Brunch in the Ruins

by Cosma Shalizi on July 30, 2006

It’s a hot, lazy Sunday, which seems like a good time for browsing through livejournal communities dedicated to photos of peacefully rusting machines, quietly crumbling buildings, and similar modern ruins:

Abandoned Places [via David Chess]
Decayed Machinery [via I forget who, years ago]

The photographers are all amateurs, so the quality (to the slight extent I can judge) is quite variable, but many manage to capture the suggestion of sunset and sadness, of unhappy stories brought to a close, which fascinates me about such scenes. Some of these photos, in fact, seem as good as, say, those in Terry Evans’s book on the former Joliet Arsenal, Disarming the Prairie, bringing to mind the words of the poet:

These are the halls of the dead, where the spiders spin and the great circuits fall quiet, one by one.

— But I see I’m getting melodramatic, and it’s just too hot and sticky and still to sustain that.



tom @whimsley 07.30.06 at 2:29 pm

Well, I can’t resist posting a bit from Riddley Walker (p. 96 in the edition I have) where Riddley, walking through his warped postapocalyptic landscape, comes across an ancient power station:

Some of them ther shels ben broak open you cud see girt shynin weals like jynt mil stoans only smoov Id all ways usit the word shyning same as any 1 else myt. The sun is shyning or the moon is shyning. Youwl see a shyning on the water or a womans hair. When you talk of the Little Shyning Man its jus the middl word of what hes callt there aint no real meaning to it. Suddn when I see the shyning of the broakin machines I begun to get some idear of the shyning of the Littl Man. Tears begun streaming down my face and my froat akit…. How cud any 1 not want to get that shyning Power back from time back way back? How cud any 1 not want to be like them what had boats in the air and picters on the wind? How cud any 1 not want to see them shyning weals terning?


Beryl 07.30.06 at 2:47 pm

You are getting melodramatic, Cosmo. I’ve cooked praires [], but never disarmed them.


cosma 07.30.06 at 2:56 pm

Well, but those are shells, you can understand my confusion… actually, I just can’t spell. Correction appreciated.


Steve LaBonne 07.30.06 at 5:24 pm

Pittsburgh’s already starting to get to you, eh? ;)


rootlesscosmo 07.30.06 at 6:58 pm

This site

links to a lot of industrial ruins. Good stuff.


Bro. Bartleby 07.30.06 at 9:15 pm

What does this say about evolution? When the creator is close by, then repair and renovation and upgrade are a constant, but when the creator departs town, taking care and concern and desire with him, all that is left behind goes the way of all that is forgotten, former complexity seeks its origins, and constructs destruct and bricks turn to dust and old men rock in chairs awaiting the youth of their mind to rock once again.


Steve 07.30.06 at 10:52 pm


post pc 07.31.06 at 1:24 am

the dying earth
at the last
the dark tower


etat 07.31.06 at 5:09 am

This looks like a good oportunity to ask some highly articulate people about something that remains unexplained (and to many, inexplicable):

What is it that fascinates you about these scenes, these places, these objects?

I’ve seen eloquent answers that discuss it in terms of memory, of craft/skill, of texture, of adventure.

What qualities give these places an enduring interest? What makes them so attractive? What do they represent?

Lastly, and from a geographical perspective: what roles do these places play in society? There are enough of these places to constitute a class of space. So what is that space about? What does it do? Some theory to go along with those photos would be nice.


Randolph Fritz 07.31.06 at 9:30 am

Texture, form, and time made visible. Will Bruder (look him up) once commented that the attraction of ruins was that they showed form purely. And texture; so many industrial products are so smooth and formal, and our eyes are made for things that are the products of time, fractals and broken symmetries.


not Sam Javanrouh 07.31.06 at 12:35 pm


Helen 07.31.06 at 11:36 pm

— But I see I’m getting melodramatic, and it’s just too hot and sticky and still to sustain that.

Quite so. you need a Dark and Stormy Night.

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