Sunday, May 7, 2017

Letting it go

 What do you throw away? What do you keep? What do you restore? What do you allow to deteriorate?

These questions in historic preservation -- the English call it "heritage," which doesn't presuppose as much -- are addressed provocatively, philosophically, and concretely by cultural geographer Caitlin DeSilvey in her new book Curated Decay: Heritage Beyond Saving. She mostly discusses buildings, but in chapter two she reflects on her graduate work on a recently abandoned Montana homestead that was "not yet old enough to be interesting to (most) archaeologists and too marginal and dilapidated to be a straightforward candidate for historic preservation." When does an old book cross the line from a memory receptacle to mouse food?

Anyone who has ever dealt with the household goods and papers of the recently deceased will find rich food for thought  -- not always comfortable thought -- here.

"Dust to dust" is not the preservationist's motto, nor is it the genealogist's. But it is a fact. Not everything can be preserved. (And if it could we would soon drown in it.) Saving, preserving, restoring, remembering, all run against the entropic tide of nature. If we don't focus those efforts we're just hoarding.

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