Ruin lust has become a fetish and a buzzword in some circles in recent years, producing a trickle of books, and the attraction seems to be a love of decay, or a love of ruins as a kind of ἀποκάλυψις, or un-veiling of the fate of our loved, ordinary haunts. Many of us are haunted and captivated by ruins; some are filled with dread at the sight of them. I am among the former, though I don’t wish ruin on any familiar place.
I have seen the look on a friend’s face as he stared at the abandoned shell of the hospital he was born in, and after, as we wandered its dead halls. The home in which I grew up will be sold to a business soon; a large tree that I have known my whole life, which sheltered my childhood play and the zipline of my childhood dog, will likely be destroyed with the transition. The glade where I learned how to pray has become a dump. The field in which I first made love under the stars has been bulldozed. I have already seen other places of my childhood –my grade school, middle school, high school, boy scout camp, forests where I once would play with friends, hills we would sled on, &c.— wiped away either by accident, for development, or for convenience. When these places die or are abandoned, something of the joy and vivacity of our memories, something about their anchor, so often dies with them.
“Ah, but nothing lasts forever”, so goes the true-ist retort. –and it is true. We should expect this, to some degree. (In the early fifth century did not Augustine of Hippo, in book 19 of the City of God, warn that all things long for peace, even if the peace of dissolution into the elements?) A healthy form of this expectation is good. The true-ist retort, however, dodges the question as to whether we should be resigned to the ruination of every imperiled and decaying place, especially those places that real estate agents don’t deal in.
Buildings and topography are not the only kind of place, and these other kinds can become ruins, too. (I write this with some embarrassment, as it seems so obvious.) There is the architecture of our shared public life; there is the shape of our relationships with one another; there are the clusters of habits we collectively engage in and by which we can recognize the significance of so much of what passes between us. We should not resign ourselves to the ruination of these places, and we must know how to repair and maintain them. What are the ingredients of these places, what is the building material of our public life? Continue reading →