Ruins and Repair

While the homo-reparans has an innate impulse for repair, Spelman introduces the reader to that which is admired for being destroyed: ruins. In chapter six of Repair, Spelman discusses ruins and their importance to the homo-reparans. One of the major influences of ruins is that they provide instruction for future generations. Spelman states: “Over the centuries, ruins have been seen as providing instruction on many matters, including, for example, our relation to nature, to the gods, and other human beings”(Spelman 105). This is indeed very visible in our society; wherever we go, our surroundings in the present can serve as a reminder of the past. Many large buildings scattered throughout cities and in college campuses have large pillars and dome shaped ceilings similar to what you would find at ruins in ancient Greece or Rome. Ruins also serve as a reminder that nature often prevails over the most powerful of civilizations.

In their palpable state of collapse, decay, and disintegration, once-grand structures wear irrefutable evidence of the overwhelming power of nature to erode, to break down, to inexorably wear away even the sturdiest of humankind’s monuments…. Nature might also add insult to injury by taking up habitation in the ruins where flora fauna–trees, undergrowth, rodents, bat– freely exercise their squatting rights…. there is no gainsaying the present state of ruination.(Spelman 105)

Some of the most powerful civilizations in the world are now strangled in vines or drowned beneath layers of sand. While Fred’s methods of restoration would be severely frowned upon as “the state of terminal disrepair characteristic of ruins has been treated as the source of rapturous enthrallment, or at the very least poignant instruction”, there are large campaigns costing millions of dollars devoted to freeing ruins from the entanglement of nature(Spelman 103). These excavations are led by archaeologists who aim to discover these ruins which have been buried alive by nature. Spelman provides the reader with another very interesting interpretation of the natures domination over ruins:

Recognition of nature’s undeniable powers becomes the occasion for some observers to reflect on the impermanence and transiency of everything, including human life; and that in turn may lead some to despair (all human endeavor is in the end futile) while providing others with a sense of pleasurable melancholy (the beauty of things and people is enhanced by the necessity of their disintegration and death). Oh ruins, what dost thou tell us–that you, and thus also we ourselves, are vanquished by nature? or do you, and we, simply become more clearly part of it? Is the natural world our “inevitable tomb” or our “eternal home”? (Spelman 106)

While we may admire these ruins, they truly do serve as a reminder of our own mortality. As Spelman pointed out, many people will interpret this reminder differently; some will see the grim reality of death, while others will find allure in the temporal nature of things. Regardless of our interpretations, we can be sure that our generation will be the ancients of the future, our homes being its ruins. One of the major differences between today and the past is modern technology. There is potential that modern technology will be able to prolong life and counter nature. We have already built cities at the scale of nobody before us, with buildings reaching the clouds. However, this technology of life also comes with the technology of destruction. Almost every major country has nuclear weapons, and the end of the world is just a button push away. While previous civilizations such as the Mayans have suddenly vanished without any explainable cause, we can still see reminders of their lives through their ruins. A modern nuclear war could bring so much devastation that their would not even be ruins to serve as instruction for survivors. Spelman distinguishes the difference between ruins and rubble.

Such predictable smoothness aside, it is true that mere rubble does not a ruins make. We do not have ruins in the absence of a certain way of framing decay and disintegration.(Spelman 107)

Ruins are not just any state of disrepair…. There is a difference between a state of disrepair to which one eagerly rushes and a state of disrepair from which one desperately flees. (Spelman 113)

With the weapons of mass destruction we have today, we might be the first to leave behind no ruins. Just rubble.



























Repair and Justice

In chapter four of Elizabeth Spelman’s Repair, Spelman goes very in depth on issues in the justice system it’s ties to the repair of human beings. Spelman spends a great deal discussing the similarities and differences between retributive and restorative justice, but ultimately the reader gets no real answer to what can bring absolute justice, both to the perpetrator and the victim. The justice system in our country is arguably the most flawed; as Spelman points out:

the existing criminal justice system pays almost no attention—or the wrong kind of attention—to the victims, pays only lip service to the damage done to the community, and has abandoned any thought of punishment as reparative for the offender—in fact, it tends to treat offenders as unsalvageable or not worth repair(Spelman 54).

While the whole purpose of our justice system is to bring about repair, in the end all sides stay shattered. The victim is simply supposed to remain happy with the fact that he who is responsible is being punished, and the community is left with “rips and tears in the social fabric”(Spelman 55). Even if a victim is compensated for whatever damage was caused to him/her but the victim will most definitely feel like they no longer command what happens in their own life, and will possibly be unable to fully immerse themselves in whatever community they were originally a part of. Spelman makes a very interesting observation of the mindset of one who suffers from a crime:

The victim may well feel that the state is more interested in creating its own version of how she was wounded than in hers, that she has become in effect a vehicle by which the state reaffirms its own authority and power rather than the real focus of the state’s concern(Spelman 57).

On top of the state manipulating the victim to fit it’s own needs to create the illusion of justice, it victimizes the offender in it’s own way and the offender is intrinsically left in a state of unrepair. Rather than recognizing some of society’s underlying causes for many of these crimes, the state’s answer is just to punish every individual and further remove them from a circumstance of repair. Often times once one serves their time and is “corrected” they cannot find any sort of career and are simply neglected by society, often causing them become outcasts or return to a life of crime. It is odd how those who commit crimes with mental disabilities are often sympathized with because they didn’t necessarily have complete control over their own actions, yet we are all markedly products of our own environment, and those who come from a torn apart environment are still demonized. Spelman did point out earlier that the home is our place of repair, but what happens when one’s home is innately damaging? Spelman ends the chapter on a very provocative note tying in the types of repair to the repair of humans.

It doesn’t matter to Willie or his customers what the repaired car looks like or how much Willie might alter the original design; Fred is not allowed to fiddle in any way with the original design but there are no constraints on what he might do to the now pretty well rotten original parts, as long as whatever he does serves the aim of replicating a machine fresh off the factory floor. Louise and her co conservators, however, must keep their handiwork to an absolute minimum… The Newman painting has an integrity and identity as a Newman work of art that must be respected and would be destroyed by attempts to improve upon or rebuild the painting.

Spelman reveals how delicate the repair of human beings can be when comparing it to that of the conservator and contrasting it to the abstracted and unbound ways of the bricoleur and restorer. Although our vision of justice lies on the basis that every person should be treated equal, perhaps the Newman painting cannot be repaired the same way as the painting of another.

Repair and Social Class

Aarif Majeed

English 110


In her book Repair, Elizabeth Spelman delves deep into the concept of Repair and its philosophical meaning to humankind. Spelman talks about all the different kinds of repair and what repair results in, and though Spelman may have revealed some of the societal expectations of men to repair objects and women to repair the functioning home, she does not necessarily acknowledge the positive correlation between the extent of repair needed, and a persons social class. While Spelman introduces this example not for this specific reason, a relation between social class and repair was made evident in the example of Katie Cannon, a southern black woman in the 1950’s who was responsible for maintaining the homes of wealthy white women.

“[W]e were not only supposed to know how to keep house but also how to cook perfect meals and no burn food up….How to mop the floors, how to pick the strings up after the mop, how to dust so that you don’t break things, how to wash windows and wipe down the blinds, the whole mechanical system of how to clean a house. I knew all that by the time I was eight” (Spelman 39).

Spelman devotes an entire chapter to the differences in the expectations between men and women in repair; how men are expected to fix objects and women are to take care of the home. However it is important to note that as people rise in the social ladder, the expectations of repair significantly decrease. Although the average man may feel incompetent for being inept at fixing around the house or the average women may feel incompetent if they can’t cook whatsoever, it is as if those who are wealthy are above fixing a toilet or mopping the floor. And as for the less fortunate homo-reparans, not only must they repair their own but also that of their masters. This, as Spelman refers to it, “damaging labor” is exclusively given to those of low social and economic class(Spelman 39).

“Most of the white people in Kannapolis didn’t clean their houses. That was what black women were for. That was how black women would get there income, how they survived”(Spelman 39).

The 1950’s was the beginning of a great era in America which was the Civil Rights Movement. While the past century may have ushered in lots of growth in the area of Civil Rights, there is still lots of room for repair in the sewing of our social fabric. Perhaps legally all homo-reparans have the equal rights but there is still a fine line between equal rights and equality. We witness the shooting of another unarmed African-American, our prisons are occupied by mostly black men, and a major candidate for the presidency of the USA has called Hispanics rapists and wishes to keep out a whole religion of people. Many of these inhumanities can be connected to the relationship between repair and economic status. While the civil rights movement may have initiated repair, the social ladder was still imbalanced because the bottom had to carry all the weight at the top. Spelman says that the home is our place of repair, but if the poor have to worry about repairing the households of the rich, who remains to repair their own? Most immigrants which come over to our country have no choice but find careers in repair and half of what we own has been mended by people in sweat shops overseas. The distribution of repair is so imbalanced, as if it was the natural order of things, that there is essentially no answer to what we can do to solve these issues. One step in the right direction would be to further appreciate and reward those who repair; Spelman acknowledges the negligence of acknowledgement given to those in positions of repair:

“Still, repairers as a group do not seem to be held in the kind of esteem that, for example, inventors and their inventions are; there is not a Repairer’s Hall of Fame analogous to the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.”(Spelman 11).

Inventors and innovators receive all the glory for their creations, while the ones who correct those flaws and perfect those creations go neglected. It is intriguing how while Willie shows the most creativity of the three, his occupation is probably the least valued. Our perception causes us to believe that a simple mechanic is uneducated and unimportant, but one who restores old vehicles, or one who invisibly mends a painting is smart and educated. If the reason why inventors are more celebrated than repairers is because of their ingenuity and originality, than it begs the question as to why Willie, who as Spelman describes, “is not bound by the ethos of his own trade to restrain his creative impulses while fixing things”(Spelman 20) is most likely considered the least sophisticated than those who aim to recreate the past. This social distribution is seen here as well: Willie spends the most time actually “repairing” with his tools and is therefore beneath Fred, who spends most of his time hunting for parts, and Louise whose whole motto is to do as little repair as possible in order to maintain the artistry in question.