The Oulipo movement, a radical of mostly French writers successful the 2nd fractional of the 20th century, believed that imposing constraints connected the penning process was a spur to creativity. Georges Perec famously wrote a caller without the missive “e”, portion Jean Lescure’s N+7 attack produced caller enactment by replacing each noun successful an existing substance with the noun 7 places aft it successful the dictionary. It feels arsenic if determination volition beryllium a fig of inadvertently Oulipean works that look from the chaos of the past fewer years, books that, were it not for Covid, mightiness person been thing precise different.
Peter Fiennes’s sun-drenched hymn to Greece, A Thing of Beauty: Travels successful Mythical and Modern Greece, feels similar conscionable this benignant of book. A task that started retired arsenic a reasonably straightforward travelogue has go thing alien and much absorbing nether the heightened unit applied by the constraints of the pandemic. When Fiennes, a celebrated quality writer and erstwhile steadfast astatine Time Out, begins his quest to get to the bosom of Greece, planetary question is impossible. He finds himself sitting by a water astatine Byron’s home, Newstead Abbey successful Nottinghamshire, dreaming of Missolonghi, Apollo and nereids. Then, successful the 2nd chapter, erstwhile the question prohibition (briefly) lifts and Fiennes is capable to hightail it to Athens, his voyage is fixed added zest by the enforced delay, a consciousness of the miraculous imbuing everything.
Fiennes’s publication has 2 cardinal concerns. The archetypal is to recognize wherefore Greece and Greek myths successful peculiar person specified an enduring clasp connected the modern psyche. Fiennes, though, wants to portion distant the “closed-room fug of elitism” that surrounds the thought of “the classics” and alternatively seeks to found a transportation betwixt the past ancient and the contiguous done visiting the places from which these myths emerged. The 2nd organising involvement of the publication is environmental. Partly this comes retired of Fiennes’s inheritance arsenic a quality writer, but there’s thing much than this. It seems helium wants to found whether there’s immoderate mode the contented of past Greece tin beryllium applied to the clime crisis: “If these radical had possessed our technologies, was determination immoderate code, oregon thing astir their beliefs, that would person restrained them from taking and utilizing immoderate they wanted?” This biology concern, done the representation of the anticipation that is near erstwhile Pandora’s container (actually, helium tells us, a jar) is opened, expands into the thought that what we request astir present is simply a means of harnessing the joyousness and optimism with which the Greeks addressed the world. Grecian airy astatine a clip of darkness.
Fiennes is simply a superb and generous usher done Greece. He weaves the past satellite and the modern unneurotic with quality and elegance, taking america from Athens to Corinth, on the Sacred Way to Eleusis, to Epidavros, Olympia, Delphi and Epirus. There’s a wry Sebaldian humour astatine enactment present – helium recognises that modern Greece doesn’t ever unrecorded up to the majesty of the past. Stopping astatine the Temple of Dionysus successful Thorikos, helium stands beside a “deserted beige Portakabin” and recognises that “the God is agelong gone”. But these disappointments simply heighten the joyousness we consciousness erstwhile Fiennes lights upon connections to the past that spark and fizzle, erstwhile we observe that precious anticipation amid the ruins. A Thing of Beauty is simply a must-read for anyone visiting Greece but, astatine this clip erstwhile question is tricky for immoderate fig of reasons, possibly adjacent much indispensable for those of america who don’t cognize erstwhile adjacent we’ll get there.