Monday, May 26, 2014

Mapping Greek Villages: Neda

I am returning to the villages of Greece, continuing with fieldwork on vernacular architecture. Earlier plans of reviving the Morea Project had been thwarted by the sad death of project director Fred Cooper. In 2010, I visited David Romano's Mount Lykaion Project to brainstorm ways of integrate our old data from the Morea Project with the new data from Parrhasian Heritage Park. The two projects geographically overlap. We prospected the village Neda as one of the villages to be connected with the new path system. Unfortunately, it was not one of the villages that the Morea Project mapped, so we don't have the benefit of archival data from the 1990s. On the Parrhasian Park, see here.

The broader agenda for the summer is to explore the Greek house through multiple case studies. We will reconstruct 19th-century houses torn down in Athens in the 1930s (but well recorded by the Agora excavations), we will survey the town of Lidoriki in Central Greece (part of the ongoing FandM Lidoriki), we will visit the first season of the Western Argolid Survey, and we will explore the digital archives of Ancient Corinth. I will be accompanied by my student Joel Naiman, who will be working on this material all summer as part of a Hackman Scholarship at F&M. 

Lots have changed since I last surveyed Greek villages. Maps are not secretly guarded by the Greek state as treasures of military security. The proliferation of satellite mapping by Bing or Google have made any attempt by nation-states to control information obsolete. But the availability of free and ample data can be misleading. One has the feeling that all is actually available, since village plans are discernible in those satellite images and the human cartographer is obsolete. Google and Bing maps create a challenge in our field methods. I have thought about how to incorporate them in the survey this summer. It seems to me that a blend of high and low tech skills is necessary. Bringing a satellite image into the field does not actually assist the brain in making decisions about urban or architectural value about what is important and what is not.

This summer, I will test the following method. Although we'll be bringing drones, kites, and high-tech visual instruments, I will be maintaining quality control through hand drawings. Before leaving for Greece, I have created simply hand-drawn maps based on what is visible on Google Earth. The process is time-consuming because it requires careful looking and keeping of measurements without any tool other than the eye. So, I've taken my iPad to my favorite cafe with an internet connection; I've signed onto Google Earth; and with an 11 x 24 in drawing pad, I have tried to produce a set of simple black-and-white plan showing visible structures. The process follows producing three different site-plans. 


The first drawing takes the outer-most zoom of the settlement and moving back-and-forth between "map" and "satellite" determines what Google considers to be the major streets and boundaries of the settlement. The limits of the settlement Google denotes in gray, and here I have translated them into steeples. This proves useful in dealing with large settlements (which Neda is not) in subdividing the total area in smaller units that can receive a numerical system. In Neda, for example, you can see a dozen zones. In larger villages (like Lidoriki) we have 50.


Google and Bing images have enough resolution that one can discern roofs and building shadows, enough so that one can discern structures. Sliding through and zooming in-and-out of the Google satellite image, one can start placing buildings on the map. I do this first with a pencil, so that I an erase mistakes. Once I am sure I have all the structures accounted for, I just darken them is. So, these will become the objects of study. With this drawing in hand, we will visit each building and collect specific information.


The final pass involves zooming further into Google and extracting finer information about the buildings, including how they relate to one another, roof types, etc.

So this is what I have prepared before the field. In a couple of weeks, I will join the Parrhasian Heritage Part team and see if this system works. There I will reunite with Mark Davison (Park Services) and David Romano (now at Arizona), who were my hosts two years ago. Wish us luck. I look forward to revisiting the house shown above that is one of the black fields in my drawings. The limited information from Google makes believe, however, that the house has greatly collapsed since 2010. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Argo and Bloomsbury Tents

The 21st edition of George Theotokas' Αργώ, recently reprinted by Estia has ugly typography and an even uglier cover (and why was it split into two volumes, I don't know). Gone is the beautiful font from the original (1936) edition. Van Pelt Library has a copy of the 3rd edition (1957), which I copied above.

Browsing through Richard Stone's Bloomsbury Portraits (1976; rev'D 1993), I was captivated by a set of drawings by Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell from 1913. They document camping trips at Thetford Forest, Norfolk. The tents are no different from the type used by the French Expedition in Greece in 1829 (see here). Grant's painting (above) is in a private collection. It speaks of a social indeterminacy and a bohemian attempt for ecological immersion. It seems that friends set up tents even when visiting the house in Charleston. Bell's work (below) is a screen that folds into three, now at the Victoria and Albert. Unlike Grant's painting that looks at the trio from the outside, Bell populates the folding triangular space with erotic figures, bending, turning, exposing breasts, thighs, faces. The same year, Grant hang out with Picasso in Paris, where they discussed ripping wallpaper to use in collages. I find an interesting resonance between ripping the paper of 19th-century interiors while also exploring the thinness of tent dwelling.

Zirwat Chowdhoury (Reed College) and William Tronzo (UC San Diego) are chairing a panel on "The Tent: One of Architecture's Many Guises" at the next annual meeting of the Society of Architectural Historians (see here). The bohemian expansion into tent space ca. 1913 would make an interesting topic. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Andy Upright & Ann Klicka

At GO WEST! Craft Fest, I met two incredible craftsmen, the master Andy Upright and his apprentice Ann Klicka, who were illustrating the production of metalworks. The rhythmic beating of the molten iron on the anvil and a most interesting conversation made me realize the uniqueness of metalwork in the general spectrum of DIY craft revivals. It dawned on me that today's popular crafts, whether it be knitting, food, or vaudeville, exist in a zone of individual self-actualization. They fit comfortably into the edges of non-offensive and isolated social activities and they are rather shy of tackling the architectural environment. The art of the metalsmith, on the other hand, links other crafts together, it communicates and creates a material continuum. It has to bind stone (building structures) to wood (human softness), it intercedes between the mason and the carpenter. Stone is too hard and wood is too soft, making it extremely difficult to set wood into stone without a metal hinge. 

Andy Upright and Ann Klicka are excellent metal artists on their own right. Although raised in Minnesota and Massachusetts, respectively, their work made me celebrate the continuity of a Philadelphia tradition that goes back to Samuel Yellin. I remember the impact Yellin's workshop had on me when I visited it with my high school class. And Ann tells me that the Yellin Workshop is still managed by Clare Yellin, Samuel's grand-daughter but is not going as strong as it did during my high-school days.

When I picked up Andy's and Ann's cards, I thought of contacting them with ideas of historian-craftsman partnerships, like documenting Philadelphia's architectural iron. But first, I needed to do something appropriate with their actual cards. What you see above was my intuitive reaction to the magic they shared with an adoring audience at Go WEST! Craft Fest (including the undivided attention of two five-year old ones). Later that day, a craft beer specialist at The Local 44 Bottle Shop recommended a Gose, a crazily medieval beer that takes like salt and lemon and is still made in Leipzig. So, I had to remove the label from the bottle and paste it next to the metalwork Andy's and Ann's cards. Both experiences made me incredibly humbled to be living in a neighborhood where craft conversations are exerting a force of resistance.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Ruskin's Favorite Tomb

Followers of this blog may remember tracing one particular type of late-19th-century American funerary monument (Hand Monument, Hartman Monument, Brady Monument, etc.) This week, I was reading about World War I monuments in J. S. Curl's Death and Architecture (2002) and came across the origin of this funerary type in the chapter on medieval monuments. More exciting (but not surprising) was to learn that Ruskin was the figure who discovered this medieval type in the monument of Can Grande I della Scala in Verona (1355). In The Stones of Venice, he called it "the consummate form of the Gothic tomb"(Collected Works, vol. 11, p. 87).  See a beautiful drawing from John Ruskin's Teaching Collection at Oxford. A similar Scaliger Tomb, of San Signorio della Scala (1365), served as the model for Prince Albert's memorial at Kensington Gardens (1872) by G. G. Scott. The image above is from my notebook (and --clearly-- not Ruskin's).

Thursday, May 15, 2014

R7L17 Introductory

R7L17 is a guide to the Ruskin's Seven Lamps of Architecture for seventeen-year old readers. The following annotations refer to Ruskin's "Introductory."  See earlier posts that explain the intentions.

The key argument in the Introduction is the need to have clear objectives. Making good judgments, argues Ruskin, is less a problem of execution but more a problem of defining clear goals. ,

[par. 01] This paragraph might be entitled "the right versus the possible." Ruskin introduces this work by referring back to a conversation he had some years ago, as if the conversation still plays out in his mind, and as if the conversation is now extended to us, who enter the scene. The conversation, interestingly enough, is not with a theologian or a philosopher, but with a painter, in fact, the best painter of his age. The interlocutor is distinguished simply for his ability to combine perfection in drawing (the formal qualities of line and composition) with "resplendence" in color. What is "resplendence." It's only the third line into 7L and we encounter an unfamiliar word. "Resplendence" means shining brilliantly. That this particular painter combines those two skills suggests that they are different and, in fact, difficult to combine. Indeed, formal composition, i.e. the making of form (lines, shapes, volumes) is quite different from the coloristic quality of the painted surface. If the former is rational and abstract, the latter is sensual and almost tactile. Good art for Ruskin needs both. It's not particularly important, but the artist that Ruskin is valorizing is William Mulready (1786-1863), a painter best known for his rural scenes. [LESSON: Show an image that illustrates the tensions between forma and color]
The moral of the conversation is encapsulated in Mulready's statement "Know what you have to do, and do it." This directive seems to simple to be useful. It is useful in as far as it points attention to the foreknowledge of what is right as a necessary prerequisite for a successful execution. Ruskin here develops an ethics of action hinged on clarifying objectives and executing on them. Failure comes less from the actuality that resists completion, but more from the inability to hold clear goals. This leads into Aphorism 1: "We may always know what is right; but not always what is possible." With the help of our conscience, our moral self, and our divine self, we can always ascertain what is right. In contrast, we might not always have the necessary data to assess what is possible. Since the possible is indeterminate, we should not use it as a guide. In other words, we should not base what we should do in what we perceive at that particular moment of time as doable. We are better off, basing our actions on what we know is right. Making decisions from the bottom up rather than the top down allows the muddled understanding of what is possible to interfere with the absolutely desirable. So, decide what is right first and execute regardless of the instrumental efficacy. [EXERCISE: Think of a good example in ethical judgement or political choice, where we make a decision made on efficacy; but then something changes and our initial calculation proves to be mistake; in contrast a choice base on principle does not waver or change]

[Par 02] Consideration of architecture need not be different from considerations of actions or politics because architecture is a "distinctively political art." This is an interesting assertion. Ruskin doesn't clarify what he means, but we can think of some possibilities. Since architecture is created by communal resources, then it should be considered a product of "the polity." 
Ruskin acknowledges that history has given us a confusing set of traditions regarding architecture. Those might have arisen from constricted situations. Ruskin wants to consider the basis of architecture without tradition. He starts with simple observations of opposites: imagination is different from technicalities; the soul is different from the body. Architecture's job is to unite those extremes, it balances the lower bodily parts of human existence with the simplicity and purity of the higher spiritual elements. If too much attention is given to considerations of material and construction, "the interference of the constructive," then architecture loses the purity and simplicity of its essential character. Ruskin accuses the architects of his time for giving materiality too much attention, obsessing over new material, and suggesting that material alone determines form. In this paragraph, Ruskin associates material/construction with the circumstantial constraints of moral action, hoping to place some primary essence in par with the pure moral right. In other words, just as we need an ethical "right" before we execute any action; we need an architectural "right" before we put it in a material form. The laws of architecture that we come up with will, thus, be pure of material contingencies. They will be universal and always applicable (like the absolutes of morality). The ethical rule "thou shall not kill" should not be contingent on the circumstances of the killing.

[Par 03] Against situational ethics. If we are looking for a universal law, it should not vary according to the kind of art we practice. Whatever holds true for painting should hold true for architecture or music. It should hold "for the horizon of man's action." Interesting how Ruskin uses a landscape metaphor -- the horizon (like "resplendent" color) -- to drive his point. Ruskin makes an interesting sub-point in this paragraph. Even though the situational principal takes its power from the universal, this does not mean that there is any loss, degeneration, or diminution. Principals are not quantitative units that are subdivided into domains; neither are they forces that lose force as they trickle down the metaphysical ladder. This is an important point for the following paragraph, where Ruskin will argue that every action, even menial actions (like the condition of slavery) can theoretically participate in universal redemption.

[Par 04] Finally, Ruskin tells us why he called his principals "Lamps" and not "laws" or "axioms" or "rules." A lamp illuminates us through the dark. A lamp also has potential energy; it can burn. Light cannot be distorted, it will always be light. Even if a light is faint, it is still a light; it has the potential to enlighten and to guide. What are the actual seven lamps? Ruskin hasn't listed them yet beyond the table of contents: 1. Sacrifice, 2. Truth, 3. Power, 4. Beauty, 5. Life, 6. Memory, 7. Obedience. Wow!!! This seems like a list of arbitrary concepts. Why these lamps and not others, and why seven (and not five or nine? Ruskin tells us that his list is not systematic or exhaustive. He chose seven because it was most "convenient" and not out of some master system. Ruskin does not claim to be some systematic philosopher. His lamps are not like laws of nature that could be tested with experiments. He even suggests that there could be more than seven. Thus, the enterprise of talking about lamps, is a process of talking about energy, and discovering about that energy through the process of reading and looking. In Ruskin' own admission, the arrangement is "arbitrary," so we could easily switch the order and the nomenclature is "illogical." Twentieth-century scholars have found Ruskin to be highly inconsistent himself, even between one work and another. 

[Par 05] Aphorism 2. Here Ruskin makes the important assertion that all practical laws are exponents of moral laws. In other words, what he had in mind about universal laws, was really all about moral laws. We know right away, that Ruskin must have a much richer notion of morality than a set of rules or laws, an explicit legislation. In the breath of "morality" he is really thinking aspirational "virtues" or the kind of things that spiritual beings possess. And the trickiest part of Ruskin's idea of virtue is that it cuts across all levels of existence from "the works of the hand" (things we make), "the movements of the frame" (what we do with our bodies), and "the action of the intellect" (what we think). Ruskin is not a philosopher, so he will not try to give us exhaustive and complicated arguments about the veracity of his claims. Let's just accept his notion of "fellowship," that what we do in the banal world of our bodies and actions may have some "fellowship," or friendly interaction with spiritual things, like God.

[Par 06] Ruskin will further deepen his notion of fellowship with the divine by showing the most unlikely actions or works can have virtue. This is a crazy idea, right? "the drawing of a line or utterance of a syllable" are capable of dignity. Ruskin thinks that a single sound (a syllable does not even make up a word) can have dignity. Similarly, a simple line that you draw on a white sheet (before it even makes a shape) can also be full of dignity. We'll have to do a couple of exercises in class to really capture this. Basically, Ruskin asserts here that there is no hierarchy or moral ladder. Intellectual pursuits at the top of the moral ladder are no different that banal physical things at the bottom of the moral ladder. Even the worst possible situation, slavery or drudgery, participates in the divine. 
For the time being, let's proceed to Ruskin's two quotations that show a further extreme of how something horrible can be in "fellowship" with virtue. Ruskin quotes George Herbert (1593-1633) and his poem "Elixir." Ruskin does not give us this information because he assumes we already know it. Elixir, in Ancient Greek, is a medical powder that literally dries out wounds. Metaphorically, it came to mean the cure for life, with alchemic connotation. The elixir is then a transformative ingredient. In this poem, Herbert argues that there is some ingredient that can transform the drudgery of labor (even of a slave) into a pleasurable thing. Hard work done for good ends becomes tolerable. Thus sweeping the room, the most brainless and demoralizing activity contains some fellowship with the divine.
The second reference in this paragraph is to John Knox (1514-1572). Knox was a leading figure of the Protestant Reformation in Scotland, considered the founder of the Presbyterian Church. You can find an image of Knox in the stained glass windows of the Lancaster Theological Seminary across the street. When the French attacked Saint Andrews in 1547, Knox was captured and forced to row in the galleys of the French ships. In this case, slave labor was drudgery but had divine ends.

[Par 07] In the last paragraph and Aphorism 3, Ruskin lights up some fire under us, awakening us to some highly immoral historical era. Keep in mind that Ruskin is writing from the perspective of modernity, witnessing the Industrial Revolution, seeing in front of his eyes the destruction of the environment and the exploitation of human beings in the factory. He is not sheltered in some suburban liberal arts college. He is at the heart of the inner city, at the heart of industrial production. He witnessed evil first hand (as we do when we watch The Wire, or House of Cards).
What is the crux of Aphrism 3? Ruskin basically tells us of two common alternatives that we can witness current even today. One alternative is to tackle the problem from a most theoretical perspective. We can just philosophize endlessly and argue ourselves through all the possibilities, kind of like what you are supposed to be doing in a liberal arts college, turning every "foundational" problem over and over, seeing all its facets through the comfortable distance of a privileged education. The second alternative is to just amuse ourselves, simply make the best of a bad situation by trying to have as much fun as we can. We can party hard and luxuriated in the material pleasure that modernity has made so easy for us. Both alternatives, the common solutions, are a problem for Ruskin. Both are avoidance strategies. The future is full of mystery and must be tackled through direct engagement. Whatever is happening today is exponentially getting worse, "like letting out of water."
Ruskin said a lot of things in the last seven paragraphs. Even if we are not convinced by anything he has said so far, we have at least been introduced to his style of writing and of making his points. To fully immerse in Ruskin's ideas, we will do the following three physical exercises.

EXERCISE 1. I have brought a bucket of water and 12 sponges. I want you to take one sponge and for five minutes to clean one particular part of the classroom. You cannot do this in groups or talk to each other. At the end of this menial activity, I will ask you to make two lists enumerating how this activity was 1) totally worthless, and 2) of some moral value. We will compare our lists and discuss how our action may have been virtuous.

EXERCISE 2. You have been handed a white piece of paper and a Sharpie. Make a line. We will put all our lines up on the wall and compare them. How could our lines have virtue? We can only figure this out if we tackle some actual lines and compare them to each other.

EXERCISE 3. In Par. 06, Ruskin tells us that elements in nature, "the snow, the vapour, and the stormy wind" are somehow magical. We will go outside for five minutes. You must disperse as far away from each other and try to capture one element (sound, sight, object) that is entirely natural, entirely created by nature. Try to capture it. We will return to class, and you'll be asked to explain how your natural observation possesses some kind of mystery, some kind of sense that goes beyond the physical explanation of nature (according to molecules, natural forces, chemical reactions)

Thursday, May 08, 2014

R7L17 Preliminaries

John Ruskin
Seven Lamps of Architecture

You have in your hands a paperback reprint of a book published in 1880. The book is light with a brown cover, it fits comfortably in your backpack, and at a price of $14.95 has not broken your wallet. The book's fonts and layout seems clearly antiquated, but the physical artifact does not. Although seemingly old, the book in your hands was published by Dover Books, a company founded in 1947 with the explicit purpose of making classic works from the 18th and 19th century available to American readers at a cheap price. Why did the publishers not change the format of the text to make it look more modern? After all, many 19th century books have been reprinted and they don't look weirdly old. Dover, instead, publishes a photographic facsimile of the  original editions in order to replicate the authentic experience that the original reader would have had. Since 1989, when this Dover facsimile was printed, new digital formats of old books have been made available. Google, for instance, has sought to scan every book in every library in the world. When copyright laws allow, they make that book available. If you go into Google Books right now, for instance, you'll find various PDF versions of the first edition available for free. The Kindle has free versions, as well. But in our seminar we want to replicate the intentional readership of this book, which would have been through a bound book.

The Dover book in your hand should trigger a couple of thoughts before you even set no reading it. First, you know it is a classic work tested through time. Second, you know that this classic ceased being published by a major house. And third, that someone in 1989 (when your Dover edition was first published) thought there existed a need to reprint the book. We will return on some of these issues of how a classic book that everyone read at a certain point in history becomes so undesirable that nobody buys it anymore. Its original publisher withdraws it from their catalog, but someone in the late 20th century reprints for a niche market of students and antiquarians.

Reading John Ruskin's Preface from February 25, 1880, we also realize that this is not the first but the second edition of the work. The first edition was published in 1848. The author tells us as a bit about the differences: he used a cheaper method of reproducing engravings, he removed some "pieces of rabid and utterly false Protestantism," and he added a few footnotes. The second edition was printed at the height of Ruskin's popularity at a lower cost, thanks to a cheaper way of printing drawings. We are thus privy to the work as most readers would have experienced it in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

After understanding the physical history of the object in our hands, we flip through the pages to size up the character of this work. We note that the book is very different than most books we have read. First, it is organized around chapters that are called "lamps" rather than chapters. Second, full-page plates are interspersed in the text without captions, or any obvious suggestion of where they should fit in the text (there are no figure numbers). And third, the font seems to change in the middle of the text associated with subheadings that pop up on the side of the text called "aphorisms." What a curious book with an algorithmic structure of 7-14-33 that overlays what will be a linear reading sequence. Thus, the truth lies somewhere between seven lamps, 14 plates and 33 aphorisms. This structure offers alternative ways of reading the book. Should we read the aphorisms first? Three years before Ruskin's publication, Karl Marx experimented with aphoristic writing in Theses on Feuerbach (1845) and Friedrich Nietzsche perfected the form in Human, All Too Human (1878). There is obviously something at stake here beyond an organizational scheme. The fragmentary sequence of theses seemed to reflect some of modernity's expressive needs.

The time has come to figure the book out from the inside out rather than from the outside in. We start with the Introduction.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014


R7L17 is a collaborative project hoping to bring John Ruskin’s Seven Lamps of Architecture to a contemporary audience of young readers. Why would a 17-year old read the 7 Lamps? That's the argument that the project participants want to make.

The idea for the project came when I decided to use The Seven Lamps of Architecture as a primary text for my Freshman seminar in Fall 2014. Feeling proud of myself to immerse students in the classics of architectural theory, I soon realized how difficult the text is to contemporary readers (both young and old).  Most people know Ruskin through "The Nature of Gothic," which William Morris and the Arts and Crafts extracted from The Stones of Venice and spread like a gospel. Ruskin was so ubiquitous in the formation of the late 19th-century that most people understand him by simply following the cultural debates of the century.

The only way that I can assign Ruskin to my students with a clear conscience is if I prepare an annotated edition of the work. But I wanted to open up this question to other friends and colleagues who love Ruskin. My erudite art historians that love Ruskin themselves admit that they have never read a substantial body of his work, and most have not read The Seven Lamps cover to cover. Everybody gets Ruskin these days by never reading Ruskin, just by comprehending the cultural discussions of late-19th-century England in which he is already so pervasive. 

There is a trend in colleges these days to have reading groups, seminars, and conversations. The trend began with the Mellon Foundation, which about five years ago lavishly endowed such "Conversation" projects to any college that was willing to organize it. Ruskin would be horrified if he knew that people were getting monetary benefits for reading his Lamps. Having participated in Mellon Conversations, I'd like this project to be a little less institutionalized, more open-ended. So, this summer, I am embarking on a conversation with Ruskin and my friends hoping to produce a conversation. I can't quite make an argument of why anyone should participate in such an exercise without reading the book first.

Contributors will tackle the text over the next four months and individually submit a page-by-page commentary or general reflections. It can be as simple as brainstorming, explicating, free-associating, or offering a personal insight. At the end of the summer, I will collect all thoughts and commentaries and take the conversation further. I will also test those commentaries on my students and get their own feedback. 

John Ruskin is the single most important aesthetic theorist of 19th century Britain and the founder of American art education through his friend Charles Eliot Norton. His two great works on architecture, The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1848) and The Stones of Venice (1850), set in motion aestheticism, modernism, Arts and Crafts movement, socialist architectural discourse and new ways to relate art with life. When his writings were collected in the first decade of the 20th century, they filled 39 volumes, and became a fundamental source for Anglo-American intellectual life. In the first decades of the 21st century, however, Ruskin has disappeared from the curriculum. He seems to be read in graduate seminars in English aestheticism or architectural history, but has entirely disappeared from the undergraduate curriculum or general readership. Sadly, only three of his 39 volumes of writing even remain in print.

There are at least five reasons why Ruskin has disappeared from the general readership, 1) his Victorian prose is too wordy and difficult to understand, 2) his Christian and Socialist values are out of fashion, 3) his style of art appreciation has been supplanted by art history as social history, 4) his view of art is too moralistic, 5) his text is filled with antiquated cultural references that are no longer part of public culture, 6) formalist modernism has made historical conscience irrelevant to pure experience, 7) he is inconsistent and difficult to pin down.

When students stop reading Ruskin in the 21st century, they miss one of the most important cultural episodes in western culture. More importantly, they miss a way of looking at the world around them. Ruskin helps us make connections in contemporary cultural debates. I cannot just give the text to my students and expect them to make any sense of it. I must give them an annotated edition, which of course does not exist. Then, I realized that teaching, after all, is all about creating an annotating edition. So, this summer, I am embarking on a conversation with Ruskin and my friends of producing a commentary for the Seven Lamps. This reading group will tackle the text over the next four months and individually contribute a page-by-page commentary. It can be as simple as brainstorming, explicating, free-associating, or offering a personal insight. At the end of the summer, I will collect all thoughts and commentaries and take the conversation further. I will also test those commentaries on my students and get their own feedback.


This is what you have to do, if you are interested in joining the conversation. The objective is to read every one of the seven Lamps over the months of May-August. This means a Lamp for every two weeks.

I. The Lamp of Sacrifice (May 1-15)
II. The Lamp of Truth (May 15-30)
III. The Lamp of Power (June 1-15
IV. The Lamp of Beauty (June 15-30)
V. The Lamp of Life (July 1-15)
VI. The Lamp of Memory (July 15-30)
VII. The Lamp of Obedience (August 1-15)

If you're interested in participating, send me a note. I have no idea what the final outcome of this will be. I know that my commentary will be rather bookish and academic and it will actually be handed out to the students as a reading crutch.

Readers should use the Dover reprint of the text (which is the second, 1880 edition) first printed in 1989. It costs only $14.95. There are only two bookstores in a 100 mile radius of where I live that regularly carry it, Joseph Fox and Penn Book Center. They are currently out of stock, however, because my buddied have cleaned them out. I encourage you to order it through your local bookstore (that's what Ruskin would want you to do) or buy it from Amazon (that's what Ruskin would not want you to do).

My copy of the Seven Lamps is pictured above visiting a very Ruskinian place, Mercersburg Academy in central Pennsylvania. You see the capital of the mantle in the Edwards Room in Keil Hall, completed in 1900.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States