The Conquest of RuinsThe Third Reich and the Fall of Rome

The Conquest of RuinsThe Third Reich and the Fall of Rome

Julia Hell

Print publication date: 2019

ISBN: 9780226588056

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


Connecting post-imperial studies to ruin studies, The Conquest of Ruins reconstructs and analyzes the Roman Empire’s afterlife as Western Europe’s history of neo-Roman mimesis. Each moment in the European history of imitating Rome, from Charles V to the Nazi empire, generated its own mimetic practices and texts reflecting on Rome and neo-Roman empires. The Romans’ monumentalizing empire-making and theatricality of politics shaped later imitations. These mimetic moments constructed the ancient empire as the ultimate expression of imperial power. At the same time, they also produced a never-ending series of scenes about Rome’s ruination. The first of these ruin scenarios originated with the Roman conquest of Carthage. Representing the ancient Roman metropole as a ruined stage, these scenarios thematize the enigma of Rome’s fall. They also define empire’s time as eschaton or endtime and raise the question of how to ward off the end. Political leaders, imperial theorists, and artists went in search of strategies to fortify their empires. The book traces this obsession with the Roman empire’s end from Augustus to Hitler, Polybios to Schmitt, Virgil to Riefenstahl, and Roman to Nazi architecture. The author combines intellectual history with literary/visual and psychoanalytic approaches. She proposes a model of imperial mimesis and the neo-Roman imaginary and analyzes the theatrical form of ruin scenarios across different media. She also develops a notion of realism proper to the political aesthetics of neo-Roman empires. This realism draws on the “absent presence” of ruins and mimesis as a mode of representation demanding recognition and imitation.

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