Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Marcel Cornis-Pope


This study explores formal and thematic representations of ruins in twentieth century literary texts, including James Joyce’s Ulysses, T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, and Adrienne Rich’s “Diving into the Wreck.” Analyzing these texts and concepts of ruins in the theoretical work of Jacques Derrida, Walter Benjamin, and Julia Kristeva, I argue that ruins underscore the arbitrariness—and, thus, the fragility—of symbolic systems of signification. Ruins, by virtue of their fragmentation, invite nostalgic projections of totality only to betray totality as an illusion. Thus, the imagination of wholeness that the ruin incites allows—only to disallow—meaning. Modernity and language also initiate an allegorical process by which representation is made possible and impossible. Proclaiming an alliance (based on a contrast) between the past and the present, signifiers and signifieds, modernity and language likewise betray that representation, by invoking a radical alterity, is ruined from inception.


© The Author

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

May 2011