The Aesthetics of Ruins


Author: Robert Ginsberg
This book constructs a theory of ruins that celebrates their vitality and unity in aesthetic experience. Its argument draws upon over 100 illustrations prepared in 40 countries. Ruins flourish as matter, form, function, incongruity, site, and symbol. Ruin underlies cultural values in cinema, literature and philosophy. Finally, ruin guides meditations upon our mortality and endangered world.

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Robert Ginsberg was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1937. From 1952 to 1960, he studied at the University of Chicago, chiefly in aesthetics (B.A., M.A.). Assisted by Fulbright grants, he lived in Paris from 1960 to 1963, continuing his explorations in aesthetics at the Sorbonne. He did additional studies in Sweden, the Netherlands Institute for Art History in The Hague, and the University of Vienna. He returned to America to complete a Ph.D. in philosophy in Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania (1966). Ginsberg has engaged in study missions to Italy (classics), Israel (peace studies), and China (Confucianism). In the United States, he pursued post-doctoral studies at The Johns Hopkins University (film), University of California at Irvine (political philosophy), Brandeis University (classics), the Folger Institute in Washington (history of philosophy), and Georgetown University (classics). Research grants have taken him to Norway, the United Kingdom, Spain, Greece, Hungary, and Germany. Ginsberg taught in France and Turkey in the 1960s. In the United States, he served as adjunct professor at Drexel University, Philadelphia, and Temple University, Harrisburg. Appointed as the first faculty member at The Pennsylvania State University’s Delaware County Campus in 1967, when it opened its doors in the Philadelphia suburbs, he taught for Penn State for thirty-five years. He is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and Comparative Literature. During a motor tour of Scotland in 1967, Ginsberg first discovered the beauties of ruins. Subsequently, he has traveled extensively to study and photograph ruins and lecture on them (Pl. 94). To gain experience in the field, he participated in archaeological study tours in Egypt, Tunisia, Italy, Yugoslavia, Mexico, and Guatemala. In developing a career as photographer-philosopher, he has exhibited his visual works in Paris, Hong Kong, Montréal, Philadelphia, and Washington. Among Ginsberg’s publications are a handbook for students, Welcome to Philosophy! (1977), and a monograph on sculpture, Gustav Vigeland: A Case Study in Art and Culture (1984). He edited Criticism and Theory in the Arts (1963), A Casebook on the Declaration of Independence (1967), The Critique of War: Contemporary Philosophical Explorations (1969), and The Philosopher as Writer: The Eighteenth Century (1987). Ginsberg edits the book series, New Studies in Aesthetics. Previously, he served as editor of the Social Philosophy Research Institute Book Series (SPRIBS), the Jones and Bartlett Philosophy Series, The Journal of Value Inquiry, and the Value Inquiry Book Series (VIBS). As an editor, he has supervised the publication of two hundred volumes. In 1962, Robert Ginsberg and Ellen Sutor wed in Paris. Since 1972, the Ginsbergs have made their home in Takoma Park, Maryland, an historic suburb of Washington, where they direct the International Center for the Arts, Humanities, and Value Inquiry.
”elegantly written, closely argued, richly documented, impressively illustrated, and exceedingly readable … Ginsberg’s book allows us to see ruins as the ever-lasting possibility of the transformation of reality, as a discovery of the past that promises to enrich the future” in: Soundings - An Interdisciplinary Journal 89, 3-4 (Fall/Winter 2006)
The Aesthetics of Ruins is both a simulation and rewarding experience in which we learn to reconsider our perspective on ruins and aesthetics simultaneously. With good humor and clarity, Ginsberg reclaims the study of ruins from the margins… A broad work, both in its size and scope…[the] extensive and definitive bibliography … provides an excellent source for further research on ruins.” in: Journal of Aesthetic Education, Vol. 40, No 4, Winter 2006
“it has real intellectual thought and quirky insights at every turn … a cheerful discussion with the reader in a very conversational style, a mine of detailed and encyclopaedic information …. As academically and intellectually precise in its detail as it is complex in its thought.” in: The Art Book, Vol. 13, May 2006
“Bibliographically, this book is outstanding. Ginsberg knows much and tells it all. The generous last chapter (pp. 449-538) contains solid commentaries on books, besides ample indexes of names, titles, and other clues. The illustrations are numerous, diverse in their cultural and geographic choice, and capably selected for their suggestiveness. More generally, the book is encyclopedically conceived: I can hardly remember a work in which sections on “cinema and television as ruin,” on music, literature, even nature as ruin coexist side-by-side with philosophical and aesthetic chapters, as well as with more predictable considerations on ruins in the narrower traditional sense: buildings, architecture, and the like.” in: The Review of Metaphysics, March 1, 2006
List of Illustrations Foreword by Claire Richter Sherman Preface Acknowledgments ONE The Ruin as Matter TWO The Ruin as Form THREE The Ruin as Function FOUR The Ruin as Incongruity FIVE The Ruin as Site SIX The Ruin as Symbol SEVEN The Ruin as Aesthetic Experience EIGHT Visit to a Ruin: St. Andrews NINE Building with Ruin TEN Nature as Ruin ELEVEN Sculpture and Other Visual Arts as Ruin TWELVE Cinema and Television as Ruin THIRTEEN Literature as Ruin FOURTEEN Philosophy as Ruin FIFTEEN The Terminology of Ruin SIXTEEN Theories of Ruin SEVENTEEN The Ruining Eye – and Other Senses EIGHTEEN Fragments of a Chapter on Ruin NINETEEN Meditations on Humanity, Self, and the World as Ruins Works Cited Chronology of Ruin Appendix Bibliographical Essay on the Literature and Imagery of Ruin About the Author Index