Although many know Paul Shepheard the English architect and critic, he is an architecture writer who defies categorization. The Cultivated Wilderness (1997), for example, at first seems to be an exegesis on the meaning of landscape. But instead of reeling off some turgid prose about the operative scale of landscape analysis, Shepheard instead uses anecdotes. His stories -- whether a conversation with a tipsy ex-pilot on a transatlantic flight, a brief sojourn in the alps, or even a weekend drive through the sites of some of the bloodiest battles of the First World War -- indeed revive the power of the narrative as a critical device.
And best of all, there is something unassuming and unpretentious about his writing. For the past couple of weeks, Shepheard's book on technology, Artificial Love (2003), has been mandatory reading before bedtime. I love this passage from that book:
And now, Jaques and Maria are zooming toward the Gulf of Mexico to have a day by the sea. She sleeps beside him in the car, his eyelashes resting on her cheeks like mink pelts. No CD. No radio. No sound in the car save that of smooth progress. He does not want to wake this sleeping beauty beside him. Ever since his late-night encounter with Plutarch on the television Jaques has been imagining himself as the protagonist of some ancient Roman love story. They are snares, entanglements, these stories: brushes with divinity. The gods stalk the landscape interfering with human lives as humans interfere with the lives of midges. The humans are riven by desire. It shoots through their bodies and their genitals and forces to them to be ecstatic. To have been one of the first humans, and to have lived before the great pile of information got too big for the unaided brain to handle, that is Jaques' fantasy. To have lived at a time when love was the prime technology, the thing that made all else possible -- now that's what he would call authentic. He is the Lover. So he grips the wheel and drives on in silence, thinking up his own food-of-love music, a silent opera with an audience of one called Cupid and Psyche, hardly daring to breathe, thinking that he must not wake Maria up. The feeling is as strong as a magic spell. Each passing moment seems to fragment from the one before it and hang in the air as delicate as a wisp and as definite as a smack in the head (2003: 92-93).That, from a book that is ostensibly about architecture.