Ruins of Modernity

Ruins of Modernity

Politics, History, and Culture

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Book Pages: 528 Illustrations: 83 illustrations Published: March 2010

Art and Visual Culture > Art Criticism and Theory, Cultural Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Theory

Images of ruins may represent the raw realities created by bombs, natural disasters, or factory closings, but the way we see and understand ruins is not raw or unmediated. Rather, looking at ruins, writing about them, and representing them are acts framed by a long tradition. This unique interdisciplinary collection traces discourses about and representations of ruins from a richly contextualized perspective. In the introduction, Julia Hell and Andreas Schönle discuss how European modernity emerged partly through a confrontation with the ruins of the premodern past.

Several contributors discuss ideas about ruins developed by philosophers such as Immanuel Kant, Georg Simmel, and Walter Benjamin. One contributor examines how W. G. Sebald’s novel The Rings of Saturn betrays the ruins erased or forgotten in the Hegelian philosophy of history. Another analyzes the repressed specter of being bombed out of existence that underpins post-Second World War modernist architecture, especially Le Corbusier’s plans for Paris. Still another compares the ways that formerly dominant white populations relate to urban-industrial ruins in Detroit and to colonial ruins in Namibia. Other topics include atomic ruins at a Nevada test site, the connection between the cinema and ruins, the various narratives that have accrued around the Inca ruin of Vilcashuamán, Tolstoy’s response in War and Peace to the destruction of Moscow in the fire of 1812, the Nazis’ obsession with imperial ruins, and the emergence in Mumbai of a new “kinetic city” on what some might consider the ruins of a modernist city. By focusing on the concept of ruin, this collection sheds new light on modernity and its vast ramifications and complexities.

Contributors. Kerstin Barndt, Jon Beasley-Murray, Russell A. Berman, Jonathan Bolton, Svetlana Boym, Amir Eshel, Julia Hell, Daniel Herwitz, Andreas Huyssen, Rahul Mehrotra, Johannes von Moltke, Vladimir Paperny, Helen Petrovsky, Todd Presner, Helmut Puff, Alexander Regier, Eric Rentschler, Lucia Saks, Andreas Schönle, Tatiana Smoliarova, George Steinmetz, Jonathan Veitch, Gustavo Verdesio, Anthony Vidler


“. . . [A] unique and important contribution to the study of European modernity and its attendant aesthetic and political outputs.” — Mark Pendleton, Cultural Studies Review

“[T]he essays in this collection… provide a ground breaking cultural geography of the trauma of modernism’s past, located in the presence (or absence) of ruins that will provide philosophical groundwork (as well as concrete examples of geographical spaces) for literary/cultural critics.” — Susan Currell, Year's Work in Critical and Cultural Theory

“[T]he scope of Ruins of Modernity is impressive, with papers ranging from war ruins to atomic ruins, from colonial ruins of Namibia to cinematic representations of ruins, reflecting the multifarious nature of ruins themselves.” — Dylan Trigg, Clio

“Julia Hell and Andreas Schönle have accomplished a genuine feat with this collection: they have built a shining edifice of scholarship from ‘ruins.’ If the mark of an impressive scholarly collection is that readers will with that they, too, had written something on the subject, then this volume certainly qualifies. The notable compendium of essays gathered here will make specialists and students alike look at the subject of ruins anew.” — Mary A. Nicholas, Slavic and East European Journal

“The essays are both philosophically and historically well studied and analysed; the least of what one can talk about is the context of ruinations, perhaps a subject which so far has not been theorised before.” — Krishnan Unni P, Millennium Post

“The reader of Ruins of Modernity ultimately engages in an excavation of the ruin, uncovering it from its historical, affective and aesthetic layers of usage, revealing how modernity is an operation always in progress. The excavation is enlightening, rewarding, and—despite the text’s daunting size—thoroughly enjoyable.” — Carrie Smith-Prei, Reviews in Cultural Theory

“This book’s strength lies in its polyvocality and its focus beyond the nation state. In fact, the coordinates of ruination include Detroit, Germany, Iraq, Israel, Mexico, Moscow, New York City, New Orleans, and South Africa, and the contributors subtend an interdisciplinary and transnational line of inquiry from philosophy, architecture, and sociology to literary and film studies. This book will be an excellent addition to the libraries of advanced undergraduates, graduate students, and scholars in the aforementioned fields, as well as for those interested in memory studies and critiques of modernity. . . . Ruins can reinforce dominant ideologies and fix subordination; they oppress and render peoples silent. The exceeding value of these essays lies in emphasizing that the subjugated matter, too.” — Vance Byrd, Monatshefte

“With this exemplary volume . . . editors Julia Hell and Andreas Schönle demonstrate what is to be gained when 24 scholars from nearly a dozen disciplines focus their expertise on the multivalenced discourses of ‘ruins’ in the cultural settings of five continents. . . . Some questions run through the volume almost as leitmotifs—what constitutes a ruin? Natural decay, catastrophe, human action? How does ‘rubble’ become a ‘ruin?’—clearly elude definitive answers, but the various essays are all the richer for the erudition and breadth of vision which they offer in the elucidation of ‘ruins.’” — Patricia Herminghouse, German Studies Review

“Ever since Shelley’s traveler returned from an ‘antique land’ with news of the shattered statue of Ozymandias, king of kings, we have pondered the sober lessons of ruins and their mockery of human pretension. In this remarkable collection assembled by Julia Hell and Andreas Schönle, the ruinscape is that of the modern world and the gazes fall as much on our prior attempts to make sense of it as on the ruins themselves.” — Martin Jay, author of Songs of Experience: Modern American and European Variations on a Universal Theme

“The scope of this book is ambitious; the execution is masterful. It is a superb collection of reflections by major scholars on the pervasive presence of ruins in contemporary cultures. It is sure to find a wide readership among urban historians; scholars of modernity; scholars and students of German, European, and post-Soviet studies; film scholars; and art historians.” — Ulrich Baer, author of Spectral Evidence: The Photography of Trauma


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Julia Hell is Associate Professor of German Studies at the University of Michigan. She is the author of Post-Fascist Fantasies: History, Psychoanalysis, and East German Literature, also published by Duke University Press.

Andreas Schönle is Professor of Russian Studies at Queen Mary, University of London. He is the author of The Ruler in the Garden: Politics and Landscape Design in Imperial Russia and Authenticity and Fiction in the Russian Literary Journey, 1790–1840.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations


Introduction / Julia Hell and Andreas Schönle

Part I. Catastrophe, Utopia, and the Architecture of Destruction

1. Authentic Ruins: Products of Modernity / Andreas Huyssen

2. Air War and Architecture / Anthony Vidler

3. Modernism and Destruction in Architecture / Vladimir Paperny

4. Ruins of the Avant-Garde: From Tatlin's Tower to the Paper Architecture / Svetlana Boym

Part II. Ruins and the Democratic Polity

5. Modernity as a "Destroyed Anthill": Tolstoy on History and the Aesthetics of Ruins / Andreas Schönle

6. Democratic Destruction: Ruins and Emancipation in the American Tradition / Russell A. Berman

7. The Ruins of a Republic: Czech Modernism after Munich, 1938–39 / Jonathan Bolton

8. Layered Time: Ruins as Shattered Post, Ruins as Hope in Israeli and German Landscapes and Literatures / Amir Eshel

9. Cities, Citizenship and Other Jo burg Stories / Lucia Saks

Part III. Empires, Ruins, and Their Stories

10. Imperial Ruin Gazers, or Why did Scipio Weep? / Julia Hell

11. Hegel's Philosophy of World History via Sebald's Imaginary of Ruins: A Contrapuntal Critique of the "New Space" of Modernity / Todd Samuel Presner

12. Vilcashuamán: Telling Stories in Ruins / Jon Beasley-Murray

13. The Monument in Ruins / Daniel Herwitz

14. Simultaneous Modernity: Negotiations and Resistances in Urban India / Rahul Mehrotra

Part IV. (Post-)Ruinscapes

15. Ruins as Models: Displaying Destruction

16. "Memory Traces of an Abandoned Set of Futures": Industrial Ruins in the Postindustrial Landscapes of Germany / Kerstin Barndt

17. Colonial Melancholy and Fordist Nostalgia: The Ruinscapes of Namibia and Detroit / George Steinmetz

18. Dr. Strangelove's Cabinet of Wonder: Sifting through the Atomic Ruins at the Nevada Test Site / Jonathan Veitich

19. Invisible at a Glance: Indigenous Cultures of the Past, Ruins, Archaeological Sites, and Our Regimes of Visibility / Gustavo Verdesio

Part V. Ruin Gazing

20. Foundational Ruins: The Lisbon Earthquake and the Sublime / Alexander Regier

21. The Promise of a Ruin: Gavrila Derzhavin's Archaic Modernity / Tatiana Smoliarova

22. Ruin Cinema / Johannes von Moltke

23. The Place of Rubble in the Trummerfilm / Eric Rentschler

24. Lost in Time: Boris Mikhailov and his Study of the Soviet / Helen Petrovksy



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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4474-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4456-8
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