Ruins in Reverse

Today! Super Sunday Solo Brunching! I had breakfast at a cafe next to Pulau Saigon Bridge along the Singapore River and read Leon van Schaik’s Spatial Intelligence: New Futures for Architecture, which led me to look up Robert Smithson’s A Tour of The Monuments of Passaic New Jersey (1967) when I got home later.

Walked around the site of what would have been Pulau Saigon and I can safely say that the thing that has replaced that once-excavated site is a condominium called River Place. While standing there I saw only expatriates walking in and out.






The latter essay by Robert Smithson is truly most fascinating, using the phrase “ruins in reverse” to describe strikingly banal features of suburban structures, which he also chooses to describe in his essay on passaic the “monuments” on his tour.

Had a think, I guess the run-down appearance of old places is not part of the “past” or “memories” that one has for the place; it technically belongs to its future, because its “ruined” or “dilapidated” appearance is formed through the passage of time.

Thus, even construction of generic urban buildings can be seen as the physical manifestation of the “future anterior” – in some respect, like the “catastrophe” of the punctum as described by Roland Barthes. The essay ends off with this:

I should now like to prove the irreversibility of eternity by using a jejeune experiment for proving entropy. Picture in your mind’s eye the sand box divided in half with black sand on one side and white sand on the other. We take a child and have him run hundreds of times clockwise in the box until the sand gets mixed and begins to turn grey; after that we have him run anti-clockwise, but the result will not be the restoration of the original division but a greater degree of greyness and an increase of entropy.

Of course, if we filmed such an experiment we could prove the reversibility of eternity by showing the film backwards, but then sooner or later the film itself would crumble or get lost and enter the state of irreversibility. Somehow this suggests that the cinema offers an illusive or temporary escape from physical dissolution. The false immortality of the film gives the viewer an illusion of control over eternity but “the superstars” are fading.


“Excavation in Progress” opposite my house. I wonder what they will find down there.