John Armstrong, Invocation

Ruins: Beauty, Feeling, and Catastrophe

Instructor: Isi Litke
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

Ruins seemingly always evoke complex feelings: sweetness, melancholy, wonder, fatality. But why? The ruin is a central aesthetic, philosophical, and political preoccupation in modernity, variously characterized as a conduit of sublimity, an index of past catastrophes and abandoned futures, an evocation of colonial nostalgia, an injunction to remember, a metaphor for contemporary historical consciousness. What is the allure of the ruin, and how have representations of ruins—alongside tropes of decay, fragmentation, and abandonment—functioned across cultural and political imaginaries? How did the status of the ruin transform in response to the unprecedented material destruction of the 20th century, and the corresponding interest in preservation, restoration, and monumentalization? How is the image of the ruin related to its materiality, and the forces–preservation, destruction, neglect–that sustain and produce it? What does it mean to live in the ruins(-in-the-making) of environmental catastrophe?

In this course, we’ll study the ruin as an aesthetic object, a conceptual object, and a spatial practice, drawing on a range of visual, literary, and architectural works alongside theoretical and historical texts. We’ll consider the status of the ruin in 18th century theories of the picturesque and sublime, and as a motif in the literary and visual imagination of Romantic authors and artists. We’ll examine theoretical and cultural texts informed by the ruinscapes of the 20th century, ranging from the writings of Walter Benjamin to the stories of J.G. Ballard and films of Andrei Tarkovsky. Special attention will be paid to how ruins are mobilized, valorized, and naturalized by reactionary political regimes. Finally, we will consider the status of the ruin in relation to questions of preservation, cultural heritage, environmental destruction, and adaptive reuse. Readings will likely include works by Walter Benjamin, Georg Simmel, Julia Hell, Andreas Huyssen, Ariella Azoulay, Ann Laura Stoler, Lucia Allais, and Svetlana Boym, among others.

“Ruins: Beauty, Feeling, and Catastrophe” will also run in-person at BISR Central, starting Monday, October 16th. For more information, please visit the course page.

Course Schedule

Tuesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
October 17 — November 07, 2023
4 weeks


Registration Open

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