Essay Gothic John Ruskin

Essay Gothic John Ruskin-10
Fro Adam Smith to Malthus to Mill, Ruskin combated the liberal democratic vision of humanity as the sum of his own interests, detached from a social context.

Fro Adam Smith to Malthus to Mill, Ruskin combated the liberal democratic vision of humanity as the sum of his own interests, detached from a social context.

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My appreciation for Ruskin goes back to the very beginnings of my academic career. Without going into the details that Ruskin goes on to provide, let me say that these are six values that I, too, hold as ideals – which perhaps explains my love for his work.

In my senior year as an undergraduate at Mc Gill, I wrote an joint honor’s thesis on Ruskin and his influence in 19th and 20th century politics and social theory: ‘No Wealth But Life’: Art & Nature in Left Cultural Politics from Kant to the Frankfurt School (see excerpt below). The following is a short excerpt from my essay, “No Wealth But Life.” Though I wrote this two decades ago, I stand by my argument with regard to Ruskin’s applicability today: Ruskin was heir to a particular brand of British Romanticism (via Thomas Carlyle), and he was also very much a Victorian in his reflection upon the ills of his society.

For John Ruskin, Venetian Gothic design in the guise of polychromatic gasworks in Brentford, ornate factory chimneys in Croydon, glistering gin palaces in Bloomsbury and even the well-meaning Reform Club in Manchester was nothing short of anathema.

Even at their risible best, these flamboyant Victorian buildings were idle travesties of the influential 19th Century critic’s beloved The Casa d' Oro, Venice.

The exchange value of a cannon ball and a pudding may be the same but their intrinsic value is not.

To exclude intrinsic value from economic calculations is unscientific.” Life, says Ruskin, in its , must be the end and aim of consumption, as well as the focus of any true political economy.

Besides being a decidedly eccentric personality, Ruskin was a fascinating hybrid of cultural currents: a Romantic who disdained the heavy-handed forms of the Renaissance in favor of the spirit of “Gothic”; an unabashed aesthete who was also an quasi-Christian moralist; a cultural conservative who developed one of the earliest (and non-Marxist) analyses of labor and alienation; and a writer whose frequent flights of over-the-top prose belie a steady commitment to the virtues of temperance and restraint. With his aesthetic grasp of the human condition, however, Ruskin was far from common, and it is this aspect of his work that has most relevance, and which is often cited when Ruskin is hailed as a prophetic figure.

I see the trace of Ruskin in many of my favorited 19th century figures and movements: the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, William Morris, the Arts & Crafts Movement, Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde. Like Marx, Ruskin witnessed first hand the wrath of capitalist industrialism, and turning from his artistic background felt compelled to speak out on social issues, without ever losing his background in aesthetics or his love of beauty and human creativity.

Value, like wealth, must be concerned with, or avail towards, life.

Ruskin’s aesthetic background is fundamental to his life philosophy.


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