Monday, June 20, 2016

Stonehenge: Neither Ruin nor Spectacle

The greatest allure of Stonehenge is the air of mystery that surrounds the area, as it is impossible to answer with any certainty as to the exact purpose of the stones. Still, Stonehenge today is a popular tourist attraction, and it is for this precise reason that it cannot be classified as either a ruin or a spectacle. To begin, as discussed in the prompt for this response, the stones are “carefully maintained ruins,” however this is an oxymoron. Ruin may be defined as “a collapse” or “complete destruction,” and therefore in the act of “maintaining” the area, Stonehenge has not fallen to ruin. It is quite the contrary, in fact, as the land surrounding the stones has been built up and commercialized. The Welcome Center, gift shop, and parking lot were all noticeably larger than the stones themselves. There appears to be an attempt at blending the present with the past here, however it is the present that overwhelms. Even at the stones themselves the audiences’ attention was divided between viewing the architectural and ritualistic wonder in front of them and listening to commentary on their audio guide or snapping photos on their smart phones. This permeation of the present into the past devalues the area as a “ruin” due to its overwhelming sense of modernity.  
It was impossible to get any closer to the stones than this, due to the perceived need to preserve the area. Allowing guests closer could potentially damage the site. This boundary aids in preservation and disallows further decay, or ruin. 

Furthermore, according to Roland Barthes in his work “Mythologies,” the “primary virtue of the spectacle” is to “abolish all motives and all consequences” (13). The fact that we as a species are so desperate to unravel the secrets of Stonehenge is in exact opposition to the abolition of motives. There is a need to understand the workings of the past in regards to the stones; we want to know the motives of the peoples that constructed it. In this way then it is impossible to view Stonehenge as a spectacle, to appreciate what it is in its current moment. In regards to the abolition of consequences, the aforementioned blending of the present into the past comes back into play. If spectacle is meant to be of the moment with no regard for consequences, the fact that so much time and money has been poured into preserving the site (and updating it, for that matter) demonstrates not a rejection of consequences, but an obsession with them.

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