I've been reading a paper by Yi-Fu Tuan about 'The significance of the artifact'. He quotes the following from the philosopher Simone de Beauvoir:
The past is not a peaceful landscape lying there behind me, a country in which I can stroll wherever I please, and which will gradually show me all its secret hills and dales. As I was moving forward, so it was crumbling. Most of the wreckage that can still be seen is colourless, distorted, frozen: its meaning escapes me. Here and there, I see occasional pieces whose melancholy beauty enchants me. They do not suffice to populate this emptiness that Chateaubriand calls 'the desert of the past'.
This catches so much about the arrow of time, the past as a foreign country, and the ruins of memory.
The 'desert of the past' reminds me of The Night Land, William Hope Hodgson's haunting evocation of a dying Earth under the twilight of a dying Sun. The landscape of the Night Land is stripped back to a stark formless grey, empty of almost everything except cypherous entities which possess only one or two qualities, like the Watching Things and the Silent Ones.
|The Nightland, image courtesy of http://www.thenightland.com/|
De Beauvoir's landscape of the past is not haunted by the horrors of the Night Land, but it has its own perils. Do not look back with fond nostalgia expecting rolling green downs with hidden copses; you will find instead crumbling hills and dales in a silence near absolute zero. There is no solace here.
Forget Satre, Simone is where it's at.
de Beauvoir, Simone 1972 The Coming of Age. New York: C. P. Putnam's Sons, p. 365
Hodgson, William Hope 1912 The Night Land.
Tuan, Yi-Fu 1980 The significance of the artifact. Geographical Review 70(4):462-472