Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Dealing with Decay #2

I recently was given a link to a very interesting video-article about what might be described as the exploration of ruined urban spaces or landscapes ( In the context of Miko's practical call to action and Drew's documentation of Schola Armatoria's early life cycle, the theoretical implications of this video for our understanding and use of Pompeii have me fascinated. In brief, these urban explorers are seeking out ruined and abandoned places because of their state of being and because of the state of decay that precipitated it. In this model decay is a generative process, not a thing to be halted and held back, but a "disordering" an "uncivilizing" system in its own right. How to conceive of this? Shall we hold onto the metaphor of progress and call this a "return to nature" or "history in reverse"? Or do we accept the implications of the urban explorers and put decay into the motion of time with us, accept, anticipate and even anxiously await it? And what about the conditions that lead to decay? Neglect. Negligence. Abandonment. Dismantlement.

These questions contextualize our desires for conservation of Pompeii in a unique way. In this context, conservation is antithetical to the natural life cycle of the object. Conservation is artificial life support, the state of suspended animation of the artifact that forestalls the eventual reconstitution of everything with everything else. An honest assessment shows our perspective selfishly supports our ambitions, with arguments for conservation couched in emotional language of damage, loss, and missed opportunity. (Parenthetically, however, honesty should not make the impact of an emotionally charged word [selfish] a reason to stop making such arguments: they are effective and I will continue to make them and accept that I am selfish.)

But perhaps these ideas - decay and conservation - are not antithetical. Indeed, they may have a more synergistic relationship than it appears. For it seems likely that the decay of Pompeii is essential to its appeal. Its ruined condition embodies and performs in physical form the emotions we sell in our calls for conservation. Indeed,would as many people pay to see a facsimile of Pompeii completely reconstructed versus the actual state of the city? Would visiters carve their names on the walls? Take small bits of it for souvenirs? In academia and in politics, it is the process of decay - rushed out of geological or biological time into human time as destructive events - that drives conversation, donation, and policy change. Look at the narrative fallout from the collapse of this one minor, largely ignored and largely restored building (including this narrative).

Is decay such a bad thing (especially of a building that was mostly less than 60 years old)? Can it be, ironically, a catalyst to forestall decay? What, then, happens next?

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