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496 pages, Hardcover
First published May 2, 2019
The same three tasks recur across cultures and epochs: to shelter what is precious, to yield what is valuable, and to dispose of what is harmful.
Shelter (memories, precious matter, messages, fragile lives).
Yield (information, wealth, metaphors, minerals, visions).
Dispose (waste, trauma, poison, secrets).
In the underland we have long placed that which we fear and wish to lose, and that which we love and wish to save.
The way into the underland is through the riven trunk of an old ash tree...
I lie down to lead, I follow the thread, and each tiny room in the ruckle opens onto the next as it should, in turn, in order. I pass through the last of the gaps, and as I lift myself into the entry shaft I feel the snap of the black stone’s jaws at the empty air below my toes, and then I am out of the swallet and into the hollow, and warm air is rolling around me, and my bones grow again in the storm of light and ferns furl their green over and into me and moss thrives on my skin and leaves teem in my eyes, and Sean and I sit laughing, knowing for those few moments that to understand light you need first to have been buried in the deep-down dark.
There are aspects of urban exploration that leave me deeply uneasy, and cannot be fended off by indemnifying gestures of self-awareness on the part of its practitioners. I dislike its air of hipster entitlement, its inattention towards those people whose working lives involve the construction, operation and maintenance – rather than the exploration – of these hidden structures of the city. I am sceptical of the dandified nature of its photographic culture, which seems chiefly to refocus the problems of Caspar David Fredrich’s iconic 1818 painting Wanderer above a Sea of Fog. And I feel uneasy at the opportunities urban exploration holds for insensitivity to those people who have no choice but to exist in contexts of dereliction and ruin.
I think of the black and red hand-prints left on the cave walls at Chauvet, of the red figures of the dancers with their outstretched arms, of the spray-can hand stencil on the catacomb wall in Paris, of Helen reaching a hand down to haul me out of the moulin. I think of the many people I have encountered in and through the underland who have been committed to shared human work rather than retreat and isolation. Many of them have been mappers, really, of networks of mutual relation, endeavoring to stitch their thinking into unfamiliar scales of time and space, seeking not the scattered jewels of personal epiphany but rather to enlarge the possible means by which people might move and think together across landscapes, in responsible knowledge of deep past, deep future and the inhuman earth.
we should resist inertial thinking; indeed, we should urge its opposite — deep time as a radical perspective, provoking us to action not apathy. for to think in deep time can be a means not of escaping our troubled present, but rather of re-imagining it; countermanding its quick greeds and furies with older, slower stories of making and unmaking. at its best, a deep time awareness might help us see ourselves as part of a web of gift, inheritance and legacy stretching over millions of years past and millions to come, bringing us to consider what we are leaving behind for the epochs and beings that will follow us.
when viewed in deep time, things come alive that seemed inert. new responsibilities declare themselves. a conviviality of being leaps to mind and eye. the world becomes eerily various and vibrant again. ice breathes. rock has tides. mountains ebb and flow. stone pulses. we live on a restless earth.