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Excerpt from J.B. Jackson's "The Necessity for Ruins" (1980)

But there has to be that interval of neglect, there has to be discontinuity; it is religiously and artistically essential. That is what I mean when I refer to the necessity for ruins: ruins provide incentive for restoration, and for return to origins. There has to be (in our new concept of history) an interim of death or rejection before there can be renewal and reform. The old order has to die before there can be a born-again landscape. Many of us know the joy and excitement not so much of creating the new as of redeeming what has been neglected, and this excitement is particularly strong when the original condition is seen as holy or beautiful. The old farmhouse has to decay before we can restore it and lead an alternative life style in the country; the landscape has to be plundered and stripped before we can restore the natural ecosystem; the neighborhood has to be a slum before we can rediscover it and gentrify it. That is how we reproduce the cosmic scheme and correct history.

Are we perhaps trying to re-enact some ancient myth of birth, death, and redemption? I sometimes think I see the logical consequences: the return of a kind of pageantry or ritual in connection with so many of these new historical shrines. The parade as an art form or as a political symbol is all but dead. Like the political monument it has ceased to have any symbolical impact. But a kind of historical, theatrical make-believe is becoming increasingly popular; not only the noonday shootouts and other roadside attractions, but costumed guides in historical show places, candlelight concerts of period music, historically accurate dinners and feasts, re-enactments of historic episodes are gradually changing the new reconstructed environments into scenes of unreality, places where we can briefly relive the golden age and be purged of historical guilt. The past is brought back in all its richness. There is no lesson to learn, no covenant to honor; we are charmed into a state of innocence and become part of the environment. History ceases to exist.


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