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Ruskin REdux

Ruskin REdux

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Ruskin Redux Author(s): Jennifer Bloomer Source: Assemblage, No. 32 (Apr., 1997), pp.

8-11 Published by: The MIT Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3171403 Accessed: 29/07/2010 11:30
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and his intense focus on detail made his workanathema to the modern movement and therefore worthyof neglect in the new age.his belief in the building as a legible text in which ornament was the medium of communication. From our vantage point at the end of the twentieth century. his disdain for classicism. a distantfigure whose irrelevantthoughts have been left behind in a few million wordsrecorded in thirty-ninevolumes. Ruskin is. opinionated prose. Ruskin is. and of a failure to apprehend the spatial qualities of buildings: accusations supportedwith carefully excised quotations from Ruskin himself. we are put off by his florid.stg.it has been common among architectural historiansto accuse Ruskin of ignorance of building technologies. his Victorian sensibilities. And the way he goes on about the tiniest bit of stone or strokeof paint will drive to distraction the readerwho is looking for the big picture.html) reeks of the fussy fuddy-duddy.brown. His endless sermons on the Gothic style hardlyseem worth anyone's time. perhapstoo much of that time. Reading Ruskin can be a maddening experience: he frequently contradictshimself. Living only days into the twentieth century.Jennifer Ruskin Bloomer Redux Jennifer Bloomer is an associate professor of of architectureand professor-in-charge the Post-Professional Programand Laboratoryfor Experimental Design at Iowa State University. for most of us. reddishbooks that populate the shelves of used bookstores. or in the ubiquitous small.edu/projects/hypertext/ landow/victorian/ruskin/ruskinov.These books are alwayscheap: Ruskin is out of fashion. This picture of Ruskin makes it easy to imag- Assemblage 32: 8-11 ? 1997 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology . for us. of a simplistic relaapproach to the structure-ornament tion. Common wisdom would tell us that the core of Ruskin'sviews on architecture . writes lines of prose that loop in associa8 tive chains way out beyond where the readerthought s/he was going. Why now John Ruskin.who in many ways epitomized the Victorian era?His life spanned the nineteenth century. Furthermore. Even his home page (www. changes his mind. his relentless faith in God. and the class snobberyguiding the look down his long nose (this even in the later work in which he pontificates about the dignity of the workingclasses). The most fashionable and influential critic of his place and time.

spent many youthful hours staringat Alpine rocks. where Pound called the labyrinth of the twentiethcentury[where]hispattern torywould developa maze-likepatternfull of sudden surprises tragicblind alleys. By invoking"the modernistvocation of [Ruskin's]stare. is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness. to fix a disinterestedand analyticattention on things with the myth of modernism'sabstractionof the world into geometric pattern. but above all else his obedient silence and his fixed stare?"2 Kraussgoes on to connect Ruskin'slifelong ability.would go on to design the little white chapel on the hill at Ronchamp that Pevsnerberatesin the second edition of Pioneers.Bloomer ine a distinct and abrupt rift between the ideas of the nineteenth-century theorist and twentieth-centurydesign. But this is not the only picture. by taking away all appearanceof age."she describesanother connecting line.Although Pevsner'stheory is.a colorless. discountable for its obvious Anglicizing angle. Here. But even in the nineteenth century. of this book.and Finnegans Wake." Furtheron. In a later chapteron Bataille'sinforme. whiteness was something quite more than a choice of surface color: 9 Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartlessvoids and immensities of the universe.4 The whiteness that would come to characterize modern architecture was an object of Ruskin'sattention.the sourcesof which are not limited to artand architecture. by hinting at a disguised and humble material.In using this great whiteness as a figure of foreboding and of a blankness. on the contrary."' and The title of this issue. pondering the whiteness of the great whale in Moby Dick. that as in essence whiteness is not so much a color as the visible absence of color. the champion of ornamented and sculpted architectureboth seems clairvoyantand throwshis own line across the fin de siecle. it nevertheless marksa line across the figure of the rift. who. And what are we to make of Theo van Doesburg's 1916 drawing"L'Enfant Me'canique (HommageatRuskin)?'Its geometric abstractionbearsa happy resemblance to the image that figuresthe title of first Rosalind Krauss's chapterof The Optical Unconscious. Guy Davenport's stunningessay"The House That JackBuilt"tracksthe labyrinths of Ruskin'sForsClavigerain JamesJoyce's The Dubliners.and harmonises ill with the melancholy tones of surrounding landscape: and this requires detailed consideration. Ruskinreachesacrossto the twentiethcenturywith more threads. puristEdouardJeanneret. RuskinRedux. Ruskin similarlyemployed the metaphor of whiteness to ruminate on the pale behemoth that had recently appeared in Hyde Park. without taking away from its depth of tone. full of meaning.it adds to its brilliancy. Paleness of color destroysthe majesty of a building." And later:"Ifthe color is too white. Ruskin'swriting seems to prefigure the concerns of architecturalmodernism. this time to pass along the ability to see the geometric bones of the world to the rising This boy. when beholding the white depths of the milky way?Or is it. tracing a connection from the recast of the Weimar Art School by Walter Gropius through William Morristo Ruskin as one element of the synthesis of tendencies that Pevsner argues would become the modern movement in architecture.with his blond curls and his blue sash and shoes to match. therefore. the year of the publication of Melville's masterpiece. that white is not to be blamed in the villa for destroyingits antiquity. following a note that the appearance of age in a villa is neither desirable nor necessary. are:"Andwhat about little John Ruskin.as well as in EzraPound'sThe Can"the tos.gained from a childhood deprivedof toys and hugs.suggests something other than a resuscitation . we can have no ornament. allcolor of atheism from which we shrink?6 These are the words of Herman Melville qua Ishmael. for some.The firstwordsof this chapter.a wiping clean the pages of all that has been. commencing with his discussion of "Villa and Cottage Architecture"in the early Poetryof Architecture:"Whitenessdestroysa great deal of venerable character. In 1851. first. as harmonising ill with the surrounding landscape.and secondly.3 like Ruskin. and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation. neither is it reprehensible.Ulysses. and at the same time the concrete of all colors. for the shadows would make it far too conspicuous.Ruskinappearsagain. in a wide landscape of snows .he writes:"We find. and we should get only " tawdriness. For there is Nikolaus Pevsner in 1936's Pioneersof the Modern Movement (to be 1949's Pioneersof Modern Design).

and back to iron weapons that drawblood. intelligent.assemblage 32 of a long dead figure."1 Ruskin'ssewing skills are more appreciated by Hillis Miller. and his cries for architectureas a collaborative professionin which the construction worker's skillsare appreciatedby a deferen- tial architectwould be verymuch at home on the pages of a self-criticalprofessional journaltoday.)12 Ruskin'swritingson the political economy.would unravel ratherthan strengthen it. Ruskin'smarked distrustof the notion of progress(in society.especiallybecause it has room for the whole of your character. Ruskin wrote in a patchwork manner. rust- colored soil. The Latin redux means a returnto home. by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. (For furtherconsideration of Ruskin's analysis. and heartfeltcritique of the inIn stitution of American education. Perhapsmost importantly. [but] see that those impulses be headed and centred by one noble impulse. Perhapsthe most unfashionable of all Ruskin'sideas in 1997 is surprisinglyparalleled in Jane Tompkins'sA Life in School: What the TeacherLearned. His tendency to see connections across disciplines and build arguments that are interdisciplinaryis more familiar. if we are willing to see."3 the book. as a circuit. when the silverysheen of Progress has become smeared and tarnished. the creation in which you move. staining. . the return of someone who has been in exile or has been travelingfor awhile. amplified by Tompkins's. intelligent.8 Actually. 10 . and the creaturesto whom you minister.. his tiradesagainstgratuitousnovelty.material act of which culture is a vital part. as the fogeyish curmudgeon who died at its dawning."4 Both Tompkins and Ruskin addressan absence in the discursive climates of architecture and academe. give the rein to all your impulses. swerves dramaticallyout of her customaryterritory to investigatethe emotional consequences that the educational institution brings to bear on student and teacher alike.and not Miller simply an object of representation. in architecture)positions him as a thinker as much at home in the discourse of the close of the twentieth century. developing his ideas by accumulation and digression. we can see the self-contradiction that characterizesRuskin'swriting as a skillfully implemented heuristic tool and can recognize this as a good reason to attend his work with some care. in every sense of the words. and let that be Love . And Ruskin'sthoughts. who is best known as a brilliant and incisive literarycritic. not a simple line.. for example. Ruskinskillfully unpacks the relation of the painting to the real as well as the question of the real.the paint on the canvas .They are eloquent. dartingabout among superficiallydisparatepassagesand subjects whose relationswere supposed to become clear in the end. . in culture.and with a radical empiricism that smacks of Derrida. His fascination with the relation of word and image and his interest in the architectonics of systems of knowledge are arguablydifferent only in style of expression from those of more familiar figures closer to us in time."1 argues that Ruskin'sanalysisof Turner begins with the fact before him . see Charles Reeve's "Godly Untruth"in this issue. terra-cotta tiles. and heartfelt(if a bit fussy). his worksexpressingconcern for the lower classes. She describes the practice of a theory that could have come from Ruskin's"Influence of Imagination in Architecture. Although Fear and Disgust have been legitimized as topics of speculation.at least in Ruskin'sview ."to us.thereforeto breathingand blood. intersecting other circuits of iron-rich. and the gift of iron stains to marblesand jaspers.for the artwhich you practise. in A Thousand Plateaux. who sees Ruskin'slacing of writing with engravingand needlework as a valorizationof the everyday. are powerful catalyststo the crawlingsof skins. Tompkins."a lecture given to the members of the Architectural Association in 1857: For this artof yours. . The resultant web would be so complexly woven that excision .an eloquent. and less the evidence of "madness. the childhood memory of the edge of a waterbasin stained with iron rustand its relation to rustyknives and razors.9 "infantfetishist of patchwork" Krauss's constructed texts this way a century before this analogue for thinking and writing would by theorized and practiced. Radical stuff indeed. Love is the contemptible emotion for theory at the currentfin de siecle. What has been called the free associative writing of Ruskin is in many ways confluent with nonlinear forms of narrative structureand with electronic hypertext.triple love . The apparentlyserial chains of association worktheir ways into nets.

I learned I was not alone. E. (New York: JohnWileyandSons. See John Ruskin. KataPhusin (John Ruskin). 1993). triumphant style. I have also been supported in variousways by the kind deeds and good advice of MarkWigley. KristineOttesen Garrigan. Ibid.: The MITPress. 14. 1973). 9.The latework Le Corbusier. and I thank them all for making it so. Bob McAnulty. chair of the Department of Architecture at Iowa State University. with Ruskin'sMaze.. Etc. pattern Pevsner's andhe represents as an interludial it attempt to escapefromthe reality modernism of comto In parable German expressionism. Moby Dick (1851. Ruskin. 8. my skin has crawled with a growing awarenessthat I was more often reaching for the little red books. 10. The Poetryof Architecture: Cottage. 13. Villa.for offering me the opportunityof this guest editorship. and he is the object of spousal and professional gratitude. 12. It has been a great pleasure to work with these individuals. Thanks to Catherine Ingrahamfor recommending and lending it to me. Thanks to Charles Reeve for reminding me of the Ruskin bits in Miller.1877). 1859). OpticalUnconThe scious(Cambridge. 143." in The Two Paths. Mass. Krauss. produced the grotto-esquedeluge of quotations for the frontispiece of Paulette Singley's essay. Herman Melville.adhering to the aesthetic tenets of Ruskin while exerciselectronic production. 1981). The Two Paths."The Work of Iron in Nature. 1. New York:W. Mass. 1967). 4. and JasonVigneri-Beane.105.Ruskin on Architecture (Madison: Universityof Wisconsin Press.Bloomer For several years. When I went public with this notion.W.and I thank them here for hard work and grace under pressure.222. And I came to wonder if Ruskin had not been given short shrift in the scheme of things. Guy Davenport. The Geographyof the Imagination (San Francisco: North Point Press. Those who know the world'sdemands for the workof Tom Phillips will realize the magnitude of his kindness in making seven new Humument pages especially for this issue of Assemblage. as well as his good humor. Notes 1. Norton. . notfit the at did of historical construction.and Policy. 1992).has acted far beyond his customarysupport of Assemblageto make this issue happen. and Its Application to Decoration and Manufacture(New York:John Wiley and Sons.: HarvardUniversityPress. Catherine Ingraham. ing state-of-the-art HarrisDimitropoulos has demonstrated once again the potential of the computer beyond quotidian speed of production. 5. 195.1. The essays.and Alicia Kennedy . Illustration(Cambridge.architecture graduatestudents at Iowa State. in the production of all the color images in the issue. In making the design of the cover and endleaves of the issue both beautiful and theoretically substantial. Thanks Mark to Stankard leadingme for to von Doesburg's mystifying drawing. 51. handed us a raveling thread to the nineteenth century. Art. of Notrenotably Dame-du-Haut Ronchamp. who. HadarIron and Daryn Edwards. J. 2. 6. and project in this issue are the work of delightful company. Being Lectureson Art. 11. and I am most gratefulto Richard Solomon and the foundation for their support. I thank also the editors of Assemblage Michael Hays.. Rosalind Krauss. In the 1949MoMA of publication Pioneers transforms he what of ModemDesign. a mode thatrecallsRuskin.186. Ruskin Redux is dedicated to the memory of JayFellows. paintings. Pevsner insists "today's that . 3. Hillis Miller. 108. Robert Segrest. 188. 151-97.Pevsner in haddescribed the firsteditionas a movementintoa full-blown. reality can finditscompleteexpression 11 only in the style created by the giants of that by now distant past"(217). He has also been characteristicallygenerous with his time and expertise. 7. Francesca Hughes. A generous grant from the Graham Foundation brought this issue of Assemblage into being.The Optical Unconscious. During the production. 79..

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