New Book | The Ruins Lesson

Posted in books by Editor on January 15, 2020

From The University of Chicago Press:

Susan Stewart, The Ruins Lesson: Meaning and Material in Western Culture (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2020), 368 pages, ISBN: 978-0226632612, $35.

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.

Susan Stewart is the Avalon Foundation University Professor in the Humanities and director of the Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts at Princeton University. A former MacArthur fellow, she is the author of five earlier critical studies, including Poetry and the Fate of the Senses (2002), winner of the Christian Gauss award of the Phi Beta Kappa Society and the Truman Capote Award. She is also the author of five books of poems, most recently Red Rover (2008) and Columbarium (2003), winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award. These titles, along with The Open Studio (2005) and The Forest (1995), are all published by the University of Chicago Press.


List of Illustrations

Introduction: Valuing Ruin
1  Matter: This Ruined Earth
2  Marks: Inscriptions and Spolia
3  Mater: Nymphs, Virgins, and Whores—On the Ruin of Women
4  Matrix: Humanism and the Rise of the Ruins Print
5  Model: The Architectural Imaginary
6  Mirrors: The Voyages and Fantasies of the Ruins Craze
7  The Unfinished: On the Nonfinality of Certain Works of Art
8  Resisting Ruin: The Decay of Monuments and the Promises of Language

Works Cited
Photography Credits
Name Index
Subject Index

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