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[One way or another—besides, everything appears sustainable and understandable one way or another: a brutal and dialectical confirmation that life with all its mishaps, remains, at least from the outside, a question of belief rather than truth—one way or another, as I was saying, the event is somehow similar to the story Socrates told Phaedrus when he retold the Egyptian dialogue between the king Theuth and the god Thamus on the topic of writing and its peculiarity of creating an alien memory, a fleeting empire made of signs, tremendously dangerous since its being is only seemingly reliable. In any way] when the critical mass of humanity realised the consequences of the phenomenon here described, it was already too late, the damage essentially irreparable.

Numerous and fanciful were the theories put forward to explain the ongoing disaster. However, most people simply interpreted the unbelievable process unfolding before their eyes as the effect of time accelerated by air pollution, trying to fix it by requesting or announcing preventative restoration work (it must be said that, as a remarkable side-effect of the events, never before had archaeologists, masons, and art historians so blatantly revenged the secondary roles that society had reserved for them until then). Nothing, however, seemed to be even remotely helpful in stopping the unstoppable, and in its own way extraordinary, fading out of the great monuments of humanity.

This fading out manifested itself through a gradual blur in the visibility of things, a discolouring process shortly followed by an unbelievable flaking off that left no traces or rubble, only an empty space—as it was used to describe with very little imagination that mysterious, neutral, white, porous, and amorphous space-time that replaced buildings and faded out places—one could walk through with an unspeakable feeling of suspension and pampering, almost peaceful for the sense of quiet irreparability that it transmitted.

The first one to go was the Piazza dei Miracoli in Pisa (together with the Leaning Tower that instead of falling, as it had been expected to for centuries, simply disappeared. Tourists who just happened to be there took the last photographs of the tower, and immediately press agencies around the world started to compete for the shots, which reached extremely high values). Then, almost simultaneously, it was the turn of the Coliseum, Saint Peter’s Basilica, the Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps. Moving around Rome became such a particular experience of constant transitions between being and not being, that the unexpected effect given by the surrounding whiteness caused by the losses was soon seen by the inhabitants of the metropolis as a valuable refuge from the surrounding chaotic traffic. The process continued relentlessly throughout the world. The catalogue of sights that some talented international bureaucrat classified as Heritage of Humanity was soon reduced to a pile of blank pages.

Leaning Tower of Pisa
The Empire State Building in New York disappeared, the Jamaa El Fnaa Square in Marrakech fell silent, Jerusalem vanished entirely from the face of the earth (and was, until the very end, the centre of a diplomatic/military conflict to establish which government it belonged to in the juridical instant immediately preceding its end). Then it was the turn of the Plitvicka National Park. Ironically, before emptiness definitively replaced the beautiful waters and woods, in the widespread whiteness people could still catch a glimpse of the coins pathetically sparkling in the springs that would have guaranteed visitors a future return. The vanishing of the Taj Mahal especially caused a stir, for no other reason that, while the previous cases concerned backward and secondary areas, this building was the main wonder and pride of the first world power. For this reason the event was studied more in depth and was the topic of an important research that the New United Nations commissioned to a famous Bolivarian University. This undoubtedly original research study was the first to directly link the number of tourists that visited the vanished sights to the time of their disappearance, and laid the foundations for a possible connection between the acquiring of images and the ongoing phenomenon. In view of sound statistics that confirmed this study, the possession of video or photographic instruments was everywhere seriously regulated by threatening signs that forbade in various languages the use of such equipment. Even such extreme measures, however, appeared useless. The phenomenon, in fact, was not simply the consequence of a series of mechanical events, rather it was a collective blurring of the world conscience, a weakening of the common vision and of the attention paid to it surroundings. In fact, the more humanity recorded videos and took photos focusing mainly on those surroundings, the more it stopped considering the recorded subjects, which were then seen as exhausted sources, a substantially useless ontological remainder.
Taj Mahal
When in the end nothing remained of the most famous wonders that nature and history took the trouble of piling up on the earth, humanity gave in to hollow and distressing despair, lacking, as it was, material references to its past. To the same period, and not by chance, is also dated the violent reaction that was later registered in the annals with the name of Second War of Images (this name, it must be said, was rather inappropriate as surely a larger number of similar wars had taken place after the first, and most famous, Byzantine controversy). The existing photographic archives ended up being looked down upon, and the images of the vanished sites could not bring comfort in any way, as admiring the disappeared beauty through the lens that burnt it, was a bitter pill to swallow. A wave of widespread iconoclasm crashed onto the world, wiping out with furious rage every collection of images under the sun. This was an uncontrolled reaction disconnected to what—even if research induced people to consider as the main cause of the disappearance of much data of reality—had been nothing but an instrument in the hands of people, as good, or as bad, as a pen or a knife.

It is noteworthy to remember, however, that at the end of that terrible destruction, humanity witnessed a particular new phenomenon, at first barely felt, which seemed provoked by a motion of an exhausted collective soul. Some people, followed in the course of time by others, once they had overcome the shock of having been deprived of the Great Wall of China and the gardens of the Versailles palace, and unable to see those beauties again not even in a photograph, started to develop a new approach towards what was near them, somehow paying attention to everything around them. The uprooted pavement of a suburban street in Bucharest, a breached wall in Turin, an abandoned factory in Bangalore, a birch in any field were deeply admired and carefully looked after: to the eyes of these people everything acquired an unprecedented value, unknown until then as overpowered by everything that was exotic and far that had shaken the inhabitants of the first world. It was not, however, a mystical or religious movement, rather it simply changed the way people felt, and became more and more widespread. With time, the phenomenon ended up becoming unilaterally accepted, creating a completely new spiritual condition of universal devotion. To use the words of a famous sociologist of the time, «the break up of the picturesque has led to the success of a stronger contemplation of the vital». In any case, from then on, no more photos.

Luca Arnaudo is a writer, jurist and art critic, currently based in Rome. He has written six books of short stories, travelogues and poetry, and had works in previous issues of Sleepingfish. A collection of his short stories (in Italian) can be freely downloaded from Luoghi Singolari.

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