The Ghost and the Carcass
January 26, 2012 12:01 PM   Subscribe

The Atemporality of "Ruin Porn": Part I, Part II.
posted by Artw (30 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
Something that I keep being reminded of is the emphasis that Speer and Hitler put on the aesthetic value of future decay, describing positively buildings that had "ruin value." I think that reaction, both anti- and post-modernist, animates a lot of the ruin porn. Atemporality is one part of it, with that connection to authenticity of the eternal, but there's also this weird romantic heroism that ties into our Ozymandiuses.
posted by klangklangston at 12:10 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just googled "romanticism+ruins" and got this.
posted by No Robots at 12:18 PM on January 26, 2012 [6 favorites]

I'm intrigued as hell to read this, but I have to wait 'til later to click on a link with... that word... in the url.
posted by herbplarfegan at 12:19 PM on January 26, 2012

It's weird and a little bit symptomatically annoying how much of the philosophy-of-history material here — despite being wrapped in jargon borrowed from sources as disparate as Bruce Sterling and Michel Foucault — is actually meant to license the piece's presentism. Wanenchak is constantly claiming, as does the Sterling essay she links, that "atemporality," non-linearity, et cetera are distinctive features of the now — but what seems most obvious about the photos is their connection to a long line of past centuries' fascination with ruins and depictions of death and decay, from the Romantics all the way to "et in Arcadia ego." Despite looking superficially like an attempt to think historically, a lot of the jargon seems actually to serve as a free pass for deeply unhistorical thinking.
posted by RogerB at 12:24 PM on January 26, 2012 [5 favorites]

lotta words to say that the pictures look cool.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:34 PM on January 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

Yes but why do they look so cool INQUIRING MINDS WANT TO KNOW
posted by Doleful Creature at 12:38 PM on January 26, 2012

So "Hoarders" is actually some sort of neo-Fascist chic?
posted by KokuRyu at 12:45 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

man is there any kind of architecture that isn't fascist
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 12:54 PM on January 26, 2012 [9 favorites]

"Despite looking superficially like an attempt to think historically, a lot of the jargon seems actually to serve as a free pass for deeply unhistorical thinking."

That's a really good point too, as the biggest anchor for the contemporary feeling of a lot of current ruin porn is that the ruined subjects are generally modernist or brutalist structures that were meant to imply their own sort of timelessness in the '50s through the '70s. I think that can be distracting for folks trying to justify an aesthetic that appeals to them now as coming from some other place than the, you know, old reasoning of why we liked it. Just like how every generation has to invent sex and drugs anew, they may have to invent ruins on their own.

(I wish I could remember the pretty good book from some six to eight years back on "goths" that started out with the rediscovery of Pompeii and tied that into contemporary Gothic aesthetics, but it had some damn generic name that's vexing my googlefu.)
posted by klangklangston at 12:56 PM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Favorited solely for the title. I know it's just composed of the subtitles of the two parts, but you reordered them and I see what you did there.
posted by adamdschneider at 12:59 PM on January 26, 2012

I am sooooo glad 'Ruin Porn' doesn't mean what I first assumed.
posted by lumpenprole at 1:01 PM on January 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

So "Hoarders" is actually some sort of neo-Fascist chic?

No, what's fascist is running Extreme Couponing, then Hoarders, then Intervention back-to-back with no sense of irony!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:10 PM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

A long but kind of relevant self-link.
posted by tigrefacile at 1:10 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's not that all architecture is fascist, it's that no architecture is fascist. You wouldn't say that the German language is fascist, would you? But certain buildings and compositions are used for fascist ends, and take on fascist connotations, just like "Mein Kampf" and "Lebensraum" leave me feeling squicky inside even though there is nothing inherently fascist in the words themselves.
posted by daniel striped tiger at 1:24 PM on January 26, 2012

The whole "atemporality" thing discussed in these articles is in no way unique to this style and subject of photography. It's not exactly some blinding revelation that different people can look at a photograph and invent different backstories for the objects seen in it, especially for photographs like these which consist almost entirely of man-made objects. Nor is it especially amazing that a photograph only shows what the photographer chooses to point their camera at and the wider context is sometimes lost, or that digital manipulation can further muddy things. And "imagining of a ruined future" might be something that's induced by looking at ruin porn but (a) viewers aren't necessarily going to ask those questions, and (b) those questions can be asked by people without even needing to have ruin porn in front of them.

I could rewrite both of these articles and call them "The Atemporality of Pictures I Took of Chickens in the Barnyard" (parts I and II) and I wouldn't have to rewrite basically anything.
posted by xbonesgt at 1:27 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Needs more pictures of abandoned ICBM silos and fallout shelters.

Everything does...
posted by Artw at 1:27 PM on January 26, 2012

Varosha I know from Bruce Sterling's long standing fascination with it, Hashima is a new one to me I only just head about in Greg Stolze's Mask of the Other, where it is host to some brilliant and creepy mythos action. That said, I'd not actually Googled it till now, and holy crap, look at the thing. I kind of wish i'd lead with it now.
posted by Artw at 1:39 PM on January 26, 2012

I've got a sculpted marble head, depicting a horned youth with a toothy smile. The lower neck ends in fractures. It's from the Romantic period, and was meant to be left on the ground in a garden or grotto, as prefab decay. I leave it on the floor of my bathroom like that, but guests have this tremendous urge to put it upright on a shelf, and scold me for disrespecting the artist.

Last time someone did that, it tumbled off and crushed my digital scale.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:50 PM on January 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

Last time someone did that, it tumbled off and crushed my digital scale.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:50 PM on January 26 [+] [!]

Instant urban decay! Just add guests!
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:07 PM on January 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

just like "Mein Kampf" and "Lebensraum" leave me feeling squicky inside even though there is nothing inherently fascist in the words themselves.

...or "department of homeland security"
posted by Mars Saxman at 2:08 PM on January 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

lumpenprole: "I am sooooo glad 'Ruin Porn' doesn't mean what I first assumed."

like that one gif where she's giving oral and the dog comes sniffing and she cracks up laughing
posted by idiopath at 2:20 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Can we go back to just using the word porn to describe, you know, porn?
posted by HumanComplex at 2:30 PM on January 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

If you like you can draw little hands on the 0.
posted by Artw at 2:37 PM on January 26, 2012

> Can we go back to just using the word porn to describe, you know, porn?

One of Pat Cadigan's early 80s scifi books used foo-porn. (Truck-porn, nautical-porn, food-porn, etc)

It was really clever at the time!

These days I'm just not sure what I'm allowed to click on.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:38 PM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

just like "Mein Kampf" and "Lebensraum" leave me feeling squicky inside even though there is nothing inherently fascist in the words themselves.

I know. The first just means "My Struggle".
posted by benito.strauss at 3:12 PM on January 26, 2012

I don't have any Spengler with me, but wasn't there a passage in the Decline of the West about the romanticism/idolization of ruins in art?
posted by TwelveTwo at 3:29 PM on January 26, 2012

I found it at!
"I have called brown a historical colour. By this is meant that it makes the atmosphere of the pictured space signify directedness and future, and overpowers the assertiveness of any instantaneous element that may be represented. The other colours of distance have also this significance, and they lead to an important, considerable and distinctly bizarre extension of the Western symbolism. The Hellenes had in the end come to prefer bronze and even gilt bronze to the painted marble, the better to express (by the radiance of this phenomenon against a deep blue sky) the idea of the individualness of any and every corporeal thing. Now, when the Renaissance dug these statues up, it found them black and green with the patina of many centuries. The historic spirit, with its piety and longing, fastened on to this — and from that time forth our form-feeling has canonized this black and green of distance. Today our eye finds it indispensable to the enjoyment of a bronze — an ironical illustration of the fact that this whole species of art is something that no longer concerns us as such. What does a cathedral dome or a bronze figure mean to us without the patina which transmutes the short-range brilliance into the tone of remoteness of time and place? Have we not got to the point of artificially producing this patina?

But even more than this is involved in the ennoblement of decay to the level of an art-means of independent significance. That a Greek would have regarded the formation of patina as the ruin of the work, we can hardly doubt. It is not merely that the colour green, on account of its "distant" quality, was avoided by him on spiritual grounds. Patina is a symbol of mortality and hence related in a remarkable way to the symbols of time-measurement and the funeral rite. We have already in an earlier chapter discussed the wistful regard of the Faustian soul for ruins and evidences of the distant past, its proneness to the collection of antiquities and manuscripts and coins, to pilgrimages to the
Forum Romanum and to Pompeii, to excavations and philological studies, which appears as early as the time of Petrarch. When would it have occurred to a Greek to bother himself with the ruins of Cnossus or Tiryns? Every Greek knew his * * Iliad ' ' but not one ever thought of digging up the hill of Troy. We, on the contrary, are moved by a secret piety to preserve the aqueducts of the Campagna, the Etruscan tombs, the ruins of Luxor and Karnak, the crumbling castles of the Rhine, the Roman Limes, Hersfeld and Paulinzella from becoming mere rubbish — but we keep them as ruinsy feeling in some subtle way that reconstruction would deprive them of something, indefinable in terms, that can never be reproduced. Nothing was further from the Classical mind than this reverence for the weather-beaten evidences of a once and a formerly. It cleared out of sight everything that did not speak of the present; never was the old preserved because it was old. After the Persians had destroyed old Athens, the citizens threw columns, statues, reliefs, broken or not, over the Acropolis wall, in order to start afresh with a clean slate — and the resultant scrap-heaps have been our richest sources for the art of the 6th Century. Their action was quite in keeping with the style of a Culture that raised cremation to the rank of a major symbol and refused with scorn to bind daily life to a chronology. Out choice has been, as usual, the opposite. The heroic landscape of the Claude Lorrain type is inconceivable without ruins. The English park with its atmospheric suggestion, which supplanted the French about 1750 and abandoned the great perspective idea of the latter in favour of the "Nature" of Addison, Pope and sensibility, introduced into its stock of motives perhaps the most astonishing bizarreric ever perpetrated, the artificial ruin in order to deepen the historical character in the presented landscape.' The Egyptian Culture restored the works of its early period, but it would never have ventured to build ruins as the symbols of the past. Again, it is not the Classical statue, but the Classical torso that we really love. It has had a destiny: something suggestive of the past as past envelops it, and our imagination delights to fill the empty space of missing limbs with the pulse and swing of invisible lines. A good restoration — and the secret charm of endless possibilities is all gone. I venture to maintain that it is only by way of this transposition into the musical that the remains of Classical sculpture can really reach us. The green bronze, the blackened marble, the fragments of a figure abolish for our inner eye the limitations of time and space. "Picturesque" this has been called — the brand-new statue and building and the too-well-groomed park arc not picturesque — and the word is just to this extent, that the deep meaning of this weathering is the same as that of the studio-brown. But, at bottom, what both express is the spirit of instrumental music. Would the Spearman of Polycletus, standing before us in flashing bronze and with enamel eyes and gilded hair, affect us as it does in the state of blackened age? Would not the Vatican torso of Heracles lose its mighty impressiveness, one fine day, the missing parts were discovered and replaced? And would not the towers and domes of our old cities lose their deep metaphysical charm if they were sheathed in new copper? Age, for us as for the Egyptian, ennobles all things. For Classical man, it depreciates them.

Lastly, consider Western tragedy; observe how the same feeling leads it to prefer "historical" material — meaning thereby not so much demonstrably actual or even possible, but remote and crusted subjects. That which the Faustian soul wanted, and must have, could not be expressed by any event of purely momentary meaning, lacking in distance of time or place, or by a tragic art of the Classical kind, or by a timeless myth. Our tragedies, consequently, are tragedies of the past and of the future —the latter category, in which men jct to be are shown as carriers of a Destiny, is represented in a certain sense by "Faust," "Peer Gynt" and the " Gotterdammerung." But tragedies of the present we have not, apart from the trivial social drama of the 19th Century. If Shakespeare wanted on occasion to express anything of importance in the present, he at least removed the scene of it to some foreign land — Italy for preference — in which he had never been, and German poets likewise take England or France — always for the sake of getting rid of that nearness of time and place which the Attic drama emphasized even in the case of a mythological subject.

(Footnote: Home, an English philosopher of the 18th Century, declared in a lecture on English parks that Gothic ruins represented the triumph of time over power. Classical ruins that of barbarism over taste. It was that age that first discovered the beauty of the ruin-studded Rhine, which was thence forward the historic river of the Germans. )"
posted by TwelveTwo at 3:45 PM on January 26, 2012 [5 favorites]

Entropy will always be part of the foundation - or the background noise - of my art. (Writing, visual art, music, performance art...) But forty years ago, despite the cornucopia of beautiful images in industrial ruins, I stopped taking my camera to those places. Not that I don't still find photographs of What Remains in Detroit or Russia compelling, still, but theory aside, there are plenty of such images around, now more than ever. My amateur photos are hardly needed.

The tired trope of "porn" is not useless - it references vicarious pleasure, especially, I think. It often invokes the unattainable (threesomes, Chernobyl) and even the schandenfreude of S&M porn, and ruins which we don't live in, ruins which titillate us and hint at Thanatos...
posted by kozad at 4:21 PM on January 26, 2012

just like "Mein Kampf" and "Lebensraum" leave me feeling squicky inside even though there is nothing inherently fascist in the words themselves.

Perhaps relevant older FPP: The Dictionary of Coming to Terms with the Past (Wörterbuch der 'Vergangenheitsbewältigung') examines over 1,000 German words that have Nazi connotations, such as Endlösung (Final Solution) and Selektion, It is featured in a review by der Spiegel.
posted by Rumple at 6:01 PM on January 26, 2012

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