ABOUT THIS BOOK
What is it about ruins that are so alluring, so puzzling, that they can hold some of us in endless wonder over the half-erased story they tell? In this elegant book, Robert Harbison explores the captivating hold these remains and broken pieces—from architecture, art, and literature—have on us. Why are we, he asks, so suspicious of things that are too smooth, too continuous? What makes us feel, when we look upon a fragment, that its very incompletion has a kind of meaning in itself? Is it that our experience on earth is inherently discontinuous, or that we are simply unable to believe in anything whole?
Harbison guides us through ruins and fragments, both ancient and modern, visual and textual, showing us how they are crucial to understanding our current mindset and how we arrived here. First looking at ancient fragments, he examines the ways we have recovered, restored, and exhibited them as artworks. Then he moves on to modernist architecture and the ways that it seeks a fragmentary form, examining modern projects that have been designed into existing ruins, such as the Castelvecchio in Verona, Italy and the reconstruction of the Neues Museum in Berlin. From there he explores literature and the works of T. S. Eliot, Montaigne, Coleridge, Joyce, and Sterne, and how they have used fragments as the foundation for creating new work. Likewise he examines the visual arts, from Schwitters’ collages to Ruskin’s drawings, as well as cinematic works from Sergei Eisenstein to Julien Temple, never shying from more deliberate creators of ruin, from Gordon Matta-Clark to countless graffiti artists.
From ancient to modern times and across every imaginable form of art, Harbison takes a poetic look at how ruins have offered us a way of understanding history and how they have enabled us to create the new.