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British Society of Aesthetics Cambridge Lecture Series

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Wednesday 4th March: Renee Conroy, Department of Philosophy, Purdue
University at Calumet: ‘Rust Belt Ruins’
Venue: Seminar Room, 1 Newnham Terrace, Darwin College. (Enter by main door).
Time: 5.00pm to 7.00pm
Admission is free, and all are welcome.

Abstract: American political satirist P. J. O’Rourke observes,
“Detroit’s industrial ruins are picturesque, like crumbling Rome in an
18th century etching”. I argue that O’Rourke’s claim should be taken
literally: the crumbling pockets of urban decay that famously dot major
cities in America’s so-called “rust belt” belong to the aesthetic
category ‘ruins’. While sites of recent urban devastation have a
distinctive aesthetic character, they are nonetheless of an appreciative
piece with those iconic structures from ancient times we relish in
virtue of their incompleteness and their capacity to incite sustained
reflection on things past.

The body of literature in this corner of aesthetics remains
unfortunately small, but one shared thesis emerges clearly from extant
work in this area, viz., that age-value is central to our aesthetic
regard for ruins. Hence, according to the traditional model, sites of
contemporary ruination in places like Detroit, Michigan do not count as
genuine ruins. They are, at best, ruins in a metaphorical or analogical
sense. By considering carefully Carolyn Korsmeyer’s recent account of
ruins as objects of aesthetic regard (Journal of Aesthetics and Art
Criticism, Fall 2014), I argue that philosophers of art have overlooked
an important appreciative category – that of “rust belt ruins” – and
that this category can be subsumed under traditional theories of ruin
appreciation.