Sunday, January 22, 2012

Toward an Erotics of Ruins


Much has been written of Ruin Porn, a visual and literary genre that revels in the beauty of postindustrial decay, ruin and loss. Although it has global reach (Hashima Island in Japan and Chernobyl are standard bearers), Ruin Porn finds its American locus in the Rust Belt around lost cities such as Detroit, Michigan; Gary, Indiana; and Braddock, Pennsylvania. On Rustwire, Richey Piiparinen asks if Ruin Porn “can invoke a perceptual change not only in the Rust Belt but in the American psyche?” In other words, does Ruin Porn represent a “condescending” aesthetics of schadenfreude or can it transform our ways of seeing and thereby help transform our nation and world from one of crumbling destruction into one of blossoming rebirth?

Beautiful as the decay of America's industrial strength appears, a blossoming rebirth cannot arise from the current Ruin Porn genre. Porn, after all, is the diabolical mechanics of sex. In the fictional terms of Leon Tuggs’ General Theory of Industrial Sex from Stanley Crawford’s wickedly imagined novel Petroleum Man:
[C]ivilization is based on the male piston and the female cylinder, the male bolt and the female nut, the male screw and the female wood or sheet metal or whatever is screwed, into, the nail and the nailee, the latch and the keeper, the keystone and the arch, the plug and the socket, the thread and the nipple, the drill and the bit, the shaft and the sleeve or bearing or bushing, and so on and so forth. In other words, if you care to look around anywhere at all, you are surrounded by mirrors of what your little parts are supposed to do: plug, unplug, insert, extract, drill, bounce up and down, and so on.
Thus is porn also an industrial output of commodified sex reduced to the plugging in of sexual organs with the goal of endless, homogenous production. Absent from porn are the erotics of sex—stimulation without release, playfulness, emotional and psychological need and satiation, fear, hope, connection. In short, porn is the ergonomics of sex; it is the commercial (and, for that matter, industrial) exploitation of desire. As such, it is a terrible name for a genre of rebirth and transformation among the postindustrial ruins. 

Thus do I call for artists to embrace an Erotics of Ruins, even as they reject Ruin Porn.

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