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The City’s Other Face: Modern Ruins and Urban Endings

Research output: Contribution in Book/Report/Proceedings - With ISBN/ISSNChapter (peer-reviewed)

Published
Publication date15/03/2019
Host publicationPhilosophy and the City: Interdisciplinary and Transcultural Perspectives
EditorsKeith Jacobs, Jeff Malpas
PublisherRowman & Littlefield International
ISBN (Electronic)9781786604613
ISBN (Print)9781786604590, 9781786604606
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Every city has its modern ruins, whether post-industrial remains rusting away; derelict houses falling into the street; or rows of empty and neglected shopfronts reminiscent of Walter Benjamin’s Parisian arcades. This chapter explores the associations with Benjamin’s work that can be brought forth through the contrast of the active and inhabited city, and ruinous architectural remnants – real and imagined – revealing the end of the city as the other face of modernity and history, made present in the critical formation of the modern ruin.

Urban endings are characterised through the register of the imagined, and the politics of imagination, as much as material encounter. Modern ruins sustain alternative imaginaries of the city (as a concept) through the contrasting visions of the city as a site of ruin, and the city as a seamlessly planned environment. The power of such imagination to impact everyday experience evokes a distinctly Benjaminian reversal of progress, which he identified in the semi-abandoned Arcades, and which extends to modern ruins that evoke the end of the city, when architecture and technological forms are rendered useless and obsolete.

Considering modern ruins (real and imagined), this chapter considers the relation between the materiality of contemporary architectural decay, and imagined urban endings. Through Walter Benjamin’s rubble-infused and urban-focused writings, modern ruins and urban endings reveal the transience of the city, its material decay and disappearance, reflecting the inherent flux and movement of the city. The chapter enacts Benjamin’s archaeological excavation of history in the present, where lived encounters and the act of reading flash up together with a multi-temporal recognition of the moment through the ruinous allegorical mode that takes modern ruin and urban endings as the site of critique.