Laura Shannon Prize Winner

Stewart Susan The Ruins Lesson Cover Web

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Publication Year: 2019

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The Ruins Lesson: Meaning and Material in Western Culture

by Susan Stewart

2022 Silver Medalist in Humanities

Jury Statement

A fascinating and exceptionally erudite investigation of the cultural meaning of ancient ruins in Western culture, The Ruins Lesson considers a wide range of places, times, artifacts, personal objects, religious practices and artistic forms ranging from architecture to visual art (printmaking and painting) to poetry. Susan Stewart, a much-respected literary critic, here turns her attention to the material realm. She surveys the physical and visible remains from antiquity, in order to consider the ways these ruins came to represent the high achievements of past civilizations and how artists and writers came to imagine them as both compelling and problematic insofar as they embody a narrative of decay as well as one of lost grandeur.

Stewart proves a discerning guide to the meanings of architectural ruins and their literary and pictorial histories, and her treatment of monuments and memorials as both expressions and reflections on how to think about history and material remains is timely: “If we can commit ourselves to judging together, out of the vast raw material of human achievement and errors, what is ethical and worthwhile, beautiful and good, useful and true, the fragility of materials is inconsequential”(269). In addition to the work’s stunning intellectual breadth and scope, the author’s elegant and evocative prose contributes to its overall beauty.

Final Jury

Edyta Bojanowska
Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures and Chair of the European Studies Council at the MacMillan Center
Yale University

Stephen M. Fallon
The Rev. John J. Cavanaugh, C.S.C., Professor of the Humanities
University of Notre Dame

Robin Jensen
The Patrick O’Brien Professor of Theology
University of Notre Dame

Siobhán McIlvanney
Professor of French and Francophone Women’s Writing
King’s College London

Lenart Škof
Professor of Philosophy and Religion and Head of the Institute for Philosophical Studies
Science and Research Center Koper (ZRS Koper), Slovenia