Piranesi’s world of infinite rooms and endless corridors
“Suddenly I saw in front of me the Statue of the Faun, the Statue that I love above all others. There was his calm, faintly smiling face; there was his forefinger gently pressed to his lips. […] Hush! he told me. Be comforted!”
O goat-foot God of Arcady!
This modern world is grey and old,
And what remains to us of thee?.…
….Then blow some trumpet loud and free,
And give thine oaten pipe away,
Ah, leave the hills of Arcady!
This modern world hath need of thee!
~ Oscar Wilde
Piranesi’s world is a vast house of infinite rooms and endless corridors; Cyclopean staircases, seemingly built by a race of long-forgotten giants, stretch out into the cloud filled rooms above and delve down toward the seas and watery regions below; Here colossal tides crash and roil, each in accord with their own peculiar rhythms.
The rooms are home to ranks and groupings of finely carved statues without end, each one unique and somehow pregnant with meaning.
This really is one of the prime themes; That the world is communication. The house is most generous in its outpuring.
The silent, still and profound meaning of the statues, the dynamic and fleeting messages written in the migration and congregation of the birds and the rythmic movements and patterns of the tides and the stars.
“The Beauty of the House is immeasurable; its Kindness infinite.”
The task at hand, which no doubt holds good for all manner of endeavours, is to struggle and remember something that has been forgotten rather than learn something ‘new’.
… the Ancients had a different way of relating to the world, that they experienced it as something that interacted with them. When they observed the world, the world observed them back. If, for example, they travelled in a boat on a river, then the river was in some way aware of carrying them on its back and had in fact agreed to it. When they looked up to the stars, the constellations are not simply patterns enabling them to organise what they saw, they were vehicles of meaning, a never-ending flow of information. The world was constantly speaking to Ancient Man
Progress and the rise of the individual is a double-edged sword and brings with it a certain cheapening and lack of reverence.
“I realised that the search for the Knowledge has encouraged us to think of the House as if it were a sort of riddle to be unravelled, a text to be interpreted, and that if ever we discover the Knowledge, then it will be as if the Value has been wrested from the House and all that remains will be mere scenery.”
The novel ‘Piranesi’ begins with a quote from C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew : “I am the great scholar, the magician, the adept, who is doing the experiment. Of course I need subjects to do it on.”
These are the words of Andrew Ketterly, the heartless and imperious uncle who sends two children off to ‘the wood between the worlds’, that lead to the lands of Narnia.
And this is also the name of Piranesi’s ‘the other’; Valentine Andrew Ketterly. The vainglorious seeker of ‘the great and secret knowledge’.
Ketterly conjures a really arresting image when he explains that, just as with water that escapes underground creating intricate awe inspiring caverns and grottos; The ‘force’ that has created them is no longer present. It has gone leaving only its impression. And this is also true of the house, which he suggests is the baroque relief pattern ‘gouged out’ by the flight of magic from our world.
…The Theory of Other Worlds. Simply put, it said that when knowledge or power went out of this world it did two things: first, it created another place; and second, it left a hole, a door between this world where it had once existed and the new place it had made.
‘The other’, of course, has things entirely upside down; After all he still has his mind.
The house is really the progenitor; The pattern and projector of our inverted world here.
The vast hall of the minotaur statues is the doorway between the worlds, but which world is the labyrinth guarded by the beast, our human world or the world of Piranesi?