Overlooking Damage, or Antiquities in Peril and the Ethical Sublime in Volney and Ruskin
The collision of the sublime and the ethical is as unavoidable as the political crises that make us attend to antique ruins with sudden and renewed urgency. This presentation addresses the difficulty of reaching a perspective on damaged objects—a challenge that is both methodological and conceptual. The Comte de Volney’s memorable evocation of Palmyra in his widely influential Reflections on the Revolutions of Empires (1791) and John Ruskin’s searching reflections on the power of ruins and the creative drives of modernity in Modern Painters (1843-1861) offer an opportunity to explore the implications of a question that has never been more pressing: is the surveying of damage always only synonymous with overlooking it? Responding to the acute pressures of a not too-distant past, Volney and Ruskin enjoin us to consider how looking over ruins might become a new mode of seeing. The much publicized situation of antiquities at risk in zones of conflict, and the challenges posed by the movements of displaced peoples in (and out of) those same regions make it all the more vital for us to understand the ethics of over-looking.
Speaker: Jonah Siegel is Professor of English and Co-Director of the British Studies Center at Rutgers University. Aside from numerous articles on literature and the fine arts, he is the author of two books, Desire & Excess: The Nineteenth-Century Culture of Art (2000), and Haunted Museum: Longing, Travel, and the Art-Romance Tradition (2005) and the editor of The Emergence of the Modern Museum: An Anthology of Nineteenth-Century Sources (2007). He is currently completing two books, Material Inspirations: The Interest of the Art Object and Beauty and Damage: Essays on Display and Loss.