Exploring the ruins of the U.S.

Book cover: "Untimely Ruins" by Nick Yablon

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Bill Radke: If an American friend tells you she just got back from touring some ruins, you'll probably assume she'd traveled abroad. But this country has its decay as well, and American Studies professor* Nick Yablon writes about them in a book called "Untimely Ruins". Welcome, Nick.

Nick Yablon: Thanks very much, glad to be here.

Radke: What are this country's economic ruins?

Yablon: Well, the ruins we've been hearing of in reports and newspaper and on TV news are foreclosed homes that have been deteriorating and have been vandalized, but also kind of vacant shopping centers and office buildings. But there've also been these kind of unfinished ruins -- half-built houses in kind of subdivisions in various parts of the U.S. that have been left to rot in the sun even before they've completed the structure. I call these in my book "ruins in reverse," because these ruins don't fall into ruin but rather kind of rise into ruin.

Radke: Will the American ruins of this recession stand, or do you figure we will make it our job to fix them?

Yablon: Well that's an interesting question, because you know the unfinished ruins of 19th century panics were eventually completed. But with the case of the recent ruins, there is perhaps less optimism that it's perhaps best to kind of demolish some of these homes, some of these shopping centers and office buildings. Perhaps the scale of ruin is too immense to recouperate. So perhaps we'll see more of them demolished than in the past.

Radke: Nick, the present is very exciting. Why do you linger so much over ruins?

Yablon: They reveal certain aspects of American attitudes towards their own cities, towards technology, towards modernity. And they suggest perhaps a more complex kind of attitude than people have, historians have suspected. I think people tend to emphasize that Americans are optimistic, they view their country as a land without ruins, that you know the best-viewed ruins are elsewhere. And that idea goes, certainly goes back to the 19th century, the idea of America as a nation of futurity rather than antiquity. But there is along side that a kind of lingering desire for ruins of some kind, for some kind of substitute antiquity.

Radke: The book is called "Untimely Ruins," and the author is Nick Yablon. Nick, thank you so much.

Yablon: Thank you very much, Bill.


*Nick Yablon is an American Studies professor at the University of Iowa.

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