The Poetics of Ruins in Renaissance Literature

The Poetics of Ruins in Renaissance Literature

Andrew Hui

Print publication date: 2017

ISBN: 9780823273355

Publisher: Fordham University Press


When we think of ruins and literature, we usually think of Romanticism. The Poetics of Ruins in Renaissance Literature dislodges this critical commonplace by locating European literature’s fascination with architectural decay in the aesthetic culture from Petrarch to Spenser. The Renaissance was the Ruin-naissance, the birth of the ruin as category of discourse, one that inspired voluminous poetic production. The ruin thus became the material sign—the broken cipher—that marked the rupture between the world of the humanists and their idealized classical past. In the first full-length book to document this cultural phenomenon, Hui explains how the invention of the ruin propelled poets into creating works that were self-aware of their absorption of the past as well as their own survival in the future. To make this case, Hui embraces a philological method, a venerable tradition that has recently undergone a resurgence of interest. Philology is particularly appropriate to the study of ruins, since philology and ruins are both fundamentally about imagining the whole through its parts. Specifically, the book traces three words in three authors as semantic case studies: vestigia in Petrarch, cendre in Du Bellay, and moniment in Spenser. By starting from the smallest unit of linguistic speech—the word—and enlarging our view to its larger cultural context, The Poetics of Ruins in Renaissance Literature not only revises some of our most basic ideas about early modern texts and how they came to be, but also offers a new way for understanding the fundamental theme of survival in the classical tradition at large.