I'm bemused by the fascination of ruins. Why? I ask myself. There's some insight in the definition of wabi sabi I found in J's philosophy magazine – “Nothing lasts … Nothing is finished … Nothing is perfect … Wabi refers to the attraction of rustic simplicity, humble by choice. Sabi means the bloom of time.” But why should this draw me every time?
I'm eager to read Rose Macaulay's The pleasure of ruins for further illumination, but two attempts to acquire it have failed. The free download cut out at page 76, and the print was inked brokenly, so the text itself looked as if it was in the process of ruin. I found a Thames and Hudson copy, second hand, for $6, but the postage was $76. None of the libraries I investigated had a copy. So I remained semi-mystified, with limited aids to thought. Then I found an online post that quoted generously from Macaulay. The introduction left me in no doubt that I must read the book. What ruin-lover could resist “an inquisition into the images, philosophy, theology, archaeology and literature of ruin”? Here's a taste of what Macaulay says:
She compares ruins to “the extant fragments of some lost and noble poem” and says that ruins make “poets and artists of nearly all tourists”. She speaks of the “familiar tragedy of archaeology—the sacrifice of beauty to knowledge”. Of the attraction of ruins she says “The human race is, and always has been, ruin-minded. The literature of all ages has found beauty in the dark and violent forces, physical and spiritual, of which ruin is one symbol”. She quotes Byron, and of course Ozymandias.
Whatever the reasons, ruins give me pleasure. Here are three between my daughter's house and my iPad connection spot, along about 3km of the Mt Lindesay Highway.
A grey wall, a green ruin, rusty pike, / Make my soul pass the equinoctial line / Between the present and past worlds, and hover / Upon their airy confine, half-seas-over.
Byron: Don Juan, Canto X
Just in case Macaulay's not enough, look at this delicious bibliography!
Michael S. Roth, Claire Lyons and Charles Merewether, ed., Irresistible Decay: Ruins Reclaimed (Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 1997).
Robert Ginsberg, The Aesthetics of Ruins (New York: Rodopi, 2004).
Tim Edensor, Industrial Ruins: Space, Aesthetics and Materiality (Oxford: Berg, 2005).
Dylan Trigg, The Aesthetics of Decay: Nothingness, Nostalgia, and the Absence of Reason (New York: Peter Lang, 2007).
Nicholas Yablon, Untimely Ruins: An Archaeology of Urban Modernity, 1819-1919 (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2009).
Julia Hell and Andreas Schönle, ed., Ruins of Modernity (Durham: Duke U P, 2010).
Owen Hatherley, A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain (London: Verso, 2010).
Brian Dillon, ed., Ruins (London and Cambridge, MA: Whitechapel Gallery and MIT, 2011).