Archive for the ‘Ruins’ Category

The Deserted City

Saturday, December 15th, 2007

An admittedly rather nondescript article on American photography struck my attention just now for this set of opening paragraphs:

"Cities and the people who live in them are the classic subjects of photography. One of Daguerre’s earliest photographs is a view of a busy Paris street in 1838, but the people and the vehicles streaming by are moving too quickly to leave an impression on his very slow emulsion: only the unmoving lower leg of a man having his shoe shined remains to be seen in an apparently empty street. As materials and equipment were refined in the following decades, the images of passersby began to register more and more frequently in photographs, and by the middle of the twentieth century, modern photography had become steeped in the instantaneous. City streets even at night were viable settings for encounters between passersby and the camera, and in the work of Brassai and Cartier-Bresson (who conceived of the "decisive moment") in Paris and Lisette Model on the Riviera, an urban photography emerged that consisted largely of encounters and confrontation between photographers and an anonymous citizenry. An exception was Eugene Atget, who prowled the streets of old Paris for decades with an antique field camera, intent on his mission of recording (on slow emulsion) a city and a way of living that was disappearing rather than passing by. Atget’s enormous body of work, which includes no image of the Eiffel Tower, the most prominent landmark in Paris, was "discovered" in 1925 by Berenice Abbott (herself an inventor of an urban photography of New York City that might be compared to jazz), who wrote of the "shock of realism unadorned" that she experienced upon first seeing Atget’s work."

The comment about the people emerging in Daguerre’s work as liminal wraiths in an otherwise realistic setting rather reminds me of Godfrey Reggio’s cinematography in the Qatsi Trilogy, where pullulating swarms of people pass through places like train stations which remain fixed and constant as all around them is flux and disorder. In my own photographs, I tend to go to great lengths to avoid having any people present in my images of the city. The City of London is eerie outside of the working week, with markets like Leadenhall silent and empty in the heart of one of the world’s great metropolises. There’s something quite uncanny to pictures of places of human habitation stripped of the presence of its original purpose and context. There’s something about this that clearly relates to the fascination with ruins but photos of this kind are more concerned with that absence (in the manner of a novel like Day of the Triffids or a film like 28 Days Later) than with transfiguration through the process of decay.


Myths of the Near Past

Sunday, October 7th, 2007

This article touches on so many of the themes I’ve commented on here, it’s difficult not to want to quote more of it:

"In that case, one could look at the remnants of the avant-garde project that litter the former USSR as the detritus left by the Martians: the incomprehensible, incommensurable ruins of a strictly temporary visitation by creatures not like ourselves. The Strugatsky Brothers’ tremendous 1972 novel Roadside Picnic depicts just such a visitation. A city that has been ‘visited’ is left with the Zone in the area where the visitation took place: a fenced-off, contaminated and ruined area, marked by scatterings of bizarre and technologically fantastic objects left by the alien visitors. The Zone is a dangerous, melancholy place, an industrial district where the chimneys no longer give off smoke, visited by strange climactic phenomena, with a stretched sense of time. Within it, however, is quite literally the answer to all human wishes, something which in the last instance holds the promise of eternal happiness for all humanity.

Filmed by Andrei Tarkovsky in 1979 as Stalker, the Zone is visualised as a Chernobyl-like scarred, postindustrial landscape of ruins, waste, rubbish, of the remnants of industrial civilisation corroded, dilapidated and rapidly being reclaimed by nature . Tarkovsky’s version of the Zone has gradually, over the last thirty years, become the foundation of an entire aesthetic. If Modernity, or Modernism, is our Antiquity, then its ruins have become every bit as fascinating, poignant and morbid as those of the Greeks or Romans were to the 18th century. Tarkovsky’s Zone is in some ways specific to the former USSR and a few locations in Estonia, yet practically every industrial or post-industrial country, has something resembling the Zone within it. Such an area would be, for instance, the remnants of industrial districts of East London. Beckton, Woolwich, Stratford, outposts marked by the cyclopean remains of silos, gasometers, factories. These are the places that inspired the Modernists of the 1920s: every manifesto from Le Corbusier’s Vers d’une Architecture to Moisei Ginzburg’s Constructivist response Style and Epoch had their lovingly photographed silos and power stations. Appropriately, also in the Zone can be found the bastard children of the Modernists, the scatterings of overambitious social housing, with their crumbling highrises and streets in the sky. These are remnants of something as alien and incomprehensible to the seamless mallscape of 21st century Capital, or the heritage Disneyland of European Urbanism, as Shklovsky’s Futurist Martians were to their contemporaries: only here without any of the insurrectionary promise of a new world, merely the ruins of a defunct future…

So we have here, via these two models of alien visitations in the imagination of Russian Modernists, whether of the 20s or the 70s, two competing models of Modernity. On the one hand, the advancing, gleaming, ruthless aesthetics of Futurism, particularly, for our purposes here its mutation into the more humanist, politicised Constructivism. On the other, an aesthetic of disintegration, of the aforementioned Futurist world’s gradual descent into an overgrown, poisoned wasteland….

In contemplating these images however, one is reminded of the interesting element to Albert Speer’s otherwise utterly banal ‘Theory of Ruin Value’. Not the bit about the impressiveness of ancient ruins, and the need to leave similarly imposing remains. Rather, the psychotic, suicidal notion of building with the ruins already in mind: a death-drive architecture, where posterity’s opinion is internalised to such a ludicrous degree that, in a sense, the corpse has been designed before the living body…

Today, the aesthetics of everyday life are provided by ultra-conservative developers (the likes of Barratt Homes in the UK) and the aesthetics of Art or Commerce by the avant-garde of a few decades ago (from Foster to Koolhaas). The remarkable thing about Constructivism, something that can still be seen as a shadow in Pare’s work, is that the everyday was so frequently the area for experiment. A much-used Russian term here was Byt, translated usually as Everyday Life, specifically in its most habituated, domestic sense. So most of the projects here were applications of the aesthetic that would be branded ‘alien’ by the Stalinists to the most basic architectural elements of society. That is, housing, public leisure facilities, schools. Equally frequently, there were administrative or industrial buildings. Although even these were often in the poorer quarters of cities and towns, the growing nomenklatura’s presence is unavoidable.

Superficially, these buildings might seem similar to corresponding Western models: social housing, working men’s clubs and so forth. So it’s the differences that are especially key here. This was frequently a teleological architecture, one could even say a Pavlovian one: particular social affects were intended to be produced. Although a socialist state power of some sort was claimed (rightly or wrongly) to be in place by 1922, its leaders were well aware that old habitus died hard: religion, patriarchy and ‘petty bourgeois’ attitudes still pervaded. In 1924, Leon Trotsky, a few years before his expulsion, published a book called Problems of Everyday Life. Here there was a cautious endorsement of ‘Byt reform’–the experiments in living being carried out at the time by communes and co-operatives–and the particular material forms that might house them. ‘Public laundries, public restaurants, public workshops’ would take the place of all that used to take place in the kitchen, thus abolishing ‘household slavery’. A poster from around this time shows a dingy, cramped kitchen being opened up to a glittering, glassy new world of futuristic structures and open space, and this was what was, tentatively, being constructed at the time. "

I’ve written before about ruin value, noting that the interest of modernist architecture here lies precisely with its status as a forgotten future (particularly given that many of the architectural projects referenced above where essentially futile attempts to demonstrate that the Soviet Union was not being left behind economically by the United States by seeking to rival the likes of the Empire State Building), but this is something I’m nonetheless much less able to relate to than the author of this piece. I don’t especially feel any nostalgia for the failure of either communism or architectural modernism, both seeming to be essentially utopian projects that sought to reform humanity by deforming it. To my mind, Tatlin’s tower can comfortably remain in the same category as Speer’s New Berlin. By coincidence, I’ve also recently comes across this article, which serves as an interesting contrast (albeit one that is often rather too conservative for my taste):

"Much of the left was and remains "anti-anti-communist." This is what accounts for what Ferdinand Mount calls the "asymmetry of indulgence" afforded communistic and fascistic state-sponsored murders… On walking into the first room of the exhibition, the visitor was greeted by a sign asking "What is Modernism?" and answering as follows: "The Iconic Objects in this room…were created by practitioners who believed that their art could help bring about Utopia within their lifetimes." This belief was expressed in all kinds of ways, as the exhibition shows, from calisthenics to kitchen design, from the cantilevered chair of Mies van der Rohe to the colorful rectilinear paintings of Piet Mondrian…

Beginning with Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and the Futurists before the First World War and continuing with Die Stijl and Bauhaus after it, there was always a strong element of political radicalism associated with Modernism. Particularly in the 1920s and 1930s when it was in its heyday, Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, and others envisaged a sweeping architectural revolution—more or less explicitly as a complement to the political ones that were projected or actual at the time—to provide for simple, efficient, undecorated "workers’ housing" and do away with luxury, sentimentality, ornament and other "bourgeois" values. Tradition had to be cleared away along with traditional images and traditional architectures in order for ideological and architectural engineers to build a new civilization from the ground up…. As the title of Nathan Glazer’s new book puts it, Modernism has gone From a Cause to a Style. The rags of a failed utopianism still hang from it long after it became routine for banks to commission for their headquarters Mies-style glass towers or for reproductions of Picasso and Matisse—the originals, are of course, only available to the very richest—to decorate the "living rooms" of the haute bourgeoisie. We may not be conscious utopians ourselves anymore, but we still believe that those who are (or were) are entitled to full credit and even a certain veneration merely for the goodness and the nobility of their intentions."

I find myself much more drawn to two quotations offered late on in the piece, of Stoppad’s descriptions of Herzen; "He came to the conclusion that there was no abstract formula at work on our history. There was nothing going on that was inevitable. The big bond between me and him is that he found an appalling arrogance in the way that people might construct an abstract narrative of our society and subordinate the individual life to it. He found that morally repellent." Although it was Schoenberg who formed the central protagonist in Mann’s depiction of the culpability of German romanticism in Nazism (incidentally, this piece has an interesting observation on how Schoenberg’s descriptions of tonality decaying through “inbreeding and incest" mirror those of racist politicians of the time), I do wonder if an equivalent narrative might not assign similar roles to figures like Corbusier.

Where London stood

Thursday, July 6th, 2006

“Beauty has never been absolute and immutable but has taken on different aspects depending on the historical period and the country” – Umberto Eco

In Italian Hours Henry James wrote that “to delight in the aspects of sentient ruin might appear a heartless pastime, and the pleasure, I confess, shows the note of perversity.” Perversity is perhaps the correct term for interest in decay and ruins, in spite of figures like Midas Dekkers who are prepared to see such matters in a Heraclitean spirit of celebrating cycles of destruction and renewal. Dekkers cites the example of how the bombing of the Natural History Museum during the blitz led to the rebirth of ancient silk tree seeds from China, woken by the fire brigade’s hoses. Modern society, according to Dekkers, is obsessed with realising the dreams of Dorian Gray, in opposition to earlier conventions of memento mori; the skull in Holbein’s paintings or Donne’s tolling bell. Seeing, as Eliot had it, the skull beneath the skin.

In practice though, although few can bring themselves to be so sanguine our interest in the derelict is rather more deep seated than Dekkers would have supposed. This may well be why I recently found myself standing amidst the burnt out remains of the Crystal Palace, originally built to house the Great Exhibition of 1851. All that remains are a set of empty terraces, the sort of enigma that would leave archaeologists with endless speculation. The terraces of the Crystal Palace are graced with headless statues while Sphinxes guard the entrance way to nothingness. Based on the designs of ruined Egyptian temples, the Sphinxes seem entirely at home with their place amidst overgrown oak trees, returned to the same state as the Egyptian ruins they were based on. Behind the trees, a BBC transmitter mast now holds domain over the empty spaces of the park.

Crystal Palace Sphinx

Some architecture has within it the potential for decay and ruin; the ruins of the gothic St Dunstan in the East wear their decay as if they had never been anything else, while the baroque ruins of Christchurch Greyfriars are decidedly ill at ease with their decline. As this was one of Wren’s attempts at gothic, decay seems to become it, with the walls and spire still standing while the interior was been turned into a garden; water trickles from a fountain while blue pansies flower where the pulpit would have been; a haven of peace and serenity. The foliage within the church is lush and verdant; it is, however, rather odd to look through the empty gothic arches and see banana trees and magnolias. The delicate vaulting of the white Portland stone almost looks like bleached bones.

St Dunstan's Window

Visiting these places, it’s rather difficult not to think of Albert Speer’s theory of ruin value:

“The idea was that buildings of modern construction were poorly suited to form that ‘bridge of tradition’ to future generations which Hitler was calling for. It was hard to imagine that rusting heaps of rubble could communicate these heroic inspirations which Hitler admired in the monuments of the past. My ‘theory’ was intended to deal with this dilemma. By using special materials and by applying certain principles of statics, we should be able to build structures which even in a state of decay, after hundreds or (such were our reckonings) thousands of years would more or less resemble Roman models.

To illustrate my ideas I had a romantic drawing prepared. It showed what the reviewing stand on the Zeppelin Field would look like after generations of neglect, overgrown with ivy, its columns fallen, the walls crumbling here and there, but the outlines still clearly recognizable. In Hitler’s entourage this drawing was regarded as blasphemous. That I could even conceive of a period of decline for the newly founded Reich destined to last a thousand years seemed outrageous to many of Hitler’s closest followers. But he himself accepted my ideas as logical and illuminating. He gave orders that in the future the important buildings of his Reich were to be erected in keeping with the principles of this ‘law of ruins.’”

What often tends to be most disturbing about Nazi ideology is the manner in which it reflects other aspects of Romanticism that are deeply embedded in our culture, just as the spectre of communism casts a shade over certain Enlightenment ideals of progress. Consider the example of Joseph Gandy, the English Piranesi who illustrated John Soane’s designs. Like Gibbon contemplating the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, he had been on the grant tour to Rome where he had explored the Catacombs and the Appian way. At this point, much of Imperial Rome remained in a stated of unconserved decay, with the Colosseum, overwhelmed with trees, vines and other vegetation. The grand tour certainly marked an important point in the history of decay, transforming interest into the theoretical symmetry of classical architecture into an interest into the ruined state of the buildings themselves. In 1855, the English botanist Richard Deacon had published his Flora of the Colosseum, recording the 420 species of plant growing there. The six acres of flora included species so rare in Western Europe that their seeds must originally have been carried there, Deacon conjectured, by the animals imported from Asia and Africa for the city’s games and spectacles. Gandy returned to England and imagined it through the lens of what he had seen, transforming Soane’s Bank of England into a Roman ruin. Just as Speer drew Hitler’s imaginings of Berlin as Babylon, so did Gandy draw Soane’s vision of London as Rome. Nor was Gandy alone in this; the pretensions of the Holy Roman Empire to claim descent from Imperial Rome led to the Hapsburg dynasty building fake Roman ruins on their estate at Schoenbrunn. The Gothic revival in architecture was prefigured with the building of such counterfeits, whether at Pottsdam or at the Hell Fire Caves in Buckinghamshire. All over Europe, country houses acquiried gothic folloies and manufactured ruins, often sitting alongside classical temples in the Palladian vein.
Villages would be moved to make way for these vistas, with only the church for company as a reminder of where the village had once been. Sometimes bits of the cottages would be retained as romantic ruins, evacuated and aestheticised according to the picturesque tastes of the upper classes.

The Hellfire Caves - Beware Marauding Shadows

Prior to this, Burckhardt, writing in his The Civilisation of the Renaissance in Italy, had spoken of the Renaissance had seen the ruins of Rome as of interest to patriots and historians rather than to pilgrims, citing the example of Petrarch and of the unearthing of the corpse of a Roman woman whose remains were treated with as much veneration as those of a saint. The Renaissance came to see ruins as a bridge to the classical world, with inscriptions on monuments, tombs, stelae and fragments of statuary, columns and pediments representing an incomplete Rossetta stone that would unlock the secrets of the ancient world. Alternatively, Renaissance painting woukd depict as a hinterland upon which to present the sacred or suffering martyr, suggesting the ultimate triumph of Christendom over Roman paganism and representing the ambivalence of the Renaissance towards the reconstruction of the classical world.

In time, this was an ambivalence that was to be resolved in favour of the glory that was Greece and the splendour that was Rome, as with Fuseli’s The Artist Overwhelmed by the Grandeur of Antique Ruins showing a figure against the remains of a titan statue (a trope that returns in the gothic novel, such as Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto), despairing of matching its sublimity in his own work. The influence of the grand tour and travel in general was especially important in this regard; Chateuabriand in Ottoman Athens, Nerval in Constantinople, Ruskin in Venice, Flaubert in Egypt, Dickens at the Appian Way and Shelley at the Baths of Caracalla; Ozymandias being both an allegory of the fall of tyranny and a lament for the mutability of things. Equally, it lent a political aspect to things, as visitors from Western Europe went to see the remains of fallen Empires; Venice and Athens had after all, like Britain, once been great maritime powers. Later visions of where London stood were, to put it bluntly, frequently rather self-pitying melancholy prompted by the fall of Empire, as with Macaulay’s vision of a future New Zealand tourist standing on a broken arch of London Bridge and contemplating, “in the midst of a vast solitude,” the ruinous dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral and a desolate city.

Schoenbrunn Ruins

In spite of all this, the place of ruin and decay within Romantic aesthetics was a surprisingly precarious one; such things were not explicitly singled out by Kant, he did nonetheless discuss how architecture could partake of the sublime as much as nature. Ruins occupy a space between nature and civilisation that means they can either be seen as symbols of the sublime and transcendent (as one would expect from Kant) or as symbols of the ephemeral. While Romanticism was based upon an appreciation of infinity, this found its expression in an understanding of the world as fragments, as ruins. As Schlegel put it, “many works of the ancients have become fragments. Many works of the moderns are fragments at the time of their origin.” The Romantic aesthetic prized the incomplete and the ephemeral, as with Coleridge’s fragmented epiphany in Kubla Khan or with De Quincey’s citation of Piranesi’s engravings of ruined civilisation in the midst of his disquisitions upon the transsendental.

In this sense, the uneasy relationship of decay to Romantic aesthetics is similar to that between the Gothic novel and Romantic literature. Where Romanticism largely concerned itself with the nounemnal and the transcendental, Ann Radcliffe’s distinction of terror and horror. The former, we are told, partakes of the sublime and expands the soul, the latter only creates revulsion, with many such tales creating horror far more easily than terror. Given the uncertainty as to whether ruins symbolise the transcendent or simply corruption, it was essentially inevitable that ruins would be prominent within the gothic novel, as with Dracula’s castle, Otranto’s ruins or this passage from Melmoth the Wanderer;

“He stood and saw another flash dart its bright, brief, and malignant glance over the ruins of ancient power, and the luxuriance of recent fertility. Singular contrast! The relics of art forever decaying,—the productions of nature forever renewed.”

The sublimity of the ruin was not to be stated fully until Ruskin, who saw architectural decay as a return to nature. Distinguishing between what he termed a lesser and higher picturesque, a concept that seemed to sit between beauty and the sublime. To Ruskin, the picturesque lacked a transcendental aspect and was essentially a response to what he saw as the monotonous, symmetrical and utilitarian character of architecture, a classical conception at odds with Romantic views of nature.

“A broken stone has necessarily more various forms in it than a whole one; a bent roof has more various curves in it than a straight one; every excrescence or cleft involves some additional complexity of light and shade, and every stain of moss on eaves or wall adds to the delightfulness of colour. Hence in a completely picturesque object, as an old cottage or mill, there are introduced, by various circumstances not essential to it, but, on the whole, generally somewhat detrimental to it as cottage or mill, such elements of sublimity — complex light and shade, varied colour, undulatory form, and so on — as can generally be found only in noble natural objects, woods, rocks, or mountains.”

Equally, Ruskin is also concerned with the decay and decomposition of the natural world, with pollution, industrialisation and building. In Modern Painters, he characterises the modern landscape painting as indistinct, occluded by cloud and fog. The natural world has come to resemble, in fact, the murky atmosphere of the modern city, or of the industrial hinterland. The landscapes of Constable, given way to the shrouded land found in Turner, Whistler and Monet.

St Dunstan's Spire

Ruin is a subject that is inevitably divisive, between the importance of conserving a past that is at risk of being irrevocably lost and the aesthetics of decay. This is perhaps particularly acute today, when ancient ruins have typically been preserved and restored. William Morris, who had happily depicted London and the Palace of Westminster as having falled into ruin, nonetheless established a tradition of preserving historical architecture that was contined through other figures like Betjeman. There can indeed be something rather disturbing about visited restored buildings. The act of restoring an old building frequently does so by destroying layer after layer of history to reveal the desired outcome, just as Schliemann did with all of the cities he found at Hissarlik until he was satisfied he had found the Troy he wanted, or as Evans did at Knossos. In other words, it can be an extremely destructive and arbitrary process. There is something rather awkward about the hyperreal recreations of buildings, which seems as lacking in authenticity as the faked ruins favoured in the eighteenth century. Not to mention that the very idea of conservation has the unwelcome tinge of conservatism to it, which sits uncomfortably for someone ill at ease with the idea of tradition for tradition’s sake. After all, most of the buildings prized as part of our heritage were built by either discarding the styles of the past or through the more literal means of destroying the buildings of the past.

Highgate Egyptian Avenue

So, I wanted to visit an unrestored building instead, of which there can be few better examples than the Midland Grand Hotel, now known as St Pancras Chambers. If there was ever a case study in architectural hubris it was this; built in luxuriant gothic style (it was not unknown for visitors to mistake it for a cathedral and ask when services began), its lack of either central heating or bathrooms ensured its downfall; perhaps rather incongruously so, since its ‘ascending rooms’ were state of the art at the time. Entering inside, elaborate columns coated in gold leaf sit alongside walls where the paint has flaked away and floors where the boards have rotted away. Pre-Raphaelite murals of Chaucerian scenes and wyvern gargoyles rest in the darkness. In spite of my above comments it’s difficult not to feel disconsolate at the Fifties beige or Edwardian burgundy paint covering the gold and crimson Victorian wall patterns. This is particularly so when one ascends the best preserved part of the building; the grand staircase. This imposing lined with gothic arches, through which light seeps into the gloom, leads up to a ceiling vaulted around a central boss, and incongruously painted with a blue sky and gold stars. Even in the dark the blazing colours shine out.

St Pancras Chambers

I’d certainly hate to think that such a building would fall further into decay and would love to see what these rooms look like once the paint has been scraped away to reveal the original frescos. But equally, much of why it is so striking is simply because it is a modern ruin; brightly lit and immaculate rooms as opposed to the current dark and cavernous interior would in many ways be a poor replacement. Now that St Pancras is set to become the main terminal for the Eurostar it is being restored; the prospect of what sea change it is now set to undergo is in itself a fascinating one. As Hugh Pearman puts it, cities regenerate themselves from their own scar tissue. It might seem perverse to appreciate the scarring, but perhaps that is just because it has the allure of the ephemeral. So an abandoned railway station in Paris, beloved of art-film makers, becomes the Musee d’Orsay, while a dilapidated power station becomes the Tate Modern. One further difficulty with the contemporary atttitude towards decay is that so many modern ruins are essentially visions of lost future, whose modernist architecture, such as that of Battersea Power Station or the many decaying art deco cinemas, remains more futuristic than was has replaced it. Similarly, much modernist literature was bifurcated between the modernist (the Futurists, most obviously) and the archaic, with its replacement of the medieval with Picasso’s reception of the Lascaux cave painting, the African influence on Modigliani or Pound’s fusion of ancient Greece and China.

Where modern literature represents decay, it only does so in an anomalous form, such as JG Ballard’s Drowned World or The Crystal World; “Down Oxford Street the buildings were festooned with ivy and Virginia creeper. Trees grew from the windows of Selfridges, the pavements and Tarmac were split by plane trees spreading across Marble Arch from Hyde Park… at the bottom of Oxford Street stood the tall Centrepoint tower, its remaining upper windows glinting, while most of the base was covered in vines.” UnlikeWyndham’s apolcalyptic fiction, Ballard sees decay as a form of death instinct, entropic regress, far removed from the sublime or picturesque.

Old Blackfriars Bridge

Ruin has essentially come to be regarded as a failure to preserve the past, and has ceased to represent the tragic, sublime or transcendent. John Piper’s “pleasing decay” has translated into “criminal neglect.” In short, it is increasingly difficult to think of Ruskin’s higher and lower picturesque as being readily distinguishable. On the other hand, the modern interest in the ruined and decay is more likely to explore derelict factories, asylums, Icelandic farms, places like Chernobyl, Russian submarine bases or ghost villages than ancient ruins; places that are out of kilter from the notions of urban space as productive, efficient and regular. This is in many respects a form of flaneurism, in the sense meant by Benjamin; bourgeois dilettantes seeking out the derelict and discraded as a vicarious thrill. A form of post-romantic fascination with decay that no longer relates to romantic aesthetics. Such experiences are seen as somehow more ‘real’ and less mediated than the conventional city, as with Benjamin’s own denunciation of the passing of the arcades into the department store; “In the convulsions of the commodity economy we begin to recognize the monuments of the bourgeoisie as ruins even before they have crumbled… it is the gaze of the flaneur, whose mode of life still surrounds the approaching desolation of city life with a propitiatory luster.”