JEFF BYLES

EVERYTHING FALLS APART

A WEEDY REVERIE ON THE IMPORTANCE OF RUINS, AND WHY THE RAVAGED CITY IS SO IRRESISTIBLE

DISCUSSED: Christopher Woodward, Antiquity, Ruinenlust, Planet of the Apes, Chateaubriand, Ruinistas, Paul Feyerabend, The Worm of Nothingness (Daubed with Pink Highlighter), John Harris, Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, Picturesque British Bomb Damage, Exemplary Frailty

ON SATYRS AND BITTERNS

Of all the screwball architectural passions—gingerbread-house fetishes, say, or the mania, in the suburbs, for crenellated and turreted tilt-wall chateaux—surely none are more feral than the hankering for heaps of broken stone. For ruined structures have spurred lusty encomiums since at least the age of Babylon, roiling the staid literature of buildings with “this orgiastic conjuring of the past, this upsurging of furious fancies,” as old Rose Macaulay put it so nicely. “Out come the screech-owls, the dragons, the satyrs, the bitterns, the serpents, the jackals, the bats, even the moles, all the familiar creatures of ruin that haunt demolished cities and glooming fancy,” she added, winking at the hothouse realm of rubble.

Today our wrecked, junked, and brambled buildings are more often barricaded by the curators of antiquity (Rome), recycled as shopping malls (Ephesus: Step right up, get yer vanitas vanitatum, folks!), or bulldozed as liabilites to urban self-esteem (Detroit). But as Gothamites circa 2001 were forcibly reminded, ruins rear up where we least expect them, as shockingly sumptuous rebuttals to Progress. Especially so (as we shall see) are the tumbled stones that stub the sojourner’s toe in our inner, psychic landscapes—the moss-strewn pillars of consciousness past.

Ruins are dangerous, in short; that’s why we need them. A good, rotting ruin gets the juices flowing.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please visit our store to purchase a copy of the magazine.

Jeff Byles is working on a cultural history of demolition, coming out from Harmony Books next year.

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