In my last blogpost I talked about how we, as modern human beings, were obsessed with ruins. Although this obsession is not new, it has known many variations. During the Renaissance the ruin was seen as a fascinating remnant of a glorious past, a vault filled with information. The renaissance man thought he could gather wisdom by reconstructing the past with help of the ruin. During the Baroque, however, the ruin was seen more as an allegory of catastrophe and crisis, which was typical of that period. The romantics saw the ruin as an auratic symbol. They were overwhelmed by the ruin and praised its pictorial qualities. The classic ruin was still a topic of conversation, but especially medieval and gothic ruins became popular during the romantic period. Allegories become readable in times of crisis, and modernity, in the Baroque’s footsteps, thus used the ruin as an allegory for its own chaos, uncertainties and crisis. This time the worn castles and monasteries moved out of the way for the modern ruin, which was destroyed by wars.
The ruin can thus be experienced and utilized in various ways. It is an ambiguous phenomenon which is constructed out of oppositions: the ruin embodies at the same time calmness and hazardousness, beauty and foulness, hope and despair, nature and technique, lust of life and melancholy, rescue and destruction, etc.
Despite the fact that Walter Benjamin, the German Jewish cultural philosopher and literary critic, saw ruins as allegories, I state that they can both be auratic as well as allegorical. Aura and allegory are two sides of the same medal and it’s only when the allegory appears that aura becomes visible. The terminology and definitions of aura and allegory I use are based on those of Benjamin in his famous essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1936) and his critical study “The Origin of German Tragic Drama” (1928). The way the ruin was experienced during the Romantic period, the Baroque, Modernity, Fascism, and the way it is experienced nowadays all prove my point that the ruin is both allegorical and auratic.
In my next blogposts I will go deeper into this topic.
Here’s a song by Cat Power inspired by ruins
And a nice Flaubert quote about ruins (see, I’m not the only one who is fascinated)
“He loved the extensive vaults where you could hear the night birds and the sea breeze; he loved the craggy ruins bound together by ivy, those dark halls, and any appearance of death and destruction. Having fallen so far from so high a position, he loved anything that had also fallen from a great height”
― Gustave Flaubert