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Professor Dr. Dr. h.c. C.F. Gethmann

Institut für Philosophie
Stichwort: Kongress 2008
Universität Duisburg-Essen
Universitätsstr. 12
45117 Essen

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Dr. Jonathan Maskit (Granville, OH, USA) - Curriculum Vitae
The PostIndustrial as Problem for Environmental Aesthetics


One of the central problems of environmental philosophy has been trying to figure out what we mean when we discuss environmental restoration. This paper addresses this problem by looking at postindustrial sites--former mines, factories, etc.--not only from the standpoint of ecology but from those of history and aesthetics as well. I argue, in the end, that only a restoration that pays homage to the past is acceptable.

It is common to distinguish between green-fields (sites previously undeveloped or used purely agriculturally) and brown-fields (sites previously developed, often industrially). We might consider both of these as aesthetic "objects." Yet, when we do so, we are likely to consider the green-field more positively than the brown-field. Indeed, we are likely to see the brown-field in entirely negative terms, using adjectives such as blighted, scarred, and the like. Furthermore, when we think of green landscapes, we tend to think of two sorts of places: agricultural, pastoral lands (the country) and wild, rugged lands (the wilderness, the mountains, etc.). We can thus tentatively categorize these sites as follows: the wild, the pastoral, and the post-industrial. (It goes without saying that there are many other types of site as well.) We can use this tentative categorization to elicit three possible landscape approaches. The wild is to be preserved; the pastoral is sometimes to be preserved and sometimes restored (to an earlier pastoral state); and the post-industrial is to be restored (or forgotten or ignored).

Traditional restorations of post-industrial sites have sought to erase the signs of the site's industrial past. Yet this strategy is, I argue, pernicious for it constitutes a form of erasure that permits us to forget the industrial history of the site. Such forgetting is objectionable for several reasons. It is, first of all, dishonest. As Robert Elliott and Eric Katz have argued, restorations that seek to cover over the human interventions in a place are deceptive. No matter whether such restorations seek to return the site to a prior state or seek to create some new garden-like place, they aim at erasing the site's past. Second, such forgetting of a site's industrial past is disrespectful to the men and women who built the site. We must not forget that it was not so long ago that industry in general, and heavy industry in particular, was something celebrated as a sign of progress. That we may have more mixed feelings about this history should not lead us to forget those who gave their lives (often quite literally) to build the industrial sites we now seek to cover up. Third, and perhaps most importantly, such forgetting plays into the short-sightedness of modern humanity. If we do not remember our recent past, including its grave mistakes, we are all the more likely to repeat it.

I distinguish between three different ways we could approach such sites, which I term restoration, transformation, and renovation. The first of these seeks to return a site to its pre-industrial state. The second seeks to turn a site to entirely new uses with no regard for the site's past. The third seeks to turn a site to new uses while respecting the past by means of preserving its traces as part of the transformed site.

I then argue, using several examples--primarily the Landschaftpark Duisburg Nord designed by Peter Latz of Latz + Partners and the work of the environmental artist and sculptor Hermann Prigann--that the only ethically, environmentally, and aesthetically responsible form of engagement with post-industrial sites is a renovation that seeks to preserve parts of what once was there, albeit turned to new uses. We might think of such post-industrial landscapes as the postmodern return of the folly as found on the grounds of a castle such as Sans Souci in Potsdam. Yet here, rather than signifying buildings that never were, these post-industrial ruins can serve to remind us of a past that we would do well not to repeat.

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Curriculum Vitae von Dr. Jonathan Maskit

  • Bis 1985: Ökonomie (Vassar College). Abschluss: AB
  • 1996: Aesthetic World Disclosure in Kant and Heidegger (Northwestern)
Derzeitige Universität oder Institution:
  • Denison University
  • Ästhetik
  • Philosophier der Umwelt
  • europaische Philosophie seit Kant
Berufliche Stationen:
  • 9.2002 - jetzt: Assistant Professor
  • 9.1996 - 5.2001: Assistant Professor
Wichtigste Publikation(en):
  • "Deep Ecology and Desire: On Naess and the Problem of Consumption”
  • “’Line of Wreckage’: Towards a Post-Industrial Environmental Aesthetics”
  • “Deep Ecology and Desire: On Naess and the Problem of Consumption”
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