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The Concept of Ruin and the Ruin of


Faculty of Philosophy, University “Al.I.Cuza” Iassy,
B-dul Carol I, 11 Iassy, 700506, Romania.

Abstract. In the following pages I attempted to elaborate, in situ, on the conceptual

reshapings realized by the concept of ruin and the ruin of concept starting from the
question of the legitimacy of their construction. Ruins have an aesthetic, moral, political
and religious power supervened on account of what historical, archaeological,
epistemological, philosophical and other types of interpretation reorientate which is not
conferred by their simple “objectality” but by the concept that includes them which shows
a mutual inversion of the conceptual and causative connection of the forming process of
ruins. I limited myself to searching how the concept of ruin is formed and the ruin of
concepts shows structures which fall into topos (textual sources) and objects from which
ruins are taken, without analyzing the multitude of concepts about ruins which require,
methodically, separate analyses.
Keywords: ruin, history, topos, topical connection, conceptual history, concept.

The interest for the concept of ruin and ruin of concepts, I think, has a
very high stake if we follow the history of the concept from the perspective
of that which justifies the speech on something as a ruin and the way in
which marking the past, of anciens is delimited in texts (toposes), speeches.
From a political point of view, ruins have a relational steak of power-
language-legitimacy and, for example, the doctrine of political elites. Here
is an example: the communist powers initiated a struggle to erase a past
that was not convenient and that which was a trace, in ruin, was
recontextualized, thus offering a “different vision” on the past.
In other contexts and with other intentions, the ruins of buildings
such as castles, princely palaces, temples but especially those of ancient
Egypt, Rome and Greece, were a great force for the opening of a historic
corridor. Adolf Hitler's architect, Albert Speer, made not only the
architectural model for the Zeppelin Field in Nuremberg but also how it
would appear in ruin, over centuries. Speer was inspired by the ruins of the
building site for the Zeppelin Field to devise a „theory of ruin value”
(Ruinenwerttheorie). „This distressing sight made me think of an idea, which I
Marius SIDORIUC, The Concept of Ruin and the Ruin of Concepts

later presented to Hitler pretentiously calling it: <<the theory on ruin

value>>. Buildings made in the modern spirit were, without doubt, less
able to throw to future generations that certain <<bridge to tradition>>
that Hitler demanded. It was inconceivable that some stacks of rusty iron
could inspire the same heroic enthusiasm as the monuments of the past
which Hitler admired. My <<theory>> was searching for a way to get
past this dilemma.”1
This Nazi ideology indicates the strenght that ruins have to show to
generations „after hundreds or (by our reckoning) even after thousands of
years.”2 Certainly, the induction that worked here is caused by history
which spoke of those worlds that could not have disappeared but from
which only ruins remain. Just as Mussolini could select from the history of
the Roman Empire only those discursive forms that spoke of power,
domination, happiness, so did Hitler exercise his authority through the
monumentality of buildings. But these are not just simple whims of
megalomania. The change of the history of the concept of ruin from which
the only thing that remained was the grandeur and its projection on the
new buildings changed not only the type of narration of the history already
written but also the form of the future which will have to appeal to „the
theory of ruin value” (Ruinenwettheorie) not only critically but also by the
comprehension of the pressure exercised on the past and the future
through the ideological selections used. This situation, somewhat
paradoxical, has to be understood as the perpetuation of past concepts, as
indestructibility: force instead of decadence, justice instead of injustice.
These concepts connected to ruins thus unilaterally modified the past.
After this mystification of the past, the rullers of the new empire also used
the ideology of the future regarding the ruins of the future to make it long
lasting, so that they would be unambiguously understood. In other words,
the empire imposes its mark on the future only in the spirit of the grandeur
that the founders of the empire predicted.
In what follows, I do not intend to describe a topos of ruins by a
classification because neither the space, nor the motivation of this essay
does not allow it and on the other hand, a classification of ruins based on a
particular feature is equivocal, the same ruin can be interpreted and
reclassified according to other interests.
Recent history attempts a change on the perception of ruin as in
the case of artificial ruins. The American architect James Wines has

1 Albert Speer, In umbra lui Hitler. Memorii, Editura Nemira, Bucureşti, 1997, vol. I., p. 76.
2 Idem.

Cultura. International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology, vol. VI, no.1/2009

designed an Indeterminate Façade Showroom located between Texas and

Houston, inaugurated in 1975. The building in deconstruction style was, in
fact, a reconsideration of the conceptual links regarding ruins.
Also, we can conceptually retrieve, in different ways, the ruins of
armed confrontations ("a ghost town") like Agdam city in Azerbaijan
(ruined and parasite as a result of the war in the Nagorno-Karabakh
region), Kayaköy town in Turkey, near the city of Fethiye which was left by
the Greeks after the Greek-Turkish war of 1919-1922, as another example,
the town of Oradour-sur-Glane (in occitan of Oradea Glane), another
„object-ruin” as a result of confrontation between Germany and France
(10th June 1944 the Nazis killed nearly all the inhabitants). This latter city
ruin is now closed and has the status of a memorial. Indicating these
former populated towns as ruins is not a simple conceptualization.
Like so many other examples that can be given (the ruins of
Kosovo, Serbia, Iraq-as places of recent ruins as a result of conflicts), these
ruins are interpreted, at a conceptual level, from a succession of views,
moral, political, religious, cultural, etc., an aspect which proves that by ruin
we do not only understand past, it was but what makes them say something
as ruins. The memorial status already changes a part of the semantic area of
the ruins from Oradour-sur-Glane. In a particular way, the Nazi gas
chambers are now tourist ruins and the reference to them is, therefore,
sometimes exaggerated, being epecially denied of the conceptual history of
the horrible branch of nazi crimes.
The ruin as reality, in a speech delivered on it, is not only an object
with a simple causality but its meanings become so varied that it becomes
hard to define what a ruin is. To argue this statement, we have the cases of
the towns or villages which, after the fall of communism, have become
traces of a ruined power. Promyshlennyy town in Vokuta region of Komi
Republic (former USSR), is today a strange alignment of ruins but no less a
history of Soviet communism. Similarly we can point out Kombinat
(industrial ruins), the factories, built under communism which in the period
that followed the 90’s imposed an excessive literature of assumptions,
criticisms, nostalgia, etc. This aspect writes and rewrites history starting
exactly from ruins through which, inevitably, the spirit gives them values
which are in contrast with the current ones. Although contradictory, this
type of reference produces an interesting duplicity, ruins bring an
interpretation which is moral, religious, etc. depending on which side it is
viewed from: the past or the present of the building-ruin link.

Marius SIDORIUC, The Concept of Ruin and the Ruin of Concepts

Totalitarian politics have also imposed a certain conceptual

rectification to the historical past in what concerns ruins: using them in
objectives that got them lost or, for technological reasons, moving them, as
in the case of the ruins of the castle-fortress on the Ada-Kaleh island near
Orsova town (Romania) built by the Austrians in the XVIII century, then
taken over by the Turks and in the second half of the twentieth century
"moved" the Simian island, downstream, due to work at the Iron Gate I
hydro power plant. The dam raised water level in the Danube area
approximately 40 feet, which required the evacuation of the island. The
moving on Simian island was in the end partial but the concept of the
recovery of the ruins is open to debate.3
The ruins of recent history are not only those due to the two World
Wars, armed conflicts which cover the twentieth century and the beginning
of this one with blood or to nuclear accidents (Chernobyl) but also to
nature (hurricanes, earthquakes, etc.). Using the term ruin in various
situations, from the above to that which describes the state of a man, a
social system or even nature itself, manifests not only different meanings
but also different comprehension on the same concept, the concept of
In historical sciences the semantic field of the terms
„mythologization”, „demythologization” and the „demythologization of
demythologization” (Vattimo) involves reorientation in conceptual
geography in reference to ruins, in archeology we meet that type of
retrievement of ruins as vestiges depending on the cultural value which they
are given. In the aesthetic, moral and religious domains ruins are not only
passive concepts but also form the substratum of specific references to the
purpose of life, values, social practices, etc.
When Edward Gibbon was finishing‚ The History of the Decline and
Fall of the Roman Empire, after approximately 20 years of feverish work, he
gazed one more time on Rome and could not resist writing about its ruins.
The history which he was just ending, this book which also was to come alive
through its lecturers, had to talk about the ruins which form his most lively
subject. Gibbon cites a fragment from Poggius: „This spectacle of the world,

3 Watch the documentary made by the Cinematography Studio “Alexandru Sahia”,

Bucharest, 1968, made at “the request of Historical Monuments Directorate, ... with the
contest of the Portile de Fier Turnu Severin Museum.” A documentary which certified the
subversively entwined propaganda with a form of nostalgia of that which won’t happen –
moving the ruins of the stronghold. Also, the debate on finalizig the moving was reopened in
the year 2005, this time for the purpose of tourism.

Cultura. International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology, vol. VI, no.1/2009

how is it fallen! how chanced! how defaced! the path of victory is

obliterated by vines, and the benches of the senators are concealed by a
dunghill.”4 Although it seems to be a human discouragement, Poggius’ cry
(he was one of the officials of Pope Eugene IV) holds a moralizing sense
which reaches, through ruins, the decaying/decadent classicism. Thus, the
concept of ruin marks an approximation between periods with other values
and without any logical justification, putting misshaping on account of
decadence, on the ignorance of the contemporaries of the Enlightenment.
But Gibbon’s metaphor connects the moral values to the ruin in contrast
with those before the XVIII century, which shows a reversal of the
reference to ruin.
In the imaginary‚ A dialogue between Marcus Aurelius and a recollet friar,
written in 1751 by Voltaire we see a harsh critisism regarding religion
practised by Franciscans. The imaginary Marcus Aurelius talks to a
Franciscan monk and finds out that Jupiter’s place was taken by the Pope,
the column with the statue of Antonius, his father, was changed with
another (of St. Paul). After the reproach of the monk regarding the
Christians’ persecutions Marcus Aurelius finds that now it is about the
inquisition. In one word, everything decayed, was ruined or, if we look
through the eyes of the monk, another being was born. „The ancient
masters of the world are now become music-masters (…) We have, it is
true, none of your Scipios now, those drestroyers of Carthage; but then we
have none of your proscriptions neither. We have bartered glory for
tranquillity.”5 At the end of the dialogue, Marcus Aurelius is excomunicated
because he dared to think and was ruining Christianity. “I admire the
vicissitude of human affairs; but since everything is so liable to change, and
since the Roman Empire has experienced this wonderful mutability, let me
hope the recollets may also experience it in their turn.” At this remark, the
monk harshly says: „I declare you anathematized: but hold, now I think
on’t, it is time to go to matins.”6 Ruins cannot be contextualised here as
simple accessories or extensions of the concept of ruin but in the way in
which the orientation of the Enlightenment in history involves reshaping
the values of Christianity in parallel with the resignifying already done by

4 Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Printed by J. F.

Dove, St. John’s Square, London, 1825, vol. VIII, p. 368.

5 Voltaire, Dialoguri şi Anecdote filozofice în volumul Candid sau optimismul, Editura Hyperion,

Chişinău, 1993, p. 296.

6 Ibidem, p. 297.

Marius SIDORIUC, The Concept of Ruin and the Ruin of Concepts

The urbanistic conception is another way of changing ruins and,

therefore, history. Not less important are the fields of ruins prophesied and
"proven" in the socio-human sciences. Here is how Otto Liebmann, in
1912, was trying to prove „Die Hauptlehre und der Hauptfehler Kants”
(Kant’s Main Error and Main Doctrine): "Our task is to separate the true
kantian doctrine content from what is just full of slag foreign substances.”7
Examples in this regard are of an overwhelming recurrence.
Through this incomplete list, we followed only a small part of the
topical connections which refer to the concept of ruin.8 Through topical
connection I understand the approach which forms the history of a
concept, encountered in different authors and in different ages in a wider
textual field without distinguishing through this a larger polysemy but
sighting something which can be called topos related to the concerned
concept. I will clarify what I understand by connected topos below with
reference to the conference held by Michel Foucault in 1969, What is an
author? In the following, I am concerned with analysing the forming of the
concept of ruin and what it implies if we consider the concept of "fusion
of horizons" in H.G. Gadamer. To do this I will first show the causal link
between the building and the ruin and the significance of the topical
connection between these two. This is supported by two types of causal
links, one from object and the other from the histories meaning toposes which
make the enunciations about something as building or ruin possible. I see
the building as something material on which the human spirit has left its
mark in a certain way. But in the last part of the essay, I will not use the
term building in this material way in which it can be seen as a human creation
but as those toposes on which interpretation indicated systems on which the
critical method overflows by using syntagms which contain the meanings
of ruining and ruins.

The conceptual forming of ruin

7 Otto Liebman, Doctrina principala si principala eroare a lui Kant (fragment din volumul Kant
und die Epigonen, Berlin, reuthber & Richard, 1912, p. 18-19) în Filosofie neokantiană în texte,
Editura ŞtiinŃifică, Bucureşti, 1993, p. 49.
8 A more than generous bibliography was written on the topic of ruin. I will only specify

three titles; Roland Mortier, La poétique des ruines en France. Ses origins, ses variations de la
renaissance à Victor Hugo, Droz, Geneva, 1974; Murielle Hladik, Traces et fragments dans
l’esthétique japonaise, Editions Mardaga, Wavre (Belgique) 2008; Didier Maleuvre, Museum
Memories: History, Technology, Art, Stanford University Press, California, 1999, etc.

Cultura. International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology, vol. VI, no.1/2009

How are ruins formed? What do we call ruins? When is it just to

inquire if something is a ruin? I think it is impossible to speak of a type of
ruin as object-ruin als ob this would be an unquestionable reality. We should
not count on habits. Spongia solis9. I think that for Blaise Pascal spongia solis is
not finding out that there is an end and that nature predicts it but the way
in which it shows the hint the one who reads nature only by „number,
space, movement and believes all this and nothing but this.”10 On the other
hand, if „our nature is habit”, as Pascal says, it means that the Christian
that got used to believing, „believes and can’t stop fearing hell nor can he
believe otherwise.”11 But, as Pascal says, the nobleman’s habit of thinking
that he naturally deserves everything is useless. To bring arguments for his
statement, Pascal offers the metaphor of the castaway and the island’s
inhabitants which were looking for their king. The castaway arrives on the
island and is taken as their king. For these two situations, one which refers
to social habits, to governance and laws and the other which refers to faith,
we observe that Pascal uses the expression spongia solis with double
meaning. Why is it that in one way, such as social, spongia solis torments us
and in another way, such as religious, it should not burden us with
problems because we know certain fundamentals of the latter? But what
gives it certitude if we see spongia solis?
In the case of ruins, in a certain way, out of habit, it is concluded
that experience shows us ruins. It is not important that we give a definition
to ruin because it is only useful for its etymology. I think that it is better to
point out differences rather than give definitions. In a fascinating book
dedicated to the aesthetics of ruins, Robert Ginsberg notes: "Since
something is missing in a ruin, then something appears to be amiss with
ruins. By definition, a ruin is the irreparable remains of a human
construction, by a destructive act or process, no longer dwells in the unity
of the original, but may have its own unitis that we can enjoy. This is a
working definition. It work for this book.”12 But, in the chapter about ruins
as form, the link between ruin and building becomes ambiguous. "The
death of function in the ruin spells the life of form. Forms, when freed,
spring forth in attention. (...) Sky and free space are the new context for the
form that won its way free from building. The fresh form may not have

9 Spots on the sun (lat.).

10 Blaise Pascal, Cugetări, Editura StiinŃifică, Bucureşti, 1992, p. 198.
11 Idem.
12 Robert Ginsberg, The aesthetics of ruins, Edition Rodopi, B.V., Amsterdam-New York,

2004, p. XVII.

Marius SIDORIUC, The Concept of Ruin and the Ruin of Concepts

had a noticeable existence in its previous inarcation as a function or as part

of pattern in facade. Then, it was a use or an element, not truly a form.”13
How can we understand Ginsberg’s beautiful expression as "liberated from
the arhitectural, the form is purely formal" without changing the concept
of ruin, the very definition of ruin.
We have two problems here. The first: at a factual level we cannot
have the experience of a ruin in an a priori way. We know we’re standing in
front of a ruin because a month ago it was something with a certain
performance. From here, if we follow the inductive method, we will not be
certain that something will become a ruin. In the frontispiece of work Aedes
Barberinae ad Quirinalem a Comite Hieronymo Tetio Descriptae (by G Girolamo
Teti, 1647), Guido Ubaldo Abbatini shows the muse of History, Clio,
which writes the name of Barberini Palace in her book. If we read this
work from left to right, the imposing Barberini Palace looks like a victory
over the ruins portrayed on the left side of the muse. But through her
presence, Clio is already writing this palace’s name in the book of history
since it will have a similar fate as that of the remaining pillar of what was
once a maybe even more imposing building. Thus, we owe the causality
between ruin and building to the muse of history who wrote about these
two moments. The second problem: something’s ruins tell us nothing as long
as we do not know anything about that something. The „Maison Carree”
ruins in Nimes are named so because we know from certain sources that
„Maison Carree” used to be there (the name itself does not have a story).
Moreover, we know something about ruins, if we think of the work
„Maison Carree” signed by Hubert Robert in 1783, in a descriptive way. As
I will show, the way in which we interpret these situations, changes, at a
conceptual level, the geography of the ideas about ruins, thing which
makes the concept of ruin manifest an impressive force on the past and the
future (conceptually but also in our relation with history).
The ruin as an object is the effect of that building’s ruining. The
building does not exist anymore. Now, there is only the ruin. We cannot
deny in any way the causal link between building and ruin (as objects). But
this does not show anything about the characteristics of the ruin even if
technically, and not just conceptually, historically, we would find forms of
that which used to be a building. First of all, let’s see what it means that not
even technically can we bring evidence diferent from that of interpretation
although we cannot deny any of the two. By using archaeological methods
and by the scientific presentation, in situ, of that which was, for example,

13 Ibidem, p. 15.

Cultura. International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology, vol. VI, no.1/2009

„the guest hall”, „the warehouse”, etc., I understand the things which make
it possible and not the things that show that this was the guest hall, etc. In
other words, before we can say „this was the king’s room” archaeological
language states something like „this is the king’s room” because, according
to our measurements and to stories and documents we know this should
be „the king’s room”. What does this mean?
Measurements and maps of the ruins are mathematical and
geographical statements which show certain links between parts of the
ruins but they are not capable of saying‚ this was „the king’s room”, „this
was the cellar in which wine barrels were kept”. Only if we have certain
historical sources, if we know certain texts which talk about such things or
if we have written testimonies about the types of constructions in that
period or if we can find certain similarities and the usual mathematic and
geographic sentences tell us something.
This situation is less obvious with recent ruins because of oral
stories being more than texts, analyses, conceptualizations. In front of a
ruined church, we already know that it is a ruined church, just as well we
recognize a ruined castle, a ruined palace. But we do not know this a priori.
We make correlations between the two objects because we know that it was
a palace and now they are the ruins of a palace (certainly, we can find particular
elements of the church in the ruin but these, as simbols, mean nothing
without a prior knowledge of their meaning). Why is this distinction
The ruins of something is a powerful source of conceptual
remodeling of the past exactly through that something. And this
reorganization of the past, of history has the power over the future. The
ruins of a „bourgeois” castle, in class struggle language, continues to show
„bourgeois” characteristics and because of this they try to change its
functions first of all materially then conceptually by classifying them as
outdated. But the proposed neologism, in fact, shows the conceptual change is
also made on the building’s history which, after becoming a ruin, took
other functions. A bigger evidence is the conversion of the St. Sophia
church in Constantinople into a mosque. Edward Gibbon admirably
described the moment in which the „symbol” of Orthodox Christianity
was resignified. This resignifying started with the ruins of the church
because, as a ruin it would have continued to transcend in time with all the
conceptualizations about Christianity, which would’ve been against the
intentions of Mahomed the second. The sultan, in order to encourage his
soldiers, entitled them to everything in the city, except the buildings. These

Marius SIDORIUC, The Concept of Ruin and the Ruin of Concepts

have a capital steak for the remodeling of the past of the newly conquered
town. Otherwise, its conquering would not have counted in its architectural
geometry and thus would not have been so powerfull in historical texts.

”At the principal door of St. Sophia, he alighted from his horse,
and entered the dome; and such was his jealous regard for that
monument of his glory, that on observing a zealous Mussulman in
the act of breaking the marble pavement, he admonished him with
his scimitar, that, if the spoils and captives were granted to the
soldiers, the public and private buildings had been reserved for the
prince. By his command the metropolis of the eastern church was
transformed into a mosch: the rich and portable instruments of
superstition had been removed; the crosses were thrown down; and
the walls which were covered with images and mosaics, were
washed and purified, restored to a state of naked simplicity. On the
same day, or on the ensuing Friday, the muezin, or crier ascended
the most lofty turret, and proclaimed the ezan, or public invitation
in the name of God and his prophet.” 14

Thus, the ruin is not just a former building with certain functionalities. The
ruin, temporally speaking, is diferent, it was not part of the geography of
the „world long gone”. But it obtains the attribute of ruin by the
information on the world, the functions which animated the buildings.
Certainly, from the point of view of conceptual history, if I understood
Koselleck, it is necesary to make a distinction between history in eventu and
ex eventu because language cannot contain the whole process of the event.
If we take for example the history of Christianity, as it was present
in Cappadocia in the light of the ruins which are accesible to us, these can
only describe their history in a way that implies a certain orientation of the
values (concepts) of Christianity. As Koselleck concludes, „from a
linguistic point of view, we cannot say, at a given time, less or more than
the historical reality which we want to describe.”15 But, on the other hand,
ruins have the status of ruin in accordance to something so they already
interpret something from the concepts of history.

14 Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Printed by J. F.
Dove, St. John’s Square, London, 1825, vol. VIII, p. 253.
15 Reinhart Koselleck, Conceptele şi istoriile lor, trad. rom. Gabriel H. Decuble şi Mariana

Oruz, Editura Art, Bucureşti, 2009, p. 65.

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For conceptual history, the link between concepts and reality is

indeed essential and, according to Heiner Schultz, 4 situations can be
distinguished: the concept and the concerned reality maintain their
synchronic and diachronic correspondence, the concept changes it’s
meaning but the designated reality keeps it’s consistence, the meaning of a
word stays the same but reality is reshaped and the last case of disjuction.
For Koselleck, "in this case (the fourth - no), only the method of
conceptual history can identify what reality was designated once by a
particular concept.”16 In our case, the concept of ruin changed its meanings
in conformity with historical reality but historical reality has resignified its
meanings too (artificial ruins, ruins from nuclear experiments, etc.). Also, if
we agree with the conceptual history systematized by Koselleck, we "decide
by using language if the facts from the past were linguistically conditioned
or not.”17 It is obvious that only through texts (toposes) or through oral
tradition can we find out what happened in the past. Relics (monuments,
coins, ruins, etc..) do not say anything about the past if they were not
historically recorded. But, Koselleck adds, „that which certainly could’ve
happened is established with certainty, starting from hypotheses, only on
the basis of what was transmitted in writting and verbally, or on the basis
of linguistic evidence. But only with linguistic sources can the distinction
be made between <<what is said>> and what can be recorded as being‚
<<what really happened>> in the past.”18
As we can see, this is an answer of the type regressus ad infinitum.
Following the Kantian maxim, „thoughts without content are empty,
intuitions without concepts are blind”19, Reinhart Koselleck eliminated this
supposed circularity. But, the Kantian maxim is a solution to the link
between cause and effect, or, as it is called, the induction method. For
David Hume the cause-effect relation is disprovable. But something else
intervenes. It is the conclusion deduced from experience. It is probable. This
situation poses real difficulties when it comes to the use of methods the
conceptual history works with, even if it “tries to find an answer to
questions such as <when>>, <<where>>, <<by whom>>, <<to whose
benefit>> and <<how>> some realities or intentions are interpreted.”20

16 Ibidem, p. 58.
17 Ibidem, p. 16.
18 Ibidem, p. 17.
19 Immanuel Kant, Critica raŃiunii pure, trad. rom. Nicolae Bagdasar şi Elena Moisuc,

Editura Iri, Bucureşti, 1998, p. 96.

20 Reinhart Koselleck, op. cit., p. 87.

Marius SIDORIUC, The Concept of Ruin and the Ruin of Concepts

The Cappadocia ruins, as well as those of Ajanta or Cordoba, were

the object of special meditation. For the creator of “the writing of stones”,
these ruins are the sign of “a new order”, a world in which the earth and
the sky switched places in the eyes of he who contemplates the ruins, trying
to identify or follow orientation laws. The broken columns of the
Cappadocia ruins have their basis placed upside down, as if sustained by
the sky.
“If the windows are large, they have one or two columns. I found myself in
front of such a column which was broken. The middle part, about a third
of the entire column, was missing. The void between the upper and the
lower parts, now part of that which is an indispensable support in any
other case, that interruption of the necessary support had not been an
impediment for centuries in a row.”21 What could be the meaning of this?
“What was the final goal of those artists who carved in stone? To win over
hardships? This looks like a profane performance (…) above all, their
desire not to break the navel string between the earth and the gods.”22 This
answer that Caillois offers might sound too poetical. But is it so? What
exactly does he have in mind when he refers to such words as "profane"
and “navel string”, the latter used as the element which establishes a
connection between the earth and the stone? Does this reflect the first
Christians' beliefs? We can obviously come up with answers to questions
such as “when”, “where”, “by whom”, to whose benefit” and “how” but
these answers will not include the connections which would have been
made in the historical past by re-organising the future of the ruin (in
connection with the edifice). In my opinion, Roger Caillois' ideas are a
conceptual reorganisation of the topical connections of the past. “The new
order” which he mentions, the reversal of the columns' basis does not
influence the way the Christians are perceived, but it changes the way they
themselves perceive the world. The alteration of “the new order” is a false
demarcation, if we were to use Gadamer's words, as by the simple presence
of the ruins, the conceptual history has undergone mutations as far as both
the future and the past are concerned. I consider these mutations
conceptual re-organisations and topical connections. But let's try and find
out why the induction method plays such an important role when discussing
about ruins and the objectives of the conceptual history. As Hume noted in
An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding:

21 Roger Caillois, Fluviul Alfeu, trad. rom. Adrian Istrate, Editura Nemira, Bucureşti, 1997,
pp. 24- 25.
22Ibidem, p. 26.

Cultura. International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology, vol. VI, no.1/2009

"all arguments brought to the very idea of existence are based on

the connection between cause and effect, on the fact that
everything we know about this relationship is entirely the result of
experience and that all our conclusions related to the experience
itself have the idea of a concordance between the past and the
future as a starting point. Therefore, trying to demonstrate the
validity of this last supposition by using probable arguments or
certain views on the idea of existence would definitely mean
moving in circles and taking for granted what should actually be
subject to examination.”23

If I understood correctly, the inferences on the future, in our case – what

we call a ruin – are inversed towards the past, i. e. the edifice. Thus, the
past, the topos, will witness a reconfiguration of its conceptual geography. In
other words, the topical connections will change their conceptual networks,
but a connection also presupposes a discontinuity, up to a certain extent.
As I have already pointed out, the linguistic arguments have the
written sources as a starting point and the geometric statements cannot
conceptualise the past unless the latter can be included in a topos. The
concept of the ruin "takes its power" from the relationship between cause
and effect (edifice - ruin) on the one hand and from the topical connection
between ruin and edifice on the other hand. How else could we identify the
significance of the journey Kazantzakis takes in native Greece and the
observations he makes and which are related to the ruins if not by taking
first into consideration the changes he brought in the history of the
Hellenic people that he was so much preoccupied with? The answer of that
woman who guarded the Temple of Apollo Epicurius from the Bassae area
(the Bassai meaning "little vale in the rocks"), in the Peloponnese region,
made a strong impression on the writer. The temple is currently being
restored and the image of Bassae is depressing. But during the fall of 1955,
when Kazantzakis started working on his novel Report to Greco those ruins
looked differently, just the way they were in his youth. The old woman he
meets at the Temple of Apollo Epicurius tells him that those ruins are
nothing more than stones. Did she say this because of her lack of
knowledge? No. “What are all these around us? I asked. Stones, what else?
And why do people come from all corners of the world to see them? She

23 David Hume, Cercetare asupra intelectului omenesc, trad. rom. Mircea Flonta, Adrian-Paul
Iliescu şi ConstanŃa NiŃă, Editura ŞtiinŃifică şi Enciclopedică, Bucureşti, 1987, p. 114.

Marius SIDORIUC, The Concept of Ruin and the Ruin of Concepts

hesitated for a moment, then she lowered her voice and asked: Are you a
foreigner? No, I am a Greek. She took my answer as a sort of
encouragement and shrugged her shoulders: "Those fools!" she exclaimed,
bursting into laughter. (…) It was not the first time when I saw one of
those old women, a sort of guardians of the old temples and famous
churches with miraculous icons, sinfully laughing at the marble-made old
saints or demons on which they were keeping an eye.”24
This comparison between the Temple of Apollo Epicurius and
simple stones does not mock history itself. The whole Report is dominated
by the laudative tone used when invoking the ancient Greeks. Just as he
perceived the geometry of the Place of Minos at Knossos and the bloody
fights with the bulls, Kazantzakis tries to find the harmony of the past in
contemporary Greece. These reinterpretations are the world the Report
depicts. This is how he achieved his purpose by fulfilling his moral duties
to Greco. “The trifles” that the old woman mentions do not only suggest
the distance she takes from history, but they imply a conceptual
reinterpretation of the topical connections (the myths, the deities etc). How
is the topical connection between the edifice and the ruin achieved?
I will try and answer this question by analyzing the dialectical
concept of the “fusion of the horizons” introduced by H.G. Gadamer in
his book, Truth and Method.

The concept of ruin - a topical connection

The concept of the ruin entails a topical (or oral) connection which makes
the distinction between two temporal objectualities (the edifice – the ruin)
through their conceptual delimitations. Their cause-effect and conceptual
succession are conversed and "the reality" of the object is rendered not
only by their presence/absence, but also by the way they are disposed in
the conceptual geography.
In other words, this is how my thesis can be summed up: the
concept of the ruin is derived from the connections made between various
texts or oral traditions which alters one by one the causal relationship
between edifice and ruin as well as the conceptual one. But what must be
really taken into account is the differentiation it presupposes and which
legitimizes the reference to something which is considered a ruin.

Nikos Kazantzakis, Raport către El Greco, trad. rom. Alexandra Medrea-Danciu, Editura
Univers, Bucureşti, 1986, pp. 176 – 177.

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As a concept, the ruin is a specific "remembrance" of the past. In

fact, it is a re-location, a re-orientation which can comprise the fictionality,
idealization, criticism etc., of the concepts which are already present in
works. The archaeological research, after the discovery of the ruins from
Hamoukar in Syria for instance, have an impressive force of re-orienting
the concepts we have about the past. However, special attention must be
paid not only to the object of Clemens Reichel's research, but also to the
way his interpretation will reshape local history having the archaeological
research at Hamoukar as a starting point. "Clemens Reichel's excavations at
Hamoukar in Syria are reshaping our ideas about the roles of warfare,
trade, and geography in the origins of ancient Near Estern cities.”25
The conceptual history which has captured my attention does not
take into consideration the temporality related to the concept of the ruin,
but if referring to the above-mentioned causal relationship, my objective is
to identify the differences which, if considered topical connections, say
something about the concept of the ruin.
For this reason, even if "all concepts have an internal temporal
structure" according to Reinhart Koselleck, and "depending on how many
precursory contents were accumulated within a concept and how many
expectations with innovating effect are connected with its use, it has
different temporal values”26, these aspects are not any indication of the
reasoning through which we can conclude that we are dealing with the
concept of a ruin. Not everything that is history is also conceptualized, nor
does the ruin cause a turn in history. The topical connections between the
ruin and the edifice are not thus just a matter of continuity but also of
discontinuity (only that these are thus conceptualized and modified when
taking interpretative and comprehensive steps).
I believe that this is how we could better understand the way the
same ruin has such an enormous power of touristic or aesthetical attraction
and how it constitutes the object of moral, teleological or theological
discourse, as well as the way it stirs mixed feelings of melancholy, sublime,
horror, etc. The concept of the ruin does not accumulate a series of
interpretations in connection with the ruin as object from a historical point
of view. In the same manner in which Collingwood demonstrated that the

25 The Oriental Institute 2006 – 2007 Annual Repport, The University of Chicago, 2007, in Gil

J. Stein’s Introduction, p. 8. (also avaible at

26 Reinhart Koselleck, Conceptele şi istoriile lor, trad. rom. Gabriel H. Decuble şi Mariana

Oruz, Editura Art, Bucureşti, 2009, p. 87.

Marius SIDORIUC, The Concept of Ruin and the Ruin of Concepts

history of a problem is constantly changing, as well as its solutions, the

concept of the ruin can be analyzed in the topical connections which were
identified at a certain moment and in a certain author's work.27
In his Autobiography, the criticism Collingwood brings to the
“Realists at Oxford” brings the question of a concept's durability into
discussion. For Collingwood, it has become obvious the way the Realists
have conceived the history of the philosophy as being useless. They
believed that the philosophical answers on a certain topic could be indexed
through filter options such as author, period. For Collingwood, this was
only an illusion because the answers offered by various philosophers to the
concept of the state for example, did not only refer to one and the same
state, while their very questions are based on such a difference. The
“<<Realists>> believed that the identity includes the identity of
something “universal” and the distinction which had to be made was to
draw the line between these two instances of the “universal”. But things
look a little different. The identity refers to the identity of a historical
process, while the difference directs the attention towards the difference
between something which throughout this process has turned into
something else and another thing, that in which the first transformed
Rousseau is fascinated by the ruins because while reading Jean
Chardin's book, the inscriptions at Tchelminar (Persepolis) which were
described by the author have caught his attention. “I do not know why so
little is being said about these amazing ruins; whenever I read about
Chardin's description, I find myself in a totally different world. I believe
that all these things could be the object of deep meditation.”29 He believed
that the inscriptions were capable of showing him the ”almost frightening
age” of the language and he felt the presence of the primary language.
The ruins have also been the object of meditation on vanity,
memento mori, the fall of the state, or on the contrary, on the greatness of
ancient civilizations. Nature itself of even human nature have also been
associated with the ruin. For Thomas Burnet, nature-ruin, was an
unchallenged theory, as presented in his book The theory of the Earth (Telluris
theoria sacra). But how did Burnet conceive the earth as ruin? I think that

27 R.G. Collingwood, O autobiografie filosofică, trad. rom. Florin LobonŃ şi Claudiu Mesaroş,
Editura Trei, Bucureşti, 1998, p. 89.
28 Ibidem, p. 84.
29 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Eseu despre originea limbilor, unde se vorbeşte despre melodie şi despre

imitaŃia muzicală, trad. rom. Eugen Munteanu, Editura Polirom, Iaşi, 1999, p. 32.

Cultura. International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology, vol. VI, no.1/2009

the only explanation is the fact that for him, the earth has really turned into
a ruin, otherwise Burnet does not tell us anything at all. The divinity, the
paradise were real, but Burnet realizes that this is no longer true. Here, it is
not necessary to invoke the correspondence theory of truth, but only to
believe, just like Burnet did, that Heaven was real, in order to understand
the arguments he had in order to sustain the idea of the earth seen as ruin.
However, these mutations the meanings of the concept of ruin
have undergone follow the principle of the causality between the edifice
and the ruin, to which historical, aesthetical or moral interpretations will be
added. But each of these cases does not speak only about the actual ruin-
object, but also about the histories reflected in the ruin, which suggest a
certain manner of reorganizing the world. Nevertheless, since the ruin does
not carry a meaning in itself, except for the correlations with the edifice, it
is not enough to understand the contexts in which one can speak about a
ruin and associate certain causes to it: the forces of nature or spiritual
(cultural) ones have been subject to moral and aesthetic interpretation. One
must also take into consideration the probable affirmations the latter infer.

"The fusion of horizons" and the ruins of concepts

As Gadamer indicates with reference to his hermeneutic method,

comprehending tradition should not be an “inadequate adaptation” to the
requirements of the present. In short, the fusion of the horizons of the one
who conducts research and of the transmitted tradition, presupposes a
transposition of the self in the other's situation. The horizon, Gadamer
reveals, is not extracted by a transposition in a historical situation, we must
have it if we want to achieve that transposition. Thus, “the concept of the
<<horizon>> is not far fetched in this case, as it expresses the superior

As I have already pointed out, the “ruin-object” does not

presuppose the abolition of the edifice world and its reinterpretation. Only
by the existence of the concept of the ruin, this position is sustained in the
same manner in which one can admit (as Simmel does) that the ruins are a
reconciliation between spirit and nature and it “can be fully integrated in

30Hans-Georg Gadamer, Adevăr şi metodă, trad. rom. Gabriel Cercel şi Larisa Dumitru,
Gabriel Kohn, Călin Petcana, Editura Teora, Bucureşti, 2001, p. 233.

Marius SIDORIUC, The Concept of Ruin and the Ruin of Concepts

the landscape, by placing itself in the latter as a tree or as a rock (…).”31

But the induction issue does not offer any certainty regarding the
conclusions which can be drawn (the tradition which is transmitted
includes more or less the historical facts).
In Hume's view, the principle “similar causes have similar effects”
does not have any reasonable grounds. This is possible because if we think
better, for what reasons can we sustain “a conclusion which is so different
from the one derived from a hundred cases, which are not different in any
way from a single one?”32 The a priorism which Kant proposes is not a
solution to the problems which lead to conclusions which are drawn
inductively or deductively (as far as experience is concerned).33 Popper
tried to overcome this difficult situation by bringing forth his theory on
falsifiability. Since the certainty cannot be found, the concept of a ruin
entails a reversal of the conceptual causality. Furthermore, as a result of
reinterpretation from a conceptual point of view, it reflects ideas which - if
we were to refer to the “history” of the concept in question - "speak of"
very different meanings.
According to Gadamer's concept of “fusion of horizons”, these
horizons should be considered „supposedly”. In spite of this, if we refer to
the “Panharmonios”34 case, we can see that it is impossible to consider the
suggestion the author of Truth and Method makes as being helpful. As stated
by Buffiere, the physical, mystical and moral interpretations are the “three
big movements” through which the Homeric epic poems have aroused
fascination in those who have studied them. Also, Homer's works are a
starting point when it comes to the history, geography, astrology,
philosophy etc. of the ancient people on the one hand, and myth,
fabulation on the other. “The fact that Homer encrypted in his poems
everything the ancient people claimed they discovered in them would be an
aberrant assertion to make. It would be not less aberrant to consider this
efflorescence of symbols pure non-sense.”35 This is why I believe that it is

31 Georg Simmel, Cultura filozofică. Despre aventură, sexe şi criza modernului, trad. rom. Nicolae
Stoian şi Magdalena Popescu Marin, Editura Humanitas, Bucureşti, 1998, p. 125.
32 David Hume, Cercetare asupra intelectului omenesc, Editura ŞtiinŃifică şi Enciclopedică,

Bucureşti, 1987, p. 115.

33 See Karl R. Popper, Logica cercetării, trad. rom. Mircea Flonta, Alexandru Surdu şi Eewin

Tivig, Editura ŞtiinŃifică şi Enciclopedică, Bucureşti, 1981, pp. 73 - 76

34 Félix Buffiere, Miturile lui Homer şi gândirea greacă, trad. rom. Gh. Ceauşescu, Editura

Univers, Bucureşti, 1987, p. 1. (the word “Panharmonios” was initially used by

Olympiodoros with reference to Homer)
35 Ibidem, p. 4.

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this non-sense that we must take into account and understand, because the
ruins themselves could be interpreted in ways that some might consider
them futile or signs of melancholy, nostalgia, implicitly irrational accessories.
As far as Homer's work is concerned, “the fusion of horizons” can
be summed up in a few sentences. But by linking these sentences with
other ones which belong to numerous fusions of horizons that have already
been recorded by the literary history, astrology, philosophy, mythology, we
find ourselves in a difficult situation. In this case, we choose to either
interpret in a certain manner the sentences which belong to other fusions
(which have already been recorded by tradition) or apply ”the fusion of
horizons” to the latter as well. But in both cases, comprehending the
meaning will ruin the old texts, the ancient mentality (of the Alterity, in
short), since we do not take into consideration the fact that only
inductively we have the possibility of reconstructing the questions which
try to unveil the meaning of the text. In other words, Gadamer considers
that in spite of a plurality of meanings, the text will remain the same36 but
this also indicates that the “fusion of horizons” is a reevaluation of all the
interpretations which have been registered so far. In my point of view, it is
this type of comprehension which brings the plurality of meanings to ruin.
In conclusion, without further details, my opinion is that we can
speak about a ruin of concepts as long as the concept of ruin must provide
an answer which will be considered efficient for a “long time”. The fact
that a certain comprehension of a topos must be acknowledged for a“long
time” is a requirement for the conceptual stability, forgetting that, as
Gadamer suggests, the horizons are not enclosed, but are subject to
The criticism of this type of realism, as Collingwood points out,
indicates how “unscientific” it is to comprehend the solutions of a problem
as answers to a question which is considered eternal. This situation
presupposes to establish a certain degree of stability related to the concept,
the problem. “Is it true", Collingwood asks himself, "that the problems
philosophy poses are eternal, even in the soft sense of the word? Is it true
that different philosophies are only different attempts to formulate the
answer to one and the same question?”37 The answer is negative. The
conceptual history, as Koselleck puts it, is aimed at a double mutation, of
both the concept and the reality it refers to. On the other hand, the fact

H.G. Gadamer, op. cit., p. 282.
37R.G. Collingwood, O autobiografie filosofică, trad. rom. Florin LobonŃ şi Claudiu Mesaroş,
Editura Trei, Bucureşti, 1998, p. 83.

Marius SIDORIUC, The Concept of Ruin and the Ruin of Concepts

that the horizons have not a “rigid boundary” is a modern requirement.

This is why I believe that in order to understand the way the ruins can
redefine the past and the future, the topical connection is also related to
what can be defined as topos. As Foucault points out, a text, a book are
more than just a reference to their author. Just as the author finds himself
in a transdiscursive position because he is the one who imposes a
discursive instauration, the discourse on the concept of ruin is conditioned
by its authors. A characteristic of the author-function is the initiation of a
discursivity. At the same time, the founders of discursivity make "possible
not only a certain number of analogies but also (and equally important) a
certain number of differences.”38 For instance, Foucault continues,
founders of discursivity such as Freud or Marx "have created a possibility
for something other than their discourse, yet something belonging to what
they founded.”39
From my point of view, this practice generates a topos (which
reflects more or less a reality). But most importantly, in my opinion, the
topos which is generated is not a definite one, but mobile. Unlike the
scientific founding which Foucault mentions to make the distiction
between the former and the discursive initiation, “reexamining Freud's
texts modifies psychoanalysis itself, just as a reexamination of Marx's
would modify Marxism.”40 In this context, one can understand why an
author like Foucault does not hesitate to confess “do not ask who I am and
do not ask me to remain the same: leave it to our bureaucrats and our
police to see that our papers are in order”41 in his Archaeology of Knowledge.
But this situation is not specific to science, but, eventually, only to their
history. To conclude, the topical connection initiates a re-configuration of
the past and of the future and by stating this, I do not want to suggest that
the topos is useless, (and implicitly only a sort of palimpsest). The
connection paves the way towards other distinctions in toposes which can
resemble Claude Levi-Strauss' Tristes tropiques because those conections
have changed their reference points. This is why it is no surprise that the
ruins mark an open interrogation on the past and future (as facts and
connections). Not only the cultural investment in discovering and

38 Michel Foucault, Ce este un autor? Studii şi conferinŃe, trad. rom. Bogdan Ghiu şi Ciprian
Mihali, Editura Idea Design & Print, Cluj, 2004, p. 48.
39.Ibidem, p. 49.
40 Ibidem, p. 51.
41 Michel Foucault, Arheologia cunoasterii, trad. rom. Bogdan Ghiu, Editura Univers,

Bucuresti, 1999, p.24

Cultura. International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology, vol. VI, no.1/2009

preserving the ruins can offer us a clue as far as a certain period is

concerned, but also the attempt to erase their original configurations from
a certain type of topical connection.
The concepts of topos and the topical connection, which I have used
when writing this paper, carry a large, extended meaning, in order to
analyze the concept of ruin which maintains neither its “object” nor its
concept (except when used as a title) in the reconfiguration of the
conceptual geography. The ruin of concepts can be a reverse of the
concept of ruin and, without fear of being wrong, one can see the text, the
topos-ul as a death camp where some are mourning, while others prefer to
claim that death does not even exist and nobody can prove them wrong. If
reversing the concept of ruin presupposes the demarcation of a system, a
“Panharmonios” theory etc., which gives rise to prophesies containing
solutions to a problem which is considered eternal, then we can
undoubtedly say that what we are dealing with is a large landscape of ruins.

Acknowledgements. The study was funded by the CNCSIS project IDEI

932 / 2008.