Like a Ruined House – North St. Louis – Images and a Reflection on “Ruin Porn”

Some of my best received images are artful depictions of ruins. One such piece hangs above my mantelpiece and fairly often elicits praise. The pictures below, from an afternoon last week, fall into the same category.

And, yet, while I am quite obviously drawn to this subject matter, I am also quite ambivalent about taking such pictures. What is it about depicting and viewing such brokenness that draws us? For me, it is principally because of how ruins work as a metaphor of neglect and its consequences. I relate it to the concept of dissipation, of letting oneself go, for whatever reason. In many ways I can relate it to tendencies I find within my own soul, and that is cautionary, instructive. I also like the juxtapositions that one can sometimes create in such settings, like pairing a dilapidated house with a church, though it also may be in some state of decline, or with a still living tree.

In some ways with such maneuvers I am taking the particular and abstracting it or generalizing it. And perhaps therein lies the problem. In doing this am I ignoring the particularity of a neighborhood? By drawing attention to its brokenness do I run the risk of diminishing its dignity or the dignity of the people who live in it? More pointedly, do folks who live amongst these conditions, or other analogous ones, find the same “beauty” and meaning in such scenes? I suspect that they do not. I do not know that I have any answers, but these are the questions that I carry with me as I, from time to time, reflectively allow myself such photo shoots.

In a bit of a corollary, what is it with the “pornification” of our vocabulary? In this post, I have used other words to describe what is sometimes referred to as “ruin porn,” with “poverty porn” being a closely related term. On Instragram folk use hashtags such as #foodporn and #sunsetporn. Of course I get it. Folks are analogizing a way of seeing and correlating it with how actual pornography is viewed: with obsession, with addiction, with even a sort of hunger. And yet this semantic trick is a bit of a trouble to me, one who struggles to avoid the moral harm caused by the real thing. And even the mere existence of all these new obsessions, fetishes, peccadillos, too, is perhaps a bit of a trouble in and of itself. The great writer C.S. Lewis, seemed to inadvertently presage some of these things when addressing a Christian view of sexual morality.

OK. Enough philosophizing! Here are the images:

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Like Pixels Incarnate – The Largest Collection of Mosaics in the World – Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis

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“Sweetie, you’ve got a smudge” – Lenten Poem – Haiku / Senryu for Ash Wednesday

“Sweetie, you’ve got a
Smudge. Oh, my mistake, it’s just
Your mortality.”

Death of a Field Mouse II – A Pageant of Beauty in a Sad War of Attrition, with a Reflection by C.S. Lewis

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Just under a month ago, when I began my war on the mice, I wrote this poem describing my conflicted emotions at having to finish killing a mouse that had been maimed by a trap I had set. After weeks of very little success with the traps, at least on my part, I have rather reluctantly gone another ancient route to eliminate pests, the route of poison. I do not know how you feel about such things, I myself am again conflicted, but the mice were really getting out of hand, even chewing up the very candle in these images which had heads of wheat decoratively pressed into its base and was located in the living room, far away from the admittedly messy kitchen. At any rate, when I found this little fellow on the stairs, despite my antagonism at the presence of him* and his kin in the house, I was once again taken by the beauty of these creatures. A nearby wilting poinsettia leaf and a candle made for great accessories to accentuate his perfection. I imagine it as scene that might have come straight out a Redwall novel by Brian Jacques.

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My own affinity for the beauty of mice, though, comes not from Brian Jacques but rather from C.S. Lewis. His noble mouse Reepicheep is one of my favorite Narnians. More salient to the current discussion, though, is this passage from That Hideous Strength, in which the character Ransom, who has been to a new Eden and taken on Adamic and Christ-like characteristics by living there and suffering to maintain it’s “un-Fallenness,” demonstrates what life might be like in a less violent, more properly ordered world, as he calls for some mice to clean up the crumbs from his lunch. I look forward to such a world.

“Now, Mrs. Studdock,” said the Director, “you shall see a diversion. But you must be perfectly still.” With these words he took from his pocket a little silver whistle and blew a note on it. And Jane sat still till the room became filled with silence like a solid thing and there was first a scratching and then a rustling and presently she saw three plump mice working their passage across what was to them the thick undergrowth of the carpet, nosing this way and that so that if their course had been drawn it would have resembled that of a winding river, until they were so close that she could see the palpitation of their noses. In spite of what she said she did not really care for mice in the neighborhood of her feet and it was with an effort that she sat still. Thanks to this effort she saw mice for the first time as a really are – not as creeping things but as dainty quadrupeds, almost, when they sat up, like tiny kangaroos, with sensitive kid-gloved forepaws and transparent ears. With quick inaudible movements they ranged to and fro till not a crumb was left on the floor. Then the blew a second time on his whistle and with a sudden whisk of tails all three of them were racing for home and in a few seconds had disappeared behind the coal box. The Director looked at her with laughter in his eyes. …
“There,” he said, “a very simple adjustment. Humans want crumbs removed; mice are anxious to remove them. It ought never to have been a cause of war.”

*I actually have no real idea if he was actually a “he.”

St. Francis of Assisi, of Forest Park by Carl Mose – Jewel Box – St. Louis

I love this statue of St. Francis, complete with birds and stigmata. Perhaps its style is very much of its time (1962) but I think it conveys quite well what the saint is known for. The ice glazing this day added some nice texture. The statue was donated by a woman with a husband who had a very colorful (very un-Francis like) existence, but even so her gift resulted in a very nice piece of art near the Jewel Box. I found this information from this very helpful page on the statues in Forest Park.

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