Veneratio » Uncategorized » Mark Horvath – Adam Lovasz: Ghosts Among the Ruins. Towards a Haunted Phenomenology
Mark Horvath – Adam Lovasz: Ghosts Among the Ruins. Towards a Haunted Phenomenology


Towards a Haunted Phenomenology

Mark Horvath – Adam Lovasz

When speaking of materiality, one cannot avoid topics of deep negativity and ruination. That which is manifested in the world must, of necessity, rot into decay. The topic of this essay is ostensibly post-socialist ruination. However, those intent on exploring ruin and decay from a merely sociological perspective will be disappointed by the contents of this essay. Many authors have explored specific aspects of postindustrial ruination, and its relation to the general decay of Eastern European society and sociability since 1989.[1] This investigation does not seek to bring conceptual clarity or, indeed, define the objects of its research. Rather, the goal of our phenomenologically-inspired essay is to bring the reader into closer contact with decaying objects. Specifically, we seek to describe, in a both mundane and elevated style, decayed social space. Decay breeds a hauntology, an absence, a hollowing-out of space. Jacques Derrida’s question is as important a starting point as any: “What is a ghost? What is the effectivity or the presence of a specter, that is, of what seems to remain as ineffective, virtual insubstantial as a simulacrum?”[2] Hauntology allows us to comprehend states of emptiness, ontological conditions that do not lend themselves to conventional comprehensibility.[3] Such an epistemology, far from privileging itself in relation to other modes of interpretation, would be an exercise in epistemological humility and abjection. Ruination of singular spatial usages breeds multiplicity, a dissipation that renders teleologies, including 20th century notions pertaining to social progress, null and void. But does hauntology entail complete absence?


Quite the reverse seems to be the case. As Liviu Chelcea notes, “the moment of destruction is followed by a new form of ordering of the deterritorialized matter.”[4] In his fieldwork, Chelcea studied the rubble of the Timpuri NoiMetal Works, located in Bucharest. Far from abandoned, the debris of the closed factory drew sizeable groups of underclass families, intent on making a living from scavenging and selling these materialized absences. What Derrida terms “hauntology” is an epistemological stance that takes seriously the overcoding presence of “ghosts” in social life. The factory is not absent; it exerts a queer kind of magnetism upon anthropomorph social actants years after its closure. Chelcea terms such subaltern usages of materiality “urban mining”.[5] As a matter of fact, the absence of hegemony generates “a variety of usages and eclectic landscapes.”[6] In analyzing such social phenomena, and the overcoding of urban landscapes with present absences (ghosts, to use the Derridean expression), we must transcend the presence/absence dichotomy. Derrida emphasizes that hauntology is “more powerful than an ontology or a thinking of Being”.[7] We ourselves must also, therefore, open ourselves to the impossible being of the abandoned, ruined social landscape, bracketing conventional, clear-cut notions pertaining to Being. Being, in other words, must be bracketed, so that ghostly phenomena may be allowed to speak. More often than not, the “nonfunctional” factory or building is also a playground for deviant and/or merely playful social actants. A multitude of agents, such as underprivileged children, “moisture, bacteria, chemicals, rodents, birds, wind – transform the qualities of matter, exposing (…) the myth that things are enduring, discrete entities.”[8] To paraphrase Caitilin DeSilvey and Tim Edensor, we must “reckon with ruins”, the haunting presential absence of decay within society.[9] As the sovereign exits, unplanned usages, utilizations free of sovereign control, assert their occupancy of deterritorialized ruins. There is an element of heterogenity at work in the ruin, an indeterminacy that foregrounds the inner black light of decaying objects. Derrida describes the heterogenity of hauntology as a neutral, empty space, an abundance of non-plenitude fraught with ambiguity: “…this element itself is neither living nor dead, present nor absent: it spectralizes. It does not belong to ontology, to the discourse on the Being of beings, or to the essence of life or death.”[10]


An important aspect of social space is the coming undone of lines of delineation. As opposed to modernity, in decayed modernity, a modernity haunted by the failure of its own emancipative projects, the “frontier between the public and the private is constantly being displaced.”[11] Sites, in Edward S. Casey’s phenomenological view, are always already non-places, deterritorialized areas of the world that have fallen out of memory.[12] Casey defines the incorporation of memory into technological infrastructure as a complete reification, a reduction that renders memory dead and lifeless.[13] Site, as opposed to place, deterritorializes and, by consequence, destroys memory. There can be no memory in a social space characterized by deterritorialized and destabilised fractal flows, for “where memory is at stake, to be fixed in space is to be fixed in place.”[14] Memories, in Casey’s rather conservative view, are motionless. Site, on the other hand, is place that has been “leveled down”, rendered “monotonous space for building and other human enterprises.”[15] Site is space that has been flattened, rendered amenable to the gaze of power, a power that is “at once homogenous and segmented”.[16] Ruination and decay not only renders power inoperative, but also allows for heterogenity, a multiplicity that is nevertheless haunted by the absent presence of a hegemony that has absented itself. Writing of post-Soviet monuments, Forest and Johnson identify three possible fates for such sites: cooptation/glorification, disavowal and contestation.[17] From our own, absentological/hauntological perspective, it would seem, upon first inspection, most appropriate to utilize the middle term (“disavowal”). Disavowed sites “are literally or symbolically erased from the landscape either through active destruction or through neglect by the state.”[18] However useable such a definition may seem, we would nevertheless highlight the necessity of “messing up” epistemological categories, hybridizing different terms in a mélange of indifferentiation. The messy, hybridized materiality of ruination demands nothing less than complete abandonment of differential terms. It is not that Forest and Johnson are in any way incorrect, that, ontologically speaking, sites are not coopted, disavowed and contested. Rather, we would seek to expand the remit of these three descriptions; all three states are characteristic of every site at all times. While it certainly is the case that the symbolic, textual meanings of landscapes are “deliberately manipulated to advance political interests”[19] or, in the case of abandoned and/or demolished monuments, foreclosed from presence in the political field, the usages of site are in no way restricted to their relationalities to human actants.


Surfaces are always richer in content than we suppose, and therefore the place/site distinction proposed by Casey has only limited validity. Surfaces contain hidden presences, forms of work and toil that lie in the darkness, unamenable to human cognition. Pools of water seethe with microorganisms, wasps build colonies in abandoned lofts, weeds fight their way through bricks, emerging from the rubble of human intentionalities that have long since disappeared from sight. Even ruined social space is literally breathing with new forms of sociability and vitality. Tim Edensor writes beautifully of “a hotch-potch of green” blanketing ruins, “gradually creeping into spaces where light and space permit growth, progressively blurring the distinctions between inside and outside.”[20] Dualistic notions such as Casey’s place/site dichotomy, or Marc Augé’s “nonplace”/place distinction fail to capture the multiplicity of beings and existential openings that result from the evacuation of human presences from space.[21] It is precisely this theoretical defect that Dylan Trigg calls our attention to; dualistic epistemologies of space and materiality have an inherent tendency to “avoid the ambiguous threshold between different textures of place.”[22] Absentology, if it is to avoid becoming yet another oversimplification, yet another impoverishment of lived experience, must take into account the near-limitless multiplicity of meanings and contents that saturate social space “abandoned”, “disavowed” and “erased” by the evacuation of the hegemon. Abandonment can never be complete enough. There is always a remainder, a secret, subterranean force waiting in the wings, creeping below the surface, ready to break forth once industrial activity has ceased. Trigg argues that we must abandon the very notion of abandonment, for “the absence of place” does not “give rise to raw space.”[23] Terrestrial space is always already saturated, literred with a plenitude of messy existents. Ruination, in the strong sense, is impossible; it is the embodiment of impossibility. An important aspect of ruination emphasized by Edensor is the troublesome presence of weeds and invasive species, troublessome, that is, for prevalent forms of social control and dominance.[24] Deviant social actants such as weeds have a tendency to collapse distinctions between “domestic” and “urban” space. Marginality, through the “ever-ready tendency of species to move out from their confines”, bleeds into artificially normalized, purified urban space.[25] Ruins also provide succor for wild animals, including “urban wild animals”. In Clare Palmer’s view, what defines urban wild animals is the absence of human intentionality. As opposed to animals that have been rendered dependent upon human goodwill, urban wild animals, while living alongside human beings and, indeed, being products of urban expansion, are nevertheless fundamentally Other to humans and human presence.[26] They have no need of the messiness manufactured by urban sprawl. The rule of fidelity, as outlined by Charles Taylor, entails that we are obliged to provide for those beings whose very existence is dependent upon human presence.[27] But are they really so dependent? Rather, does not the menace embodied by urbanized wild animals entail a fundamental alterity irreducible to human presence?


Although the urbanization of animals would be unthinkable without anthropomorphic operativity (each and every city is, more or less, a materialization of human intentionality), the reverse surely does not pertain. In Chernobyl’s so-called “exclusion zone”, an area of Ukraine still considered too polluted for human habitation, wildlife is veritably flourishing. One witness recounts the experience of hearing wolves in no uncertain terms: “it was a primordial experience, something most of humanity hasn’t felt for tens of thousands of years. That dates back to when humans were prey.”[28] The primordial experience is that of endangerment and abjection. Abandoned space, the evacuated remnants of a post-Soviet city, become home to animals once thought to have disappeared, horrifying and menacing creatures, monstrous wolves that, if provided with the opportunity, would dismember any human unfortunate enough to be caught in the “zone of exclusion”. This example is instructive, for it highlights an interesting characteristic of exclusion; the effacement of one presence serves as a catalyst for the self-dissemination of another, an alterity hitherto oppressed and foreclosed from presence. Alan Weisman envisages packs of wolves roaming in an overgrown forest that has replaced Central Park.[29] On the other hand, in a posthuman New York, “the seemingly invincible cockroach, a tropical import, long ago froze in unheated apartment buildings. Without garbage, rates starved or became lunch for the raptors nesting in burnt-out skyscrapers.”[30] Aside from companion-species such as those mentioned above, other species, more fundamentally “Other” in relation to humans, have no need of human presence. Indeed, if provided with an affordance, they tend to do fine without anthropomorph actants restricting them. This is a circumstance not lost on Weisman, who outlines numerous examples of what could occur were humans to disappear from Earth in his masterful The World Without Us. For example, the Korea Demilitarized Zone hosts a wide range of rare Asian fauna long ago thought to have gone extinct on the Korean Peninsula.[31] Ruination of human forms of sociability need not, therefore, lead to an impoverishment of place. Memory is more than merely spatial, while experience is already encoded by place operating upon our bodies; human experience, therefore, need not be privileged. Our own experiences form one aspect of a multitude of experiences and openings onto Being. There is something uncanny, queer, about ruination. “Progress”, writes Trigg, “emerges as the movement of rational consciousness falling into dissolution.”[32] What the silence of the ruin tells us is that rationality has no privileged access to reality. Our own thoughts do not compose the center of the world. Ruins serve as potent reminders of the presence of multiple forms of nothingness, absent pasts, lingering reminders/remainders of violence.[33] Reason, progressive reason in particular (state socialism), once absent, leads to the coming forth of a menacing Nothing, a Nothing that is our self-evacuation. “The abandoned place created by the absence of reason acts as a spatial terminus in which the embodiment of silence and nothingness occurs.” – states Trigg.[34] History and historicity interbreed with decay, in the context of a marriage that transgresses the borderline between existence and its abatement.[35] According to Mesopotamian mythology, “mere man’s days are numbered; whatever he may do, he is but wind.”[36] The desert winds remove belief in existence. Progress in nothing more than the dissolution of “protracted and rigid nostalgia”, and is bereft of positive value.[37] Bereavement is the silence of a room emptied of its contents. Without content, silence nevertheless brings into play a profound affectivity that reverses and fatally destabilizes hitherto unambiguous epistemological and ontological categories. The silence of the ruin “elevates itself to the absolute”, morphing “the background into the foreground, and vice versa.”[38] Silence is the significance of a depth that never ceases to haunt those intelligences caught up in its pulsating, black presence. Disgrace is infectious, and instills an environment of precarity. For instance, Forest and Johnson mention the example of the Central Lenin Museum, part of which was as office-space for a short-lived pyramid-scheme. (535) The past exerts an eerie, uncanny effect upon the present.


Significance is no mere human construction, but “projects a rich dimensionality” upon objects caught in its orbit, independently of human intentionality.[39] Significance occurs, breeding within us. The uncanniness of present absences stems from an uncanniness that refuses to disappear. A primary characteristic of the Freudian uncanny is that the “old” lives on in us, in the form of “some macabre cellular or genetic memory.”[40] Lenin, forgotten in the basement, still brings ruination upon investors and would-be entrepreneurs, buried under the rubble of a bankrupt pyramid-scheme that chose a museum bearing his name as its office location. Memory is far more fluid than conservatives of Casey’s ilk would like to admit. As opposed to Casey, we cannot unreservedly maintain that memories “seek out particular places as their habitats”.[41] On occasions, one senses nothing more than faint echoes, creaking falls, birds nesting in the trees, raindrops pattering upon collapsed bricks and mortar. This affectivity, informed by hauntological semi-erasure, constitutes an erasure that is never complete, leading to a chronic destabilization of notions pertaining to selfhood. When walking among ruins, we come to witness the chronic instability of all categories, including our own mental constructions pertaining to our identity. Each and every identity is precarious, and by no means unambiguous. Even seemingly mundane existents such as loose bricks that have emancipated themselves from forced incorporation into manmade structures contain messages, sedimentations of textualities that are only ever only half-legible. Chelcea views “the gradual disappearance of brick walls” as being concomitant with “the erection of ordered piles of bricks in front of nearby houses, waiting to be circulated afterwards.”[42] One could interpret urban mining as constituting an instance of moonlighting, with poor, outcast families trying to make ends meet through exploiting loopholes (such as the absence of security guards at many Romanian industrial waste sites), there is another story at work here. Or, more precisely, there are other agents involved in the process of urban mining. It is not the workers who wait upon the bricks, but the bricks who wait to be transported. Such a state of waiting, of anticipating circulation, betrays a form of passive social relationality. The bricks, it would seem, circulate themselves. Similarly, the uncanny remnants of buildings, derelict and “abandoned” sites attract our perception, giving context to our movements, providing ever rarer opportunities for us to live out deviant fantasies. Seductivity, including the seductivity of detemporalized and disembodied memory, is everywhere. This seduction is far more efficatious than the magnetism of a retroactively purified and situated past. Instead of the clean place, what we have in postmodern social ruination is a form of memory akin to what Arthur Kroker calls “drone flesh”, an operativity that never ceases to “burrow deeply into the bodies and minds and feelings of a once and future population of trans-subjects.”[43] Burrowing never ceases, for we are trapped in a chiasm with the ruin itself. Its bricks, shards of glass and graffiti-decorated walls extract us from ourselves, in a dizzying, macabre and queer ritual of decayed sociability. Once the past disappears, and comes to be experienced in this very disappearance, the experience of unity, of having a united self is undermined and dissected, revealing “a discontinuous constellation of different spatiotemporal events.”[44] The fabric of place is diseased from the outset, failing to properly birth itself; ruination is the sole irreducible site, the attic that projects perverse fascination into our minds and bodies. The possibility of the ruin itself is predicated upon the latent (in)operativity engendered by decay. What Kroker writes of codes is also pertinent to engenderment; both are biased orders of communication, irreducible to human desires, decay over time, “resistant to leakages in the ruling ordinal register” and “object-oriented.”[45] The ruin resists attempts to signify/resignify its stubborn presence.


While it is true that ruins afford opportunities for marginal sociabilities,[46] such as queer subcultures, their meanings are by no means exhausted by anthropomorphic significations. As Jonathan Murdoch insists, rural contexts are co-constructed by human and non-humans agents.[47] Similarly, ruins may also be interpreted as constituting end-products of human-nonhuman co-constructions.[48] The complexity of such hybrid networks is irreducible to merely social terms, for there is “something beyond the social at work” in the “material complexity” of every hybrid landscape.[49] Echoing Bruno Latour’s call for a “symmetrical anthropology” (i.e. post-anthropocentric social science), Murdoch states that the social scientist committed to the symmetrical approach must remain open to the hybridity of agency and causality. That is, non-human and human agents alike can be sources of social agency; one must not be too hasty in identifying its source.[50] Natural and social perspectives blend into one another. Social processes have an invariable tendency to “order arrangements of heterogeneous materials” into semblances of order.[51] Every order, however, is precarious. It is especially instructive to take into consideration the system of relations between embodied subjectivity and ruination. The ruin, according to Trigg, fundamentally calls into question our own subjectivity; the body affected by ruination “hangs in suspended time”, situated in extra-temporalized space.[52] Spatiality is still there, still present, but this presence is one of foreclosure and exclusion. We cannot enter into the formerly present world, the social system that built the by-now ruined building. Yet this foreclosure is menacingly uncanny precisely because it is never complete. There is always an irreducible remainder “out there”, in the form of the bricks waiting for their removal, or the unused beer garden. Its walls still stand, but it is frequented by drug addicts and homosexuals looking for a quick dose of sexual jouissance or a chemically induced high that propels them into another dimension, at least for as long as the experience lasts. To encounter the ruin is to encounter a Nothing that, in spite of Time’s ruinous Work, refuses to disappear in orderly fashion. These ruins contest history and temporality, protesting through their absent presences notions pertaining to temporal linearity and “progress”. As Trigg writes, “the conceit of deeming history over usually proves premature. Between absence and decline, we discover a nervous freedom marked by the proximity to the Nothing. In its opening, the Nothing collects history from its dormancy and displays the traces in the ruins.”[53] We would deem this kind of spectral causation “vacuous agency”. The ruin displays a characteristic similar to that of so-called “problem animals”. Both are routinely experienced as being “out of place”, defying, in the case of the ruin, the boundaries between past and present and, in the case of the pigeon, “the boundary between ‘proper’ spaces for humans and animals.”[54] What is of interest to our own perspective from Colin Jerolmack’s work on subaltern species is the connection between “pests” and undesirable urban interstices. For instance, the author highlights the frequent association between rats and sewers.[55] Pests are prototypical examples of organisms that, simply put, “should not be” where they are. They take up positions that question our everyday assumptions of territoriality. Similarly, a ruin can, in its very presence, render the legitimacy of a political system precarious, unsettling dominant imaginaries. The pest, so to speak, “creates discomfort or even nausea”.[56] In such an instance, these ambiguities are not contained solely in the perception of the affected human being: the creatures themselves exude a sense of negation and refusal. Standard usages of space give way to subaltern reinterpretations and recyclings of decayed urban space.


The secret, esoteric affinity between ruination and the carnivalesque is not lost on Gastón R. Gordillo, who has written extensively on the complex interrelations between subaltern spatialities and ruined landscapes. In Picquete de Anta, a town located in the Argentinian Andes, the main square is “surrounded by hollowed-out ruins and clusters of trees”, objects that provide affordances for drunken revellers to continue their celebrations deep into the night.[57] As Edensor also emphasizes, ruins are unpoliced places, and can become carnivalesque places where one can celebrate the finitude of bare, naked existence.[58] Yet the celebration is tempered by the uncanniness of ruination. Gordillo goes so far as to equate rubble with the possibility of emancipation. “Rubble”, he states, “is potentially disruptive of existing places and relations because it often turns what used to be private or state property into a de fact part of the commons.”[59] Rubble, however, “belongs to no one”, radiating around itself “a collective spatiality.”[60] However, this low-level humming exuded by the ruin is foreclosed to appropriation. However empty, and hence free, rubble may seem, its emptiness is at once an intersectional non-emptiness, lacking the inclination to participate in any revolutionary project. Its cyclicality is a fundamentally acyclical one, raised beyond brutal political vulgarity. This inner black light that shines forth from the ruin is the negation that negates even itself, unamenable to any kind of appropriation. The low-level humming, the sound of creaking walls and rainwater futilely dripping onto the ground of a subway never to commence operation, all these phenomena point toward a haunting, the presence of a voidal creature, a ghost, so to speak, the specter raised beyond and/or buried below all sensation. We ourselves, our very bones, can become ruins. Ruination does not stop at the porous border precariously “separating” Self and Other. In another section, Gordillio relates the scene that greets the traveller at a shrine dedicated to murdered Indians: “the place was littered with empty plastic bottles and the debris of candles that had melted forming flat clusters of wax.”[61] The shrine is routinely visited, maintained by light emitted from blessed candles, wasting away in the harsh Argentinian landscape. True, this example is situated rather far, geographically speaking, from post-communist Europe. Yet, according to the locals, the bones of the Indians are the ruins of human forms.[62] We ourselves, our own bones, once exposed to death, the Nothing that always leaves traces in the landscape, the Nothingness that refuses to exit from the world, we can become ruins, embodiments of ruination. All that is required is entry into the realm of death, the vast spatiality that is Yama’s open mouth. The area surveyed by Gordillo contains entire mounds of Indian bones, rebels buried alive by the Spaniards, their bones piled up. These bones, the ruins of formerly oppressed colonial subjects are now held in high regard by the locals, and are believed to be the source of magical powers.[63] While the precise cause of this inner light, the light uploaded by ruination into contemporary social networks, is not clear, the brutality of historical violence emanates its rays into the consciousness of current social actants, living and breathing in an entirely different social context. But can difference really pertain? Is the world of the present separable from the shadowy realm of absent presence, and malignantly present absence?


It should come as no surprise that we do not think that such dualities may be rendered separate. Every process of dualization is bound to fail. Redemptive recategorization and nostalgia alike fail to open us to the possibility of a haunting that cannot be redeemed through any means, creative reappropriation and nostalgic Romanticism included. When we step into the ruin, we are lost. Formerly, having located the ruin on a map, we were sure of its location. Sure enough, the abandoned building looms upon our visual horizon. But stepping beyond the threshold, we realize that we are indeed lost within the blackness of disuse. This sense of being lost, detemporalized, reveals “the silent dwelling of anonymous ghosts”.[64] This disembodiment undercuts our flesh, ruining any attachment to the landscape, even one’s own Self. Every presence melts upon contact with the voidal creature, the ghost that does not die and cannot be killed. Even deindustrialization cannot destroy the “rust-belt”. As Lynda H. Schneekloth emphasizes in her study of the heavily polluted Buffalo River area, “the land is ‘vacant’ even though filled with empty buildings, littered with rusting artifacts and overrun by unruly flora and fauna.”[65] Deindustrialized, disused social space does not, in most cases, return to “normal”, non-problematic social use, for the landscape remains infested with the remains of industrial production. Such areas are deemed “rustbelts” because of their unruly robustness. Disinvestment and degeneration become, in contemporary “green” political discourses, eagerly embraced by governments intent on selling deindustrialization to their electorates, newly discovered sources of social value. The decline and decay of the Buffalo River region, for instance, has been repackaged over the years as the latest incarnation of progress.[66] Unruly places, however, defy human attempts to control their meaning. These spaces are “unruly and disordered”, having “slipped out of legitimate conceptual structures such as ownership patterns and maintenance responsibilities.”[67] Ruination, in the long run, ruins even attempts at reappropriation. Ruined, decayed social space is fundamentally unamenable to human intentionalities, being fundamentally irreducible to a single aspect of causality. The material detritus of violence, as in the case of mass-graves, testifies to the ongoing embeddedment of violence within topography.[68] Another ridge, all but ruined by treasure-hunters, was rumoured to be the burial place of innumberable Indians. As Gordillo recounts, “these bones were haunted, and at night residents claimed to see mysterious lights and the ghosts of missionaries and Indians ‘carrying the treasure’.”[69] Seeking out abandoned structures can, while displacing our sense of an established, stable Self, also thicken our own experiences, “deepening awareness of the local place we inhabit.”[70] However, this awareness can only ever be a knowledge of futility and finitude. Access to bones that have become embedded within the landscape is access to our own finitude; such access ruins utopian hopes placed within an idealized progression that would escape from the dissipative cycle. Even formerly dead rivers can become amenable to renewal. The Buffalo River has resurrected itself; once dead, it is now teeming with fish, albeit impaired, diseased and polluted. While damaged, the river is not dead, merely “degraded.”[71] This returned, resurrected life we choose to call “zombie-operativity.”


Zombies are at once products of fantasy and real possibilities, in fact, real existents in the world. The word “fantasy” here denotes, to quote Evan Calder Williams, “a structure of simultaneous approach and deferral, appearing to work through possibilities while also foreclosing them at the arm’s length of the impossible imaginary.”[72] Paradoxically, it is the impossibility of the zombie apocalypse that can render open the possibility of a post-apocalyptic world, allowing us to envision a future filled with absent and/or half-dead causalities. Postindustrial spaces of degradation, such as the Buffalo River, testify to the power of the half-dead and its uncanny ability to affect (and infect) the living. In the Hungarian context, Ágnes Hegyi-Kéri has found a strong autocorrelation between the presence of so-called “brown fields” and unemployment.[73] Brown fields, according to the standard definition, “are industrial regions with low efficiency in utilisation, or are abandoned altogether.”[74] While such definitions fail to take into account the possibilities of nonhuman spatial usages, brown fields may be taken as being good proxies for material degradation. Zombified factories, to rephrase Hegyi-Kéri’s conclusion, have a tendency to zombify the labor market, rendering entire societies inoperative or semi-operative at best, depending on whether one perceives the abandonment of human activities as less preferable to their persistence. Low efficiency in one social assemblage, after all, often entails inefficiency and absence in other assemblages. In the realm of zombified sociability, there can be no cohabitation. Rather, there is a crisis without end, an agony haunted by multiple and menacingly multiplying absent presences, an impossibility that refuses to lapse into pure disappearance.[75] Ruined spatiality impacts multiple surfaces, infecting even distant social actants with neglect. There is no working through zombified social space. Neglect, once deterritorialized, spills over into other areas of the social, migrating in the manner of a highly adaptable scavenger, filling assemblages with abundant, liquified absences, virulent hauntings. What zombies, these products born of either dereliction or industrial accidents teach us, is that “there is no even to wait for.”[76] Those dedicated few revolutionaries who have survived the bankruptcy of each and every utopia must place themselves beyond both uncritical acceptance of what is given and attachment to the completely emptied utopias of the previous century.[77] Rather, they themselves, according to Williams, must become part of this derelict landscape. We ourselves are, increasingly, manifestations of brown fields, self-awarenesses bound to reproduce their own ruination. There is no event worth waiting for. Raised above the brute materiality of shattered glass and faded dreams is the real presence of the apocalypse, the end of our world, the fractalization and dismemberment of all sociabilities. Williams aptly names various post-apocalyptic attempts to salvage meaning from the ruins “salvagepunk”. This subcultural future practice would be the continuous reassembly of “non-wholes”, a negative praxis predicated upon the reassemblage of broken totalities into assemblages without presence. The goal of such reappropriation would not be some positive heteropia, the “restoration of a positive entity”, but rather “an assemblage of negatives: cast out by the system or (…) cut out to be put together otherwise. To celebrate the given and the inherited by doing necessary violence to it.”[78] Celebration implies doing violence to the given, and hence fatally eroding the past through its carnivalesque exaggeration. Such a “negative assemblage”, to use Williams’ term, would be an uncaused non-progression through uncertain, haunted spaces, spatialities without redemption, places of inhospitality sick with neglect. Romanian photographer Anca Pusca equates collapsed postindustrial wastelands in the post-Communist space with the disappearance of “a collapsed ideology – in this case communism – which has provided a meaning and purpose to social life that is now completely gone.”[79] While the ideological context may safely be said to have been dead and buried decades ago, the same ontological status does not pertain to the past itself. Concrete ruins in particular shall remain for centuries, in certain cases for a millennium or more. As Pétursdóttir and Olsen emphasize, Communism’s “viscous deposits are still a conspicuous and imperative part of what is thought of as a radically new and post-communist time.”[80] This is a past that is not gone, but rather persists “in a state of petrified unrest.”[81] Progress decays into multi-variegated manifestations of formless, posthuman surfaces, refusals of dwelling that preclude memorialization, stable integration into intelligence systems. The authors argue, in defense of ruin photography and in the face of aesthetic criticisms relating to the subjectivizing tendency of technological visual rendition, that seeing is always situated in the midst of things; photography, while at times selective, allows objects themselves to speak, through the medium of a thing that is itself a nonhuman technological object.[82] Ocularity does not penetrate beyond the visible, in so far as it is always already embedded within the world of objects, but is entwined among the objects of the gaze.


Openings onto Nothingness present themselves, at first from a distance, manifesting themselves in the form of collapsed walls, hiding behind trees, then ever closer, in the form of shattered windowpanes littering the grass. What makes the ruin a haunted, desolate social space is its transitional nature, its “in-betweenness”. Haunting is a result of the ruin’s unfinished, foreclosed status. It is haunted because it shall never be finished and can never be laid to rest.[83] The ruin has been disjoined from time and social reproduction. In this interpretation, even living human beings can become living embodiments of ruination, in as much as they are severed from social bonds and attachments, as well as social temporality. Such a condition is known as social death.[84] The socially dead are decayed humans, sapient beings without identity, completely ruined by their inability to conform to the standards of society. Ruination in general, be it the slow mental erosion of inmates incarcerated for life or a building undone by atmospheric conditions, bears affinity with “the desolation of the desert.”[85] What the ruin does, if we are to believe Trigg’s view, is that it fundamentally “twists our attachment to spatial regulation.”[86] Regimes of spatial regulation are subverted by the presence of clearly manmade civilizational traces in what is basically wilderness, or rather, should be. Ruins gather together “different times and places” in a “disorderly entanglement.”[87] Recognition of this primordial entanglement allows us to come to terms with decay. Demarcational hierarchies never did pertain, for each and every arrangement is already in decay at the moment of its conception. John-David Dewsbury has called for a kind of epistemic praxis that allows us to witness space in the form of an “immaterially felt” “knowledge without contemplation”.[88] While we lack the space to unpack the meaning of this position, it suffices to say that to experience space requires a semantic and epistemic shift, a drifting, an emancipation of language, a letting go of familiar (all too familiar) anchoring points. As Dewsbury writes, an epistemology adequate to the ambiguity of space would be one that is unafraid to “make the intelligible appear against a backdrop of emptiness and deny its necessity.”[89] This position Dewsbury calls “minoritization”. Space is always separate from intelligibility. Ruins do not exist, waiting for an intelligent being to decode their messages. Many messages exist not to be decoded, but to haunt through their dark ambience. Such a minoritized mode of expression, if it is to come into adequation with ruined social space, must manifest itself as an impenetrable circle, for the ruin itself is nothing less than an event wherein “the hitherto marginalized aspect of the particular, evident in the domestication of the organic, comes undone.”[90] Desolation undoes the circle, only to reconfigure impenetrability in an even thicker incarnation.


The ruin, especially if it becomes part of a contested heritage, is never entirely quiet and can even constitute a “noisy” aspect of social life. Memorials, for instance, can become loud components of contemporary social contestations, especially in geopolitically turbulent areas of the globe. For example, in Ukraine a “Decommunization” Law has been enacted, intent on eradicating the last remnants of homo sovieticus, in a paranoid man-hunt that has not failed to amuse some commentators while also highlighting the post-Soviet nation’s dividedness.[91] Forest and Johnson have written of Russia’s inability to craft new monuments, and view the failure of the Yeltsin administration to preserve a trolley bus damaged during the course of the 1991 coup as indicative of the weak symbolic representation of the new democratic institutions of the Russian Federation.[92] Even an object as trivial as a trolleybus, a mass-transit vehicle seemingly derelict of symbolic meaning, can therefore become indicative of a failed social transition, or the inability of a certain political system to adapt to local conditions. Without monuments of their own, social systems are prone to break down or transform into more durable systems. Therefore such markers as the ruined trolley-bus “memorial” are capable not only of indicating the weakness of this or that political regime, but also can even refute the attempts of certain political actors to impose their ideologies on them. The Yeltsin administration never succeeded in making a durable memorial out of the Moscow trolleybus; its aesthetic ugliness and the relative unimportance of the event it should have symbolized together precluded it from becoming a durable monument, and it was removed from public view altogether in 1998.[93] And in the reverse case, the decapitated head of a Lenin statue continues to captivate the national imaginary decades after its disappearance. Indeed, the entire identity of newly-democratized post-communist Europe is, to a great extent, overcoded by the absence of a highly symbolic material entity, namely the so-called “Iron Curtain”. Absence presents social actants with openings that, while giving affordance to freedom, also demarcate rearranged hierarchial arrangements, neocolonial double standards. Production, in the long run, ruins itself, spilling chemical effluence into a polluted, half-dead river. Schneekloth identifies a dialectical relation between “unruly wildness” and “robust wilderness.”[94] Industrial production, through its ruinative relation to the environment with which it is entwined even decades after its own abatement, displays an unruly wildness that makes robustness almost impossible. Almost, but not quite: the fish in Buffalo River survive, but in a state of ill health. Intersectional non-emptiness is a belonging, a persistence in spatiality. Motion never disappears into pure Nothingness; instead, this Nothing is embodied in the form of “an intricate network of decomposing and rusted hallways” that “lays bear the dead machinery, which lingers in the aftermath” of movement and industrialized mobility.[95] Ruins emit greater resonance the more distant they are in time.[96] Distance breeds a malignant resonance, malignant in the degree of its persistent extratemporality. It lives a living death, a half-death whose complexity strips objecthood of certainty. This half-death cannot be categorized, so deeply is ambiguity inscribed upon its interstitial surfaces.


The interstitial hides the traces of tracelessness. Life is a lived relation between various gradations of the social. Rather than interpreting ghostly materialities as constituting a clear-cut alterity in relation to “normal”, “operative” materialities, what we need is to mix the uncanny with the everyday, until both terms are dissolved, cracking open historicity until nothing is left, the pure Nothing of the ever-present moment. Every haunting is also a frequentation, albeit one that leaves Being hollow, without substance.[97] Such frequentations interrogate dichotomies until the possibility of duality is rendered unfit for further use. Ghostly frequentation bores into this wall, the wall of separation, making any further segregation between past and present temporalities all but impossible. Yet this unification is not in any sense positive. The orgy of celebration that accompanies the collapse of walls cannot but give way to horror, the horror of envisioning a social space bereft of separation. Only the absence of walls is more unbearable than their emplacement upon the map. Visitation by the ghosts of the past can be a hospitable, “generous apparition”, a “friendly vision”, but more often than not, it comes in the form of “strict inspection or violent search, consequent persecution, implacable concatenation.”[98] Derrida’s Marx is a curious, even misanthropic personage who is obsessed by the “ghost” of Communism, the specter: “he detested it, he called it to witness his contestation, he was haunted by it, harassed, besieged, obsessed by it” – so claims Derrida, somewhat dubiously.[99] Contestation is haunted by left-behind shattered remnants of hauntological temporalities that make their advent, interrogating us centuries after the supposed abatement of those violent events that scar the landscape. One could even call the ruined, post-industrial landscape a kind of “hauntscape”. Death, in Derrida’s view, is necessarily open to appropriation, for appropriation “is in the condition of the other and of the dead other, of more than one dead, a generation of the dead.”[100] Only once alterity has been buried can it be rendered open to an infinitely distractive (and de-structive, de-structuring) reappropriation. Endlessly recycled, configuration comes apart. The technological externalization of memory inherently renders memory amenable to “the influence of neutral mutations”, driftingly randomly, infected with self-replicating viruses that endlessly and perpetually degrade data, deforming memory’s textuality and materiality.[101] On our part, there is no need to deconstruct urban post-communist materialities or the memory of our own fleeting visitations of ruins: chances are, this is already happening. It is almost certain that the text currently being inputted into this digital document will be corrupted, if not at the point of writing, then during one or another stage of transmission. Memory, therefore, is inherently deformed and degraded, in the context of a highly advanced and randomized system of information-transmission. Memory is unrecognizable, inseparable from the codes that transmit it across languages and continents. Memory can only ever be cracked open; we drink its insides, similarly to the members of a tribe, drinking from the skulls of their slain enemies. Kroker characterizes contemporary culture and its relation to memory as the “gathering drift of digital culture towards a certain neutral mutation.”[102] Within the space of “net neutrality”, ruination cannot escape the logic of virtuality. Randomization refuses semantic stability, and as such, renders deconstructive praxis irrelevant or, at best, non-volitional. It is not a question of utilizing deconstruction, but rather, of letting the inherently deconstructive nature of information technology and cybernetic networks randomize the stream of information, in the context of an auto-randomizational reduction. We lack the necessary space to unpack the implications of such a methodological approach, therefore we must suffice ourselves with mentioning Paul Feyerabend’s epistemological anarchism as one important theoretical paradigm that bears some resemblance to the auto-randomizational reduction we ourselves have posited.[103]


At this juncture, we must effectuate a return to the issue of ruination and its relation to trauma. Gordillo has, justifiably, criticized a perceived “fetishization” of ruins, highlighting that this process tends to regrettably obscure true negativity.[104] What the fetish does is obscure our vision, foreclosing the attempt to reattach ourselves to the void. Worshipping something as a fetish means covering over the true vacuity of existence, while injecting existents, even malign, traumatic and evil ones with some positive meaning. This approach is belied by the haunting presence, the trace that refuses to subside, the temporality that announces: “here I am!” In spite of the Spaniard’s attempts to massacre them into oblivion, the spirit of the Indians is real and tangible. One local exclaims: “the Indians are reborn once again like shooting stars! The spirit of the Indian is born again!”[105] When the ruin, the remnants of a ruined people is born again, interesting things occur. This rebirth can be either genuine or false, depending, in large part, on how such renewed materialities bore themselves into the perceptions of various social actants. Not infrequently, the rebirth is stillborn. An interesting example is provided by Paul Manning, an anthropologist who has studied Georgian Orthodox churches and the various discursive meanings these structures represent.[106] The primary attribute of a “genuine” Georgian church is its age. In other words, the older it is, the greater historical value it is held to represent.[107] However, the majority of historically relevant churches in Georgia “are primarily located in places that were in former times centers of a considerable population” and are “mostly deserted”.[108] These churches are, by consequence, “in some state of decay, sometimes actual piles of rubble.”[109] Nevertheless, old churches, even those that have been completely reduced to rubble, are held in greater esteem by most Georgians than newer, more modern structures. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the Georgian Othodox Church and successive administrations have engaged in a concerted campaign of church-building, resulting in the construction of more churches in this relatively short period of time than in any previous era in Georgian history.[110] However, this has not, seemingly, achieved the intention of the authorities. Georgians, while religiously devout, are not exceedingly eager church-goers.[111] Moreover, and more significantly, many seem to view the church-building campaign described by Manning as “not reflecting a miraculous spiritual renewal, but rather a materialistic degradation of Georgia.”[112] Material renewal, in this lay discourse, goes hand in hand with spiritual corruption. In other words, ordinary Georgians, at least if we may take Manning’s experiences as being genuinely representative, tend to view the rubble of ancient churches as being of greater historical and spiritual value than the newly built churches, however traditional the latter may appear from a strictly aesthetic perspective. A poem by nineteenth century Georgian Romantic poet Vakhtang Orbeliani differentiates between a Russian Orthodox church, whose novelty serves the colonial occupiers, with “a holy church”, “abandoned and overgrown with weeds”.[113] While the former shall soon be submerged in the flow of temporality, swiftly eroded by the destructive working of time, the latter’s salvation resides in its very ruined state. In spite of its dilapidation, the ruin of the “holy” Georgian church “stands”, standing against all odds, and, in the idealised future imagined by the nationalist poet, remains, whereas the Russian church shall disappear without trace. Whether this actually eventuated, whether the materiality of the Georgian church-ruin described in the poem actually survived, or even whether the poem relates to an actual ruin at all, is a matter for debate we shall leave open. What interests us is the value attached to ruination in the Georgian national imaginary, and what this means for our own investigation.


As we have seen, the sacred sublime nature of the ruin can, at times, transcend even the brute force of innovative, novel materialities. The specter refuses to disappear. In fact, the specter haunts and interrogates the presence of colonial objects. We may imagine the conversation of an old ruin, a ruin that points towards a more aboriginal omnipresence, one that shall outlive the colonial materialities that attempt to smother it. The “holy church’s” ruins announce: “I am here!” – this is at once a statement of fact, a description of the state of affairs in a particular corner of the world, and also a veiled threat. If the spirit of the Indians is resurrected, the spirit of the Spaniards must, of necessity, be evicted from the colony. Haunting resurrections undo the fabric of colonialism and neocolonialism, ruining imperialist and neo-imperialist designs, restorative ambitions. Traces of the past linger on, silently resisting innovators of various epochs and political hues who would seek to excise rival temporalities. From among the ruins, subaltern personages emerge, resisting the occupier through their illegibility. In Trigg’s view, we must recognize haunting as an indescribable “thing”, an immaterial phantom that “does not descend from a remote elsewhere, but ruptures the present from within the body.”[114] The ruin nests within our corporeal interstices, demolishing our crumbling subjectivities. Ruins forget the moments of temporality, creating spaces filled with detemporalization.[115] The recipient of ruination, the gaze that cannot be reconstituted within historicity, is the vision that has attained to a unifying synthesis with rubble. Gordillo defines rubble as constituting an “uncoded negativity”, for rubble signifies “the disintegration of recognizable forms.”[116] However, as opposed to such a dualist account, ruins also cross over into the blurred, peculiar atmosphere of detemporalization. The ringing negativity embodied by abandoned social spaces cannot be suppressed; what this ringing testifies to is that there is no real recipient. In spite of political attempts to appropriate their meanings, ruins are inarticulate. Their “disparate fragments, juxtapositions, traces, involuntary memories, inferred meanings, uncanny impressions and peculiar atmospheres cannot be woven into an eloquent narrative.”[117] Inarticulation is the communicative impotentiality of the ghost. While we may identify bits and pieces of stories, these are mere hints of a deeper, more esoteric reality that “trail away into silence.”[118] From whence does the blurring, peculiar atmosphere originate? Why does the ruin give itself? Indeed, does the ruin give itself at all? In a certain sense, the ruin follows the logic of a spatio-temporally materialized ghost. For Derrida, the ghost as such is an existent that “exceeds a binary or dialectical logic”, transcending effectivity, actuality and ideality.[119] The ghost eludes such conventional ontological terms as “actuality” or “potentiality”, for such definitions can only pertain in the context of a reality amenable to narration. Haunted and haunting existents, however, step outside of linear time, and therefore cannot be rendered representable for a thought embedded within linearity. Our gaze is haunted by an ecstatic non-blind deblurring, a vision that fails to provide an eloquent narrative. Edensor speaks of old adverts that present “inarticulacy” through “blurred, partly eradicated legends”.[120] Do these inscriptions communicate anything for the intrepid ruin-explorer? When the gaze of the wanderer meets with the alterity of the soaked, soggy piece of paper, the advert whose illegibility is its own ruin (of what use can the unreadable advert be?), something is nevertheless communicated, a crossing is achieved. Edensor argues that such material fragments actually afford us an opportunity to come into contact with a more primordial kind of pre-linguistic communication, a purer manifestation of communicativity than that afforded by writing, with all its reification and abstraction.[121] The endless manufacture of identities, as propagated by consumer society, is interrupted by a momentary stillness at once more ethereal and yet infinitely thicker than the world of telecommercialized superficiality.[122] Eradication of noise brings with it a disarticulated simplicity, a non-blind deblurring that suppresses distraction.


Suppression allows the perceiver/perceive chiasm, this unity of bodies that has melted into one brokenness, to disidentify from everyday life and transsubstantiate into the mode of the uncanny. In the immediate aftermath of excessive fragmentation, traces of assumed totality are left strewn upon the ground, not unlike syringes. When visiting spaces of social ruination, our image-formation processes are interrupted. Disused, abandoned sociabilities overflow with excessive phenomena, whose characteristics cannot be wholly grasped by linguistic means. The media of the visual seems to be more amenable to such a grasping, for the gaze itself must be situated near the ruin in order to convey the sense of this landscape. But even then, there cannot be a wholely adequate rendition. Every perception of rubble, every brave step that takes us deeper into the haunted house unveils another layer of a hinter-world, a givenness that refuses to gift itself, a jumble of traumatic sensations, rotten smells and tragic fates. A dead rat is uncovered from underneath the bricks: a tragedy makes itself manifest. Present absences communicate the incommunicable, a haunting that sheds light upon the unsubsitutability and incommunicativity of the Other. Our gaze crosses over the species boundary, and becomes pregnant with sympathy for a much-maligned animals considered not only pestilent but even dangerous to human habitation. It is dead, it has been subtracted from the world. Its bones are visible from underneath the rotting flesh. Ants are consuming its flesh. Our own flesh cannot help but be affected, for although it has ceases suffering, thoughts of what shall happen to our own corpses after death seep into our brains. Similarly, another instance of sympathy presents itself in the form of an abandoned vehicle. This alternative form of abandonment elicits sympathy and a sense of profound, almost overwhelming melancholy on our part. Somewhat unusually, Derrida’s Specters of Marx contains not one reference to melancholy. In Trigg’s view, melancholy is essentially an aspect of return and repetition. Arriving at our “homeworld”, we find a formerly hospitable place “cloaked in an atmosphere of world-weariness.”[123] An abandoned car is a communicator that transmits the trauma of desertion to the receivers of its message. Absence of ownership, in the case of the ownerless, bereft and disused vehicle is a far cry from the supposedly emancipative potentiality of ruination; in actuality, this absence functions as a materialized trauma. We speculate as to what could have led to the owner’s disappearance. Furthermore, what does the trunk contain? Sources of trauma are, by their very nature, unsubstitutable. Like an oversaturated image, the abandoned, smashed-up car is given-without-givenness. It is a hinter-world, albeit one unable to transport us to any other realm, an artefact that fails to diclose its periodization or why it has come to occupy this particular slice of space. This vehicle (may it even be called “vehicle”?) is the radical immanence of a deregulated flow, an oversaturated error that displays neither linear, nor negative nor ideal traits. In The Canticle of Leibowitz, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel set in a world devastated by nuclear war, contrasts the above-ground ruins, “reduced to archaeological ambiguity by generations of scavengers” with “an underground ruin (…) touched by no hand but the hand of impersonal disaster”, a place “haunted by the presences of another age.”[124] No thing remains intact, no object is entirely free of this haunting Nothing, whose radical givenness saturates the landscape, rendering all else darkened with ambiguity. That which is below, in spite of it being untouched, is no more legible than that which is above. This hinter-world is no more accessible to the survivors than the devastated, desertified world of the surface. The genre of cyberpunk literature, as opposed to merely sci-fi renditions of post-apocalyptic ruination, tend to privilege the immateriality of virtuality over the material. In Synners, an emblematic cyberpunk novel, the protagonists mostly engage themselves with multiple pursuits “in the net”, and generally accept the material presence of debris surrounding them. As Sponsler writes, “there is no longing here for a pre-holocaust landscape, but rather acceptance of the present situation. There is no sense that the present debris is blighted.”[125] In spite of the fact that civilization has been decimated by “some sort of holocaust”, “the destruction seems unimportant.”[126] In cyberpunk, no special emphasis is placed on the ethical implications of ruination. Rather, the fact of collapse has already occurred and is accepted as an unavoidable condition, an external circumstance that is given. The protagonists of Synners take recourse to hacking “the net”, a virtual reality system that continues to operate in spite of the general absence of anything remotely resembling civilization. Cyberpunk, in Sponsler view, goes beyond the logic of ruination, for “cyberpunk regards the zone, the decayed cityscape, as a place of possibilities, a carnivalesque realm where anything goes and where there are no rules, only boundaries that can be easily transgressed.”[127] Post-apocalyptic wastelands, while hardly hospitable, nevertheless allow the construction of new, deterritorialized identities. One character in the novel explicitly formulates this condition of perpetualized intermediality in the following: “we’re not in our natural habitat anymore. We’ve become denizens of the net.”[128] This identity lies beyond positive and negative poles, for the logic animating it is a fundamentally non-dualistic and hauntological one. Echoing David Chronenberg’s program of “flesh undergoing revolution”, Trigg speaks of a subjectivity “divested of the specificity with which common memory can establish a thematic link with deep memory.”[129] In Cronenbergian body horror, the boundaries between inside and outside, self and other, living and dead merge into a space of indifferentiation, not unlike the condition of cyberpunk psychonauts traversing multiple interstices of memory, surfing the net, so to speak, mobilizing multiple forms of memory and materiality. A key scene in Cronenberg’s Scanners (1981) attests to this blending of “external” and “internal” memory. In an attempt to hack into the computer system of a pharmaceutical company, the main protagonist, Cameron Vale, connects his consciousness with the company’s information storage systems, albeit unsuccessfully. The psychonaut’s mind and the computers, for a brief space of time, fuse into one entity, a fusion that is interrupted by the intervention of a henchman with spectacular consequences. This is one such episode among many that highlight Cronenberg’s near-obssession with such themes of embodiment and corporeal uncertainty. It is far from certain whether the Vale whose mind is united with the information grid (the net) may be considered as being the same subject prior to or after the attempted hack.


What we can say is that no narrative is self-contained.[130] Even within one subjectivity, several bodies may pertain, and one body may contain a number of personalities, personages. As distinct from the issue of human actants and their relations to technology, other subjects and the world of ruination, the inadequacy of the gifted in relation to the giver may be taken as axiomatic. Returning to the subject of Georgian ruins, we would hope to glean further details on Georgian sacred sites, and seek to shed light, through this example, upon our more general discussion. After having elucidated the contradictory relationship between old churches and recently constructed places of worship, Manning goes on to write of a third type of cultic site. In Pshavi, a mountainous, rugged and relatively isolated region of Georgia, cultic sites known as khaetebi (“icons”) and cult buildings called as salotsavebi (“places for prayer”) are routinely used by locals, in spite of their ancient pagan provenance.[131] These sites are “connect with (…) a child of god” and “are associated with strong notions of ritual purity.”[132] Needless to say, the Georgian Orthodox Church has not viewed these rival religious sites with sympathy, and at one point characterized Pshav-Khevsur practices as “ruin-idolatry.”[133] What interests us in the Pshavian religious discourse is its emphasis on the inadequacy of the receiver of the gift, as opposed to the plenitude of the giver. The Pshavi, at least in former times, viewed themselves as being the “serfs” (qembi) of so-called “otherworldly lords”, in spite of there never having existed any form of feudalism in this mountainous terrain.[134] Absent power does not automatically entail the lack of power. Rather, the population of this remote area views itself as beholden to hidden forces that demand purity. The ruin is a gift incommensurable with human presence. Therefore, it may be said, albeit at the risk of considerable oversimplification, that we ourselves, when we come into contact with ruins and ruination, become the “serfs” of hidden, occult lords. From whence do they exercise their mighty power? What is the source of their almost electrifying rays, that incite us to a fervent ruin-faith? These “otherworldly”, overworldly gods are non-substitutable entities. According to official church discourse, these sites are no more than the ruins of ancient churches, in spite of their often pre-dating the advent of Christianity in Georgia.[135] In certain cases, the place of prayer contains a sacred building, a k’vrivi, or “dense, solid, form, hard” structure that lacks interior spaces, hollows and cavities. As Manning describes it, a k’vrivi is “a building with no interior.”[136] Access to the divine is forbidden, foreclosed, for the abundance of the gift transcends the receptive capacity of the one who seeks saturation and gifting. Indeed, the k’vrivi is so sacred that any access is strictly prohibited.[137] The emanation of the divine saturates the serfs, the recipients of the ruin’s aura. Violation of the peculiar atmosphere is impossible, an impossibility coded into the very structure of the shrine. There is no real transgression or, indeed, sanctity at work here. Even if we tried, we could not cross the boundary that separates exteriority from the hidden interior of “the building with no interior”. Its interiority is so radically passive that it is completely hidden from the objectifying gaze. Even the exterior of the k’vrivi may only be accessed by stepping over a small wall that is considered so sacred “that the blood of sacrifice can only be communicated to the shrine by means of blood-soaked snowballs.”[138] Incommunicativity pertains between us and the interiorless interior. Submission to the otherworldly lords is communicated through an impossibly sublime charitable donation. There is, indeed, a radical abundance of inarticulacy at work in every single instance of ruination. Already, as we conclude this essay, a moment has collapsed into impossibility.


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[1] For an especially intuitive interdisciplinary example see: Williams 2013

[2] Derrida 2006 [1993]: 10.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Chelcea 2015

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Derrida 2006 [1993]: 10.

[8] DeSilvey and Edensor 2013: 477.

[9] DeSilvey and Edensor 2013

[10] Derrida 2006 [1993]: 63.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Casey 2000

[13] Casey 2000: 5.

[14] Casey 2000: 215.

[15] Casey 1998: x.

[16] Casey 1998: 184.

[17] Forest and Johnson 2002: 525.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Forest and Johnson 2002: 526.

[20] Edensor 2005: 43.

[21] Augé 1995 [1992]

[22] Trigg 2012: 119.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Edensor 2005: 46-47.

[25] Edensor 2005: 47.

[26] Palmer 2003: 70-71.

[27] Palmer 2003: 74.

[28] Washington Post 2015

[29] Weisman 2007: 36.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Weisman 2007: 189.

[32] Trigg 2006: 95.

[33] Trigg 2006: 96.

[34] Trigg 2006: 95.

[35] Trigg 2006: 97.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Trigg 2006: 96-97.

[38] Trigg 2006: 12.

[39] Trigg 2012: 147.

[40] Trigg 2012: 223.

[41] Casey 2000: 189.

[42] Chelcea 2015

[43] Kroker 2014: 119.

[44] Trigg 2012: 187-188.

[45] Kroker 2014: 86.

[46] Edensor 2005: 40.

[47] Murdoch 2003: 263-283.

[48] Edensor 2005: 50.

[49] Murdoch 2003: 264.

[50] Murdoch 2003: 265.

[51] Murdoch 2003: 266.

[52] Trigg 2006: 40.

[53] Trigg 2006: 196.

[54] Jerolmack 2008: 73.

[55] Jerolmack 2008: 74.

[56] Ibid.

[57] Gordillo 2014: 164.

[58] Edensor 2005: 30.

[59] Gordillo 2014: 265.

[60] Ibid.

[61] Gordillo 2014: 215.

[62] Ibid.

[63] Gordillo 2014: 214-216.

[64] Trigg 2012: 322.

[65] Schneekloth 2007: 257.

[66] Schneekloth 2007: 258.

[67] Schneekloth 2007: 259.

[68] Gordillo 2014: 216-217.

[69] Gordillo 2014: 217.

[70] Schneekloth 2007: 259.

[71] Schneekloth 2007: 261.

[72] Williams 2012: 13-14.

[73] Hegyi-Kéri 2014: 248-255.

[74] Hegyi-Kéri 2014: 248.

[75] Williams 2012: 14.

[76] Williams 2012: 15.

[77] Ibid.

[78] Williams 2012: 59.

[79] Pétursdóttir and Olsen 2014: 48.

[80] Pétursdóttir and Olsen 2014: 49.

[81] Ibid.

[82] Pétursdóttir and Olsen 2014: 17.

[83] Trigg 2006: 131.

[84] Guenther 2013

[85] Trigg 2006: 130.

[86] Ibid.

[87] Pétursdóttir and Olsen 2014: 18.

[88] Dewsbury 2003: 1930.

[89] Dewsbury 2003: 1928.

[90] Trigg 2006: 130.

[91] For an interesting and polemical perspective, see:

[92] Forest and Johnson 2002: 541-542.

[93] Forest and Johnson 2002: 541.

[94] Schneekloth 2007: 262.

[95] Trigg 2006: 132.

[96] Trigg 2006: 133.

[97] Derrida 2006 [1993]: 126.

[98] Ibid.

[99] Derrida 2006 [1993]: 132.

[100] Derrida 2006 [1993]: 134.

[101] Kroker 2014: 55.

[102] Ibid.

[103] See Feyerabend 1993

[104] Gordillo 2014: 254.

[105] Gordillo 2014: 245.

[106] Manning 2008: 327-360.

[107] Manning 2008: 327.

[108] Manning 2008: 328.

[109] Ibid.

[110] Manning 2008: 344.

[111] Robia 2010: 2-7.

[112] Manning 2008: 345.

[113] Manning 2008: 340.

[114] Trigg 2012: 256.

[115] Trigg 2012: 239.

[116] Gordillo 2014: 9.

[117] Edensor 2005: 162.

[118] Ibid.

[119] Derrida 2006 [1993]: 78.

[120] Edensor 2005: 162.

[121] Edensor 2005: 162-163.

[122] Edensor 2005: 163.

[123] Trigg 2012: 116.

[124] Sponsler 1993: 256.

[125] Sponsler 1993: 260.

[126] Ibid.

[127] Sponsler 1993: 261.

[128] Sponsler 1993: 260.

[129] Trigg 2012: 251.

[130] Trigg 2012: 252.

[131] Manning 2008: 347.

[132] Ibid.

[133] Manning 2008: 348.

[134] Manning 2008: 347.

[135] Manning 2008: 349.

[136] Ibid.

[137] Ibid.

[138] Manning 2008: 350.

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