Archaeology was something that loomed on the edge of my horizon without ever emerging into a definite shape. Even in the Geography of Lost Places, where I concerned myself with the archaeology of imprints, my preoccupation was mostly with the cartography of traces rather than a study of those traces themselves. I knew the time would come for the latter sooner or later, and indeed it has done so now.
I was catapulted somewhat forcefully, but entirely of my own volition, into this realm of dust, fragments and patience – by mirrors. Mirrors at the edge of history, these crossing spaces which I am so fond of exploring. In this case Japanese mirrors, given as grave-offerings to those buried in the (sometimes quite massive) kofun tombs.
I will not lie – I knew not of the mirrors. My aim had been to study the dead, and I was firmly determined to chart the recondite recesses of the netherworld. I set my mind on the Great Below, so to speak, without, however, setting any fixed starting point, being a believer in the wisdom of formless beginnings. Indeed it came by way of the suggestion which led me to the mounded tombs and to a time where history claimed its beginning. I found torn pieces of legends, ink-drawings, holes in the ground. Bones, too. But the dead eluded me.
The unearthed remnants were only too living. I saw in them the wants of those who searched, dug, found. Tombs, so many tombs, and no tales of those gone. The proximity of the voices of the living drowned out the distant whispers of the dead. Banality, the clearest sign of mistake, threatened to overcome my wanderings. The only view of the mirrors was from the back, which does not reflect. I found only non-mirrors and un-dead. I gave up.
Happily it was soon shown to me, again, that a wrong turn in the path does not mark the end of the journey. I came upon two books1 in quick succession which sparked again the dormant interest in the science of fragments.
I must admit that my motivation was first and foremost literary. One look at the index of the first was sufficient to seal the decision of continuing the walk:
The Book of the Statues
The Book of the Pyramids
The Book of the Towers
The Book of the Temples
Books that Cannot yet be Written
How could I resist? The last item so perfectly expressed that which I had unfruitfully sought in my excursion through mounds and tombs that I had little choice in the matter. Another factor of attraction were old newspaper clippings tucked between the pages. Curiously, both books contained them. It seems that Ceram’s work succeeded in arousing the interests of such linguistically, chronologically, and perhaps physically distant readers. Those yellowed pages hold a special charm, a fragile corporality of times past, the mark of those who came across these words and were touched by them. The mark of people, people which now could be no more. In these marks I found what I was searching for, the traces of absence, the tales things tell.
I found archaeology.
1 C. W. Ceram’s Gods, Graves and Scholars and Götter, Gräber und Gelehrte im Bild.