The Ruins Lesson: Meaning and Material in Western Culture

The Ruins Lesson: Meaning and Material in Western Culture

by Susan Stewart

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Overview

How have ruins become so valued in Western culture and so central to our art and literature? Covering a vast chronological and geographical range, from ancient Egyptian inscriptions to twentieth-century memorials, Susan Stewart seeks to answer this question as she traces the appeal of ruins and ruins images, and the lessons that writers and artists have drawn from their haunting forms.

Stewart takes us on a sweeping journey through founding legends of broken covenants and original sin, the Christian appropriation of the classical past, myths and rituals of fertility, images of decay in early modern allegory and melancholy, the ruins craze of the eighteenth century, and the creation of “new ruins” for gardens and other structures. Stewart focuses particularly on Renaissance humanism and Romanticism, periods of intense interest in ruins that also offer new frames for their perception. The Ruins Lesson looks in depth at the works of Goethe, Piranesi, Blake, and Wordsworth, each of whom found in ruins a means of reinventing art.

Ruins, Stewart concludes, arise at the boundaries of cultures and civilizations. Their very appearance depends upon an act of translation between the past and the present, between those who have vanished and those who emerge. Lively and engaging, The Ruins Lesson ultimately asks what can resist ruination—and finds in the self-transforming, ever-fleeting practices of language and thought a clue to what might truly endure.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226632759
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 01/15/2020
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 368
File size: 20 MB
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About the Author

Susan Stewart is the Avalon Foundation University Professor in the Humanities at Princeton University and a former MacArthur Fellow. Among her many books of prose are On Longing, The Open Studio: Essays on Art and Aesthetics, Poetry and the Fate of the Senses, and The Poet’s Freedom: A Notebook on Making. Her books of poems include Columbarium, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Cinder: New and Selected Poems.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Preface

Introduction: Valuing Ruin

I. Matter: This Ruined Earth
II. Marks: Inscriptions and Spolia
III. Mater: Nymphs, Virgins, and Whores—On the Ruin of Women
IV. Matrix: Humanism and the Rise of the Ruins Print
V. Model: The Architectural Imaginary
VI. Mirrors: The Voyages and Fantasies of the Ruins Craze
VII. The Unfinished: On the Nonfinality of Certain Works of Art
VIII. Resisting Ruin: The Decay of Monuments and the Promises of Language

Acknowledgments
Notes
Works Cited
Photography Credits
Name Index
Subject Index

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