The view from Detroit.
31 August 2011
Even though I live in the Midwest, I sometimes think about Detroit, and it seems as foreign (if not more so) to me as do cities across the world in other countries and cultures. This mainly started when I found some pictures online of an abandoned building in Detroit that was once used to store textbooks and other school items and supplies (the Book Depository). It just looked so sad. Ever since I saw those I have been looking at and reading books about Detroit.
I found my latest read* on Detroit while I was poking around online looking for reviews of Paul Clemens's superlative investigative title Punching Out: One Year in a Closing Auto Plant. Detroit Disassembled is a big, gorgeous book of photography, although the photographs are anything beautiful. They document a city in decay.
What we found so jarring about these photographs (Mr. CR carefully looked at the pictures too) is how, whoever abandoned these buildings, seemed to abandon them midway. Nothing seems cleaned out or closed or locked down with any kind of order: in a former high school, desks are piled around haphazardly and science lab equpment sits out on counters; in the book depository, trees grow out of piles of books left jumbled on the floor to rot; in a library branch, the spinner still holds pulp paperbacks. It looks like stills from a horror movie, you know the type, when everyone in a small town just disappears into thin air, leaving their half-eaten meals on a table.
It's a horrible, gorgeous book. It needs to be looked at in conjunction with reading either Paul Clemens's Punching Out or Made in Detroit: A South of 8-Mile Memoir. I sometimes wonder if the whole city shouldn't be emptied and left to decay, and then maintained and visited as some sort of post-apocalyptic theme park (you know: see Alan Weisman's book The World without Us, about the process of how cities would go back to trees without us around, in action!). I'm not saying everyone who lives there would have to leave; maybe they could just live in some new buildings across town and then work jobs in the theme park. Or maybe that's too morbid. It was just an idea. Look at this book and tell me if you don't start having similar ideas.
*I say "read." Mainly I just looked at the pictures, although I did skim the essays by the photographer and by Philip Levine.