The Virtual City and the Broken Temple

Doctor Farkas told me in my James Joyce class that Joyce tried to create a literary, virtual Dublin; that if Dublin was destroyed, people would be able to recreate the city as Joyce had captured it from the way it would live in their minds. In Dresden we have a more concrete example of this idea.
Ninety percent of Dresden’s altstadt (old town) was destroyed in the war. It was first brought to my attention in my Advanced Writing class, in another student’s paper. Her description of the damage and of Vonnegut’s allusions to it remain with me two years later. I got the chance two weeks ago to see Dresden and where I looked for devastation, I found renewal. The Fraukurche of Dresden was the city’s crown and she had been neatly toppled in the bombing. The church of the Lady was recently rededicated, its reconstruction complete. The WWII Allies poured money into the edifice and one of England’s bomber pilots presented the city with a new cross as a gift of healing and reunification. It’s a powerful testament to our spirit. The city is in the midst of her 800 year anniversary and signs of reconstruction abound in the altstadt. We walked everywhere, looking at sandblasted statues standing next to those still blackened from fire and pollution.
Then we stepped into something Joyce might have appreciated. In one of the old palace structures, now a museum, the architecture is a fusion of modern steel, modern glass, and the seventeenth century shell of a building. Within it is a gallery and they have constructed a two storey wooden platform for you to climb. At the top is a telescope. The exhibit collects the artistic record of the city. The telescope focuses your eye upon paintings hung high and far from the floor. You use it to look upon the city not as it is, or ever was, but as the painters imagined it. They molded the city to fit their vision, much as Joyce might have. You look through that lens on a virtual city lodged in acrylic and oil, connected and grounded to a real place. But the city of the painting is only a cell of the painter’s imagination.
As a fantasy writer, you weave a virtual history. A mythical place comes into being and if you’re really good, the illusion through the telescope will grab the readers’ imagination and bring them into your canvas.
Somewhere inside of us, we’re building edifices when an imaginary place comes to life for us. I think about the people of Dresden, taking the stones of the Fraukurche and burying them, waiting for the right day to unwrap them and add them to the new building. The church stands in beautiful new stone, except for the few hundred that could be reclaimed. The new church is a fusion of past and present. It’s a great metaphor for what happens when a fantasy really catches us in its story.

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