ESSAY Alex Diggins

NWR Issue 118

Cave Art of the Anthropocene

How do you communicate with an unimaginable future? Imagine imparting a message to someone a hundred years hence. Or a thousand. Or ten thousand. Or even a hundred thousand years from now. Would you share a language, a culture, the same biology? Would that future somebody even be able to read? We like to imagine that the dead speak to us through the architecture, art and literature that they leave behind; and that, through our shared culture, the dead can, as the novelist Jhumpa Lahiri has it, ‘reach out and shake our hands’. But what if we were those dead? We are aware of the happenstance nature of history: the great book of the past is full of tears, smudges, rips and coffee- cup stains. One need only take on the sad task of sorting a dead relative’s possessions to realise that the material accumulations of a life, no matter how rich or interesting in its living, are, when collected together, all too scant. Loss is the great lesson of the past; to travel in time is to experience a continual process of forgetting. How then might we presume to dictate how we will be remembered, especially in a future that stretches immeasurably far beyond generational memory, tripping on the hem of eternity? Faced with such imponderables, language stutters and fails, syntax crumbles, grammar sludges – can meaning be rescued from such collapse?

Alex Diggins is a freelance writer and researcher with a keen interest in landscape and literature and the endlessly fascinating dialogue between them. A graduate of Cambridge and Cardiff universities, Alex is currently working as a secondary school supply teacher in Bristol which provides more than enough material for the aspiring writer! In the future, Alex hopes to study in the States, though he thinks he will always be most at home in the wild places of Wales. This is an essay from his entry, ‘Sea-change: An Argument in Six Parts’, which was placed second this summer in the New Welsh Writing Awards 2018 Aberystwyth University Prize for an Essay Collection.

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previous essay: They Can Be Heard
next essay: Darkness and Light: Liverpool Imagined


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