other postmodern claptrap.
Ironically, those rejected pictures were the most truthful – demonstrating that the busts and arches and mellow leather bindings (gathered under their fantastic vaulted ceiling) exist now only as quaint relics of a dead past. The texts themselves are, after all, mostly in Latin, full of sectarian theological disputations and other outmoded arcana. The world inside these walls is now a world of tourists waving phone-cameras at smudged vitrines, where formerly were scholars and silence. Ambitious constructs like this one in Dublin surviving intact from long ago are increasingly reminding me of Egyptian pyramids – parallel survivors into an age where the purpose that brought them into existence is barely even intelligible any more.