For many of us, ruins are alluring, puzzling and endlessly fascinating: this elegant book seeks to explore why. What is it that makes us suspicious of works or histories that are too smooth, too continuous? Is it that urban experience is inherently discontinuous and fragmented, or that the only truths we can believe are partial ones? Ruins and Fragments guides us through ancient and modern worlds, sharing tales of loss, recovery and rediscovery. Beginning with ancient fragments, this book recounts how later history has recuperated, restored and exhibited them, and even how ruins have been found in unlikely places - such as a Hellenistic fragment from Pergamon located in remote Nottinghamshire. It considers modernist architecture's fragmentary effects, and how concrete made some buildings look prematurely ruined. It also explores architecture that has worked with ruins, from the Castelvecchio in Verona to the reconstruction of the Neues Museum in Berlin. In literature, from T. S. Eliot to Laurence Sterne, writers revel in fragments and create anew from literary rubble.Some people deliberately construct or destroy to create ruin, Gordon Matta-Clark attacking buildings, for example, or dispossessed youth scribbling graffiti. Ultimately, destruction is balanced by attempts at reconstruction. Whether focusing on ancient or modern remnants, literature or the visual arts, Ruins and Fragments is poetic without being sentimental. Far from 'ruin lust', this book seeks to explore fragments without fetishizing them. In doing so it offers new ways of understanding the history of modernity, while delighting in our perception of the world as a puzzle and the ways in which we can construct new forms of meaning.
"Ruins and Fragments "is a wonderfully alluring poem of absence: it weaves together such diverse strands as the language of Finnigan s Wake, the montage of Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov, the aggressions of analytical Cubism and the reconstruction of the Warsaw Market Square into an enticing panorama of our perplexing times.
-Joseph Rykwert, author of The Judicious Eye, The Seduction of Place and The Idea of a Town"
A marvelous story-teller and shorer of fragments, Robert Harbison surveys the destiny of ruins from Oxyrynchus to the films of Ozu, to Phimai and beyond. Yet his underlying concern remains the aftermath of war, cruelty, suffering the perpetual assault of human folly upon human constructions and the history of our often poorly conceived attempts to rebuild. Harbison has composed a spell-binding meditation on the inevitability of fragmentation and dispersal.
-Susan Stewart, Avalon Foundation University Professor of the Humanities and Director, Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts"
An extended meditation on disruption and discontinuity in (largely) Western culture, on fractures, on remembering and forgetting what we have lost, and on the rough edges of our cultural world, from architecture to literature. Harbison proves a keen observer of the paradoxes of reconstruction. -Mary Beard "Times Literary Supplement "
Robert Harbison is former Professor of Architecture at London Metropolitan University. He is the author of many books including Reflections on Baroque (Reaktion, 2000) and Travels in the History of Architecture (Reaktion, 2010).