Ruins or Stones: What are they really?

So, being the last week and all, I managed to forget about this blog post. And now, at 2:32am, lying in bed, I remembered!

So here we go!

This week we read two plays, both regarding the Haitian revolution. This follows the theme of the previous two books we read.

During the lecture today, I managed to get a little bit distracted with the twitter conversation I was having with some of the profs. Jon Beasley-Murray, who was running the lecture, talked a lot about ruins. And it has us (the tweeters) really wondering what ruins represented.

Jill Fellows stated the dilemma quite nicely in her tweet:

Jill Fellows ‏@FellowsJill13h

Do ruins suggest that nothing is permanent? They exist. They resist remodeling. I wonder if their impermanence is questionable. #artsone

On one side, ruins are proof that everything continues. Just like in our plays and novels, Sans Souci still stand. It may be crumbling, but it continues to live on.

On the other side, ruins show how nothing is permanent. Like Leonard de Mezy’s plantation in Kingdom of This World. When Ti Noel returns to the site in the third part, all that are left are stones. He himself says no one would recognize it for what it was: “Ti Noel sat down on one of the cornerstones of the old mansion, now a stone like any other stone for those who did not remember” (106).

So are ruins just a pause in the timeline of decay? Can we look at them as something on their own, or are they just a piece of something that will soon be gone?

Are they permanent?


3 thoughts on “Ruins or Stones: What are they really?

  1. I was puzzled at first by Jill’s point that ruins may not be impermanent, because all I could think of was that they signal the incessant march of change. When a building is still standing and relatively new, you don’t get those obvious signs of its impermanence. But when it’s in ruins, that’s what stands out–that time is wearing away and will continue to wear away. Ruins, to me, wear impermanence on their sleeves. I guess it’s what I see when I look at them or think about them.

    But Jill then clarified later that yes, eventually they will disappear, but before that they are present, here and now, both a presence and a sense of absence of what existed before. I hadn’t really thought about them in their current presence so much as being signals of a process of disappearing.

    • That’s what I was trying to point out. How ruins can seem to both mean impermanence, as well as permanence. So odd. I never really thought of what they meant to me, and now I am unsure. I see them as showing that some things continue past their lifetime, but as well one day they WILL be gone!

    • Indeed. They both “wear impermanence on their sleeves” and signal a stubborn resistence to temporality and history: they persist, long after the people or even entire societies that constructed them are dead and gone. Part of the awkwardness of ruins very often is that they shouldn’t really be there: modern building often has to work around them when they are discovered underlying and (to some extent) subverting our contemporary infrastructure. When builders or developers in London, for instance, come across a ruin while digging foundations, the area is immediately declared an archaeological site, and construction is suspended. But ruins can also be awkward in other ways, as reminders of a past that we might wish had disappeared a bit more thoroughly.

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