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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Ruin Criteria III: Incomplete

One reason why ruins tend to capture the imagination is that they provide room FOR imagination. A ruin must be partially incomplete, and this incomplete-ness provides the opportunity for us to imagine what may have once been there. Instead of being passive observers, we become active in recreating the past. Christopher Woodward writes:
"Each spectator is forced to supply the missing pieces from his or her own imagination and a ruin therefore appears different to everyone." (In Ruins p15)
Rose Macauley quotes Thomas Whately, stating that the effect of ruins on the imagination is profound:
"All remains excite an enquiry into the former state of the edifice, and fix the mind in a contemplation of the use it was applied to ... they suggest ideas which would not arise from the buildings if entire ... Whatever building we see in decay, we naturally contrast its present to its former state, and delight to ruminate on the comparison." (Thomas Whately, Observations on Modern Gardening, 1770, quoted by Rose Macaulay, Pleasure of Ruins, 29)
For ruins to properly activate the imagination, they must be incomplete enough to leave gaps, but show enough of the building to give us a hint. We can say that a certain percentage of a building must remain. Less than 100%, but more than 0%. Some walls, certainly. Windows and doorways are helpful.

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