Ruin Porn

Paul VanderKlay ran across an interesting (and highly attractive) book, The Ruins of Detroit. As authors Yves Marchand and  Romain Meffre  explain

Detroit, industrial capital of the XXth Century, played a fundamental role shaping the modern world. The logic that created the city also destroyed it. Nowadays, unlike anywhere else, the city’s ruins are not isolated details in the urban environment. They have become a natural component of the landscape. Detroit presents all archetypal buildings of an American city in a state of mummification. Its splendid decaying monuments are, no less than the Pyramids of Egypt, the Coliseum of Rome, or the Acropolis in Athens, remnants of the passing of a great Empire.

Since this book (2010) the view has become even more commonplace. It should be noted, this is a vision despised by Detroiters themselves.

VanderKlay reflects

I can understand how Detroiters don’t appreciate the CNN perspective on their city. At the same time what it reminds me of is Paterson in the 70s where the “ruins” were 19th century but similar.

To me it is emblematic of Mary’s Song

The book in question is almost the definition of ruin porn. It is a kind of gaze, a pharisaical, “thank G-d we’re not like them” sort of look. It’s an outside narrative. So Detroit becomes a kind of playground of images, as if this story of abandonment and destruction were the sole story. Naturally, on the ground the view is somewhat different. There’s an anger at the outsider,  a self-contempt or even a perverse pride. But for many the inside narrative is more on the line of the verse, “For your people love every stone in her walls and cherish even the dust in her streets” (Ps 102:14). What is remarkable is that the implosion has actually brought people back into the city. A couple of places to catch up with that vision is with the blog Sweet Juniper  — read the posts tagged “detroit” for a feel. Or just go off and watch this video, Detroit Bike City.

Another place to look, is  Lemonade:Detroit

It is not that the city has not be savaged, but that such destruction is not the final word. The shape of hope is surprisingly personal. Like all hope, it is one at the individual level, at the stepping out, at the turning to the task in front of us. When we put another narrative in front of us, when we let others determine how we will live our lives because of their narrative (oh, you poor thing you live in ruins), we surrender ourselves. Hope restores us to ourselves. So even the very stones can again come together into something better.
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