Anyone with even a faint knowledge of Brighton will probably be aware of the rusting hulk crouched defeatedly just off the shore of Brighton beach known as the West Pier. Once a grand Victorian pier on the same scale as its more steadfast counterpart still in use today, it fell victim to a series of misfortunes which left it a burned-out skeleton; a mournful spectre sitting a quiet vigil on the seafront, waiting to be dragged gently under the water and into blissful oblivion.
Rather than rejecting it as an ‘eyesore’, the residents of Brighton seemed to have very much embraced the ruin of the West Pier. Indeed, what could be more in line with Brighton’s aesthetic than the decaying remains of a once-grand Victorian pleasure palace sinking gradually but irreversibly into the ocean? The internet is awash with photos of it, more often than not framed by the last embers of a sunset, as though its eerie beauty only becomes truly manifested in the presence of a kind of death – the death of the possibility of another day. Just as the power of the sublime lies with a potent mixture of fear and awe, so in the decay of beautiful things is reflected the transience of existence, reminding us both of our imminent death and within that the boundless possibility of the universe. I’m reminded of a characteristically romantic line from Walt Whitman in which he muses on the nature and meaning of grass: “And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves“.