Fragments Shored against Ruins: Denis Byrne’s Surface Collection
Denis Byrne’s Surface Collection is a finely written philosophical travelogue, taking the reader on an archaeological tour of South Asia that is also a personal quest and a critique of heritage conservation. Its closely organised structure, reminiscent of baroque music, begins with an investigation of the modes of erasure or preservation of the recent past in South East Asia, shifts to an ironic narrative of futile quests for historical traces, and concludes with reflections on the clash of popular Buddhist relic worship with the values of heritage conservation. Byrne stages the latter conflict as between magical and rationalistic worldviews. Mildly dissenting, this essay suggests that although heritage conservation deploys scientific meanss, it is based on the sacralisation of the past. This motivation brings it closer to magic than to core tenets of Enlightenment, either of the Rational or the Buddhist kind.
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