The dishonest land
I was in Manchester last week. Once, I knew the city well, but I haven’t visited in a few years; so the new skyscrapers on Deansgate seemed a sudden imposition into somewhere familiar. Like the Beetham Tower to their north, they are on a different scale to the low sprawl that surrounds them. They make no concessions to Manchester or humanity. They do not look like buildings. They look like the inscrutable geometric judgement of an alien god.
In other words, they are one of the few honest things that I have ever seen.
The cities lie. Their radical chic is stretched tight over the bare lust for money. Their cosmopolitan diversity hides the uniformity of clawing ambition. Their youth is stolen from elsewhere, used for a time, and discarded when its looks and gullibility begin to fade. They grow little food and make fewer objects every year. They offer only services no one needs and knowledge no one believes. A blustering businessman sinks deeper into debt; but, risking it all again and again, he’ll keep up his pretence until the bailiffs arrive. That is the soul of the city.
The countryside lies. The fertilised fields barely pay the bills, but five families worked this land before it was improved. The tasteful barn conversions shelter dreamers who touch the soil with their eyes alone. The very lambs in the fields deceive. They tell you that this place feeds others, but it has long taken more than it gives. It is hungry, always hungry, hungry for oil and hungry for money. The countryside is the skin of the land, but its glow is not healthy. It is sunburn. The energy poured into it has killed it, and soon it will peel away from the flesh below.
The wildlands lie. Their treeless beauty is kept for grouse and Gore-Tex. Ninety years after the trespass, they are still luxury goods selling freedom. They offer escape, something above the fray, something that was always so and will be always so; but they are only playgrounds that pretend to be churches. Nature promises nothing but death and change. The romantics scorned him, but Capability Brown was an honest man. He sculpted the land to please the eye and called it a garden. Infatuated with the sublime, we have done the same and called it conservation.
All our lands lie, but they have only one lie: the lie that this will go on, that the oil will keep flowing, that the supply chains will not shatter, that this empire will not sink into lone and level sands.
The oldest lie of all is the denial of death.
You can see them from the hills, the skyscrapers that loom over Manchester like gravestones, memento mori of glass and steel.
Image: Deansgate Square by Peter McDermott licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
Thanks again ffatalism. I read recently from another thinker, that in civilisation culture becomes a museum. It mimics a living thing, but the culture is cut off from the cult from which its sacredness is communicated through symbol. As you write it is a lie and an inversion. Where I live in Swedish countryside I am reminded of this often, which can be painful. The museum breeds nostalgia too I think. And also, I agree that economic materialism is revealing reality as it is, it’s brutal like the skyscrapers. But you have geist in your writing, which I find very meaningful!
Amen to this. I am writing this in a box canyon at 7600 ft up in Rocky Mountains. It is a beautiful place. All who come here remark on how peaceful it is. It is a kind of antidote to the sprawling suburbs.
But I am here only because the machine still hums along, even if it is sputtering a bit these days.
It too is a lie.