Staring at Hell
January 8, 2020 11:12 AM   Subscribe

Kate Wagner, of McMansion Hell fame (previouslies), writes on the aesthetics of architecture in a ruined world.
posted by clawsoon (7 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I honestly have no idea what this article is trying to convey, but I personally like ruined landscapes for a few basic reasons, like (1) I get access to it, or a lot more of it than a general member of the public would get when it's active. Access= imagination (2) I get to see how things used to be. (3) possibly: I get to do things that people in normal neighborhoods might look down on, with people that normal neighborhoods do look down on. This one is less important than the other 2, but even good kids like to break glass and spraypaint pictures on walls occasionally.

As an aside, my brother in law works Superfund sites. There really aren't that many people who are certified to work and the pay is only slightly above average on them, so he travels around the western half of the US going from site to site remediating what they can.

I also have some sympathy for the past - I mean we can sneer and say that we as modern people wouldn't do the same, but we build houses at the bases of poisoning freeways, so I know that is a lie.
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:36 PM on January 8 [1 favorite]

I wanted to like this, but I'm so confused by the final paragraph:

Maybe it’s only in this [environmental] grief that we reckon honestly with what we have done to the world. There is no future without beauty, no present without a past, and no progress without confrontation. But without these there is hell on earth.

I thought she was going to try and argue in that last section that the horror of environmental destruction carries with it a kind of sublimity (in the Burkean sense that she covered earlier). But... I can't even parse those last two sentences. Which nouns are the antecedents of "these"? Regardless, how does that last sentence make any kind of sense? "Without (present) there is hell on earth"? "Without (past) there is hell on earth"? I just... huh?

Maybe I missed something, I did read it sort of quickly and I don't have a strong background in aesthetics, or philosophy in general.
posted by slenderloris at 1:12 PM on January 8 [2 favorites]

She's just talking about the mold on bread thing. Imagine the world is a slice of bread and we are bread mold, with the same capacity of bread mold to consciously control our effects upon our environment. We are somewhere along the continuum toward the end of both the slice of bread and the mold: the piece of bread is still recognizably a piece of bread, and not all of the mold is dead, yet, but both are clearly on the way out.

We've made everything so simultaneously polluted and aesthetically cheesy we will very soon no longer be able to bear to live in our own human environment; no future. We've destroyed the past--branded and rebranded until everything is Panera Wawa-ed so bad nobody remembers what we were or what we are even supposed to be. Without the memory of who we are, we can't be said to exist; no present. The simulacrum is complete, now--shiny, slick, and impenetrable--and we can't do anything about it even if we could remember enough to know what we might do. We can't confront it anyway because it's so huge. So we can't do anything; no progress. When you fuck up your world hard enough to destroy time itself, you've made hell; hell on earth.

That's what I get from ignoring all the text in TFA and looking at the pictures and this couple of sentences you've quoted. I learned that word "simulacrum" in graduate school but I forget which literary theorist was about it.
posted by Don Pepino at 1:59 PM on January 8 [1 favorite]

We've destroyed the past--branded and rebranded until everything is Panera Wawa-ed so bad nobody remembers what we were or what we are even supposed to be.

We have destroyed the past that is true, but that has allowed us to mythologize the past to such a huge extent we think what is old (and I'm talking mostly the US here) was not only made to last but all hand crafted by the hardest of workers at the fairest of wages but that is a great big lie when you actually look into the details. And since I'm not a huge fan (medium fan) of her work, I can say I think Kate Wagner does this a lot.

It's a bit different in Europe where 'fixer of old buildings' and occasionally 'citizen of historical villages' are legit socialized, paid positions, whereas in the US 'fixer of old buildings' is a labor of love by jack of all trades kind of people who also work on new stuff.
posted by The_Vegetables at 2:31 PM on January 8 [1 favorite]

Speaking of the sublimity of ruined landscapes, water from the Berkeley Pit and Yankee Doodle Tailings Pond is successfully being cleaned and discharged into Silverbow Creek, as of last October. This gives me hope.

If you've never been, consider planning a trip to Butte, Montana and the nearby Anaconda, where much of the copper carrying this message to you was mined and refined. It is the US's largest Historic Preservation District and the largest Superfund site.

Just point your GPS to Meaderville, the neighborhood long destroyed by the Pit but somehow still navigable in Google Maps.
posted by head full of air at 6:24 PM on January 8

Well, that is some meandering philosophy of aesthetics spliced with environmental modernism (?), but good points nonetheless.
posted by blue shadows at 10:40 PM on January 8

What she calls hell on earth and no future, is from a very privileged POV.

The hope that "most people" have a chance of a nice life in a nice place was a very brief little fantasy of a very small group.

Historically, human life is nasty brutish and short, and we're just headed back to that normal condition, just with different problems added to the mix.

And of course some small percentage will continue to have it much better than the rest.

Such hubris to think we are capable of implementing utopian ideals for our species or the world in general.
posted by goinWhereTheClimateSuitsMyClothes at 2:27 PM on January 9

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