Ruins of Modernity: "A Universal History of Ruins from Antiquity to the Enlightenment" with Alain Schnapp

Ruins of Modernity: "A Universal History of Ruins from Antiquity to the Enlightenment" with Alain Schnapp
Tue April 19th 2022, 12:00 - 1:30pm

Speaker(s): Alain Schnapp (Université Panthéon-Sorbonne)

Ruins of Modernity presents:
“A Universal History of Ruins from Antiquity to the Enlightenment”
There are no more people without memory than there are societies without ruins. Massive or discreet, unalterable or fragile, ruins are part of our environment, they condition a part of our action and our behaviors, sometimes without our being aware of them. They are an unstable and constantly restored bridge between memory and oblivion. Some societies like ancient Egypt entrust gigantic monuments and imposing inscriptions to the memory of their sovereigns, others prefer to make a pact with time, like the Mesopotamians, aware of the vulnerability of their mud-brick palaces who preferred to bury in the ground the foundation bricks bearing commemorative inscriptions. Others, like the Japanese at the sanctuary of Isé, go even further by destroying then reconstructing identically, in an infinite cycle, their light wood and thatch architecture. Building gigantic monuments, adorning them with the finest materials is not enough. For greater certainty, it is important to strike the imagination: the pyramid, the "palace without rival", the "great wall" are each in their kind of constructions so imposing that they are worth as much for the shadow they produce (in the sense that Borges gives to this word in “The Wall and the Books”) as for their strictly architectural qualities. This type of architecture has something disproportionate that goes beyond its purpose, it embodies a kind of transgression that constitutes a propaganda tool as much as an instrument of memory. Through the inscriptions on the walls, the tablets or the bronze vases, a speech is addressed to future centuries, because the sovereigns, their architects and their craftsmen trust even more the durability of the writings than the solidity of the walls that they build. The mud brick tablets of the Mesopotamians, like the inscriptions engraved on the bronze vases of ancient China, as dissimilar as they may be, are proof of a desire to transmit to future generations messages that are an integral part of the essence of monuments.

Alain Schnapp is Prof. Emeritus of Greek Archaeology at the Université París 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and the Institut national d’histoire de l’art (INHA).
Talk and discussion will be in English. For more information, please contact Prof. Resina or Laura Menéndez at: jrresina [at] or lauramen [at]