Photo of the Michigan Central train station in Detroit by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre.
We try to shy away from what's largely called "ruin porn" around these parts, because it's hard to think of much new that can be added to that conversation. Also, you really do not want to look at the comments section on our Facebook page when we do touch on such subjects. But when we saw that this book reading was being hosted by Book Beat (Sunday at 3 p.m. — event page is here), we naturally gave it a second look. Art historian Dora Apel's book Beautiful Terrible Ruins: Detroit and the Anxiety of Decline is clearly going a more nuanced look at this subject, and this looks to be a very worthy event.
Apel shows how Detroit has become pivotal to an expanding network of ruin imagery, imagery ultimately driven by a pervasive and growing cultural pessimism, a loss of faith in progress, and a deepening fear that worse times are coming. The images of Detroit’s decay speak to the overarching anxieties of our era: increasing poverty, declining wages and social services, inadequate health care, unemployment, homelessness, and ecological disaster—in short, the failure of capitalism. Apel reveals how, through the aesthetic distancing of representation, the haunted beauty and fascination of ruin imagery, embodied by Detroit’s abandoned downtown skyscrapers, empty urban spaces, decaying factories, and derelict neighborhoods help us to cope with our fears.