Tuesday, 19 June 2018

John Ruskin: Prophet of Vorn?

Vorn, as many of those reading this may well know is God of Rain and Rust; for whom the city of Vornheim is known - and the 'complete city kit' named for that city.

Of course, I never could quite see the attraction in a god of rust. Rain maybe - good for the crops, refreshing the parched land and so forth, but not rust. That always seems a symbol of decay.  But then, brethren and sistren, I picked up my Ruskin.

'...because we cannot use a rusty knife or razor so well as a polished one, we suppose it to be a great defect in iron that it is subject to rust. But not at all. On the contrary, the most perfect and desirable state of it is that ocherous stain; and therefore it is endowed with so ready a disposition to get itself into that state ... for in that condition it fulfils its most important function in the universe and most kindly duties to mankind. Nay, in a certain sense, and almost a literal one, we may say that iron rusted is Living; but when pure or polished, Dead. You all probably know that in the mixed air we breathe, the part of it essentially needful for us is called oxygen; and that this substance is to animals, in the most accurate sense of the word, 'breath of life'.   ....  The iron keeps all that it gets; we, and other animals, part with it again, but the metal absolutely keeps what it has once received of this aerial gift; and the ocherous dust which we despise so much is, in fact, just so much nobler than pure iron, in so far as it is iron and the air.  Nobler and more useful - for, as I shall be able to show you presently - the main service of this metal, and of all other metals to us ... [is] in making the ground we feed from and nearly all the substances first needful to our existence. For these are all nothing but metals and oxygen - metals with breath put into them. .... [These] have been rendered fit for the service of man by permanent unity with the purest air which he himself breathes. For there is only one metal that does not rust readily; and that in its influence on Man hitherto has caused Death rather than Life; it will not be put to its right use till it is made a pavement of, and so trodden underfoot.'

The Work of Iron, in Nature, Art and Policy.

A Lecture delivered at Tunbridge Wells, February 16th, 1858

A curious inversion of the adventurer's creed, is it not? Rust is good, gold is bad. Go forth and oxygenate happily.

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