Ruin, Repair, and Taped-up Shoes

I remember as a child, while on vacations my mother would drag me to see the ruins. I was never very interested; as someone so young I was still trying to understand the eccentricities of life which left me with very little time for what follows. In her book, Repair, Elizabeth Spelman discusses repair in terms of ruins, a peculiar case. She notes:

 When it comes to ruins, H. reperans better take of its tool belt- not so much because there is nothing it can possibly do, but because any work it might do would threaten the status of the remains as ruins and diminish their power to give pleasure or instruct. (Spelman 104)

Ruins are by their nature a preservation of history and what once was. To attempt to return them to their functionality is to erase its history and the damage that so defines it, degrading it to essentially nothing. Ruins are similar cases to paintings in that any work done to repair them diminishes their authenticity, such as the work done by Louise, Irene, and co. And while as a child I was uninspired by the mass of rubble that were the ruins of ancient civilizations and their dorky tourist traps in another sense I have spent much of my life preserving my own. My ruins however are not so much in the literal sense of weathered colonies or dismantled castles, so much as a long worn out pair of shoes.

If ruins speak of and speak to humans’ relationship to their gods, and to nature, they also mediate our relations with other humans, both living and dead. (Spelman 107)

In SAT question format- Machu Picchu is to the Incas as a pair of Chuck Taylor Converse are to me. A well-used pair of shoes, a ruin of the once crisp, pristine, fresh-out of the box, black high top Chuck Taylor Converse they once were. On the toe is the word “Spaceman” a reference to an old Killers song I still love. The sole of the left shoe is secured with Scotch blue painter’s tape, as the house was out of duct tape and my 12 year old feet had grown too big for my 11 year old shoes. The bumpers of each shoe had long since turned yellow, brown and black, nearly every color with all of my steps, the word “ALL STAR” is still distinguished on the heel despite clear fading due to repeated inscription in a black sharpie. My shoes, while appearing worn down, exhausted and dilapidated have never been of more used to me then as they serve now, acting as a memory. Just as the fraying brown stained laces of my converse intertwine so do the bonds they create between my past and current self, a way to memorialize the small girl that once occupied those shoes. Within each ding to the rubber liner and each scuff is both the story of the shoe and its wearer. The traces of a piece of gum wedged to the bottom of the shoe- serves as a reminder of a trip to New York, a distortion in the sole- a lesson on the consequences of putting shoes in the dryer. My shoes are as much a part of me as Chichen Itza is to the Mayan culture. Any attempt to restore them to their initial state is a removal of their history, my history, and my memory of the 12 year old that once wore them.

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Super Heroes and Justice

When I hear the word “justice”- and perhaps it’s that 11 year old mentality I never really grew out of- but the first thing I think of are super heroes. Super heroes like Wonder Woman, Batman, Ironman, etc. are the epitome of justice personified. They fight bad guys, they climb buildings, and they form groups with other super people with such titles such as “The Avengers” or quite literally “The Justice League.” They are the do-ers of good and their goal is to stop and catch bad guys while preventing innocent people from being hurt. But is what they do really justice centered?

Categorically in terms of Spelman’s two types of justice I would initially place super heroes in the group of retributive justice, their goal and priority is to find those guilty, defeat them and bring them to the full extent of the law. Their approach is villain centered, focusing on how to bring those responsible “to justice” rather than providing justice for those who have been negatively affected by the villain. Spelman explains this type of justice in chapter 4 of her book Repair:

While the harms suffered by the victim are essential to the case brought by the representatives of the law against the offender, the law focuses on those harms only to the extent of establishing the guilt of the offender.

Batman doesn’t care about the well being of those families that have suffered, Superman doesn’t care if your house was destroyed, Spiderman won’t help you to repair your car. In most super hero movies the hero is focused solely on catching and stopping those responsible. In most cases they cause just as much damage if not more than the villain. Superman nonchalantly crashing into buildings or pushing an enemy into a crowd of people cannot be considered productive repair, rather destruction. This issue was recently addressed in the new Marvel movie, “Captain America, Civil War,” as the  group of heroes, The Avengers, struggled to balance effectively delivering justice and the safety of the populous. This issue of super hero based destruction may however be considered as preventative repair or destruction with a cause, in that the destruction caused in the battle is significantly less than what it would be had the villain succeeded. It can also be noted that to solely focus on the well being of the population, or restorative justice, in situations such as crime fighting may be considered extremely ineffective as it prevents rapid action and in the world of crime fighting time is everything.  Restorative justice is defined as such according the Spelman:

Restorative justice isn’t only about fixing the flaws an making up for the imperfections in existing legal institutions; it’s about putting the repair of victims offenders and the communities of which they are part at the center of justice.

In another way super heroes can also act as pinnacles of restorative justice when you consider their benefits to the community in terms of moral and ethics. They are perceived by civilians to almost be god-like, they provide hope to those who have lost and remind them that good things still happen for good people. Civilians feel comfort almost in the idea that no matter harm is done to them their defender of good will be there to avenge them and find those responsible. With that considered superheroes almost fill a duality between restorative and retributive justice. They balance both victim and villain centered justice as they focus on the wrong-doer and bring them to the full extent of the law but they help to heal the community by acting as an emblem of hope and prosperity.

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In her book Repair, Elizabeth Spelman discusses repair as instinctual human nature as well as what accompanies it: destruction. She explores how as humans or “homo reparans” we struggle with that of which cannot be undone such as death, trauma, and other horrors.

There is no way to repair death or undo death, as much as all people wish for a time machine at various points in their lives it is fundamentally or at least currently impossible. She writes:

          “Tragic grief over irreparable loss—for example, the death of a child—reminds us of how much there is that cannot be undone, how thoroughly inappropriate the confidence that there is nothing that can’t be fixed.”

In this situation the desire to repair isn’t only to try to fill the physical void in a person’s life but also to restore a mental balance. The struggle to grip with what has been lost or broken has troubled people for ages, sending people into frenzies, depressions, and lunacy. The instinct to repair pushes people towards things that their rational selves would consider insane. It estranges people far from their usual selves to the point where they are unrecognizable.

People also find other ways to attempt to recover mentally, through things such as memorializing the dead or seeking justice for them. One of the most often repeated examples given in the first chapter of the book revolves around the occurrences on September 11, 2001 or 9/11. As cities and nations memorialized the dead through towering or simple monuments families struggled to cope with an absence that can never be repaired. The wrongful death of these innocent people sparked global outrage and a demand for justice that eventually began the War on Terror that has since killed millions. Physically, people try to fill holes in their lives with other things. After the tragic death of a family pet, given the right amount of time, the family may find themselves yearning for another. While the replacement will not be the same in any way it may help to ease the absence that the loss of the initial pet created.

While there is no direct way to directly repair the loss of a child, family member, appendage, etc. it is possible to recover. In fact there has been more research and books dedicated to the topic of recovery than most else. The 7 stages of grief theory for instance, argues that rather than focus on trying to repair the damage done by the trauma, all efforts should be focused towards working through various messy stages to the final stage of acceptance. Rather than compensating for what has been lost it is better to accept the things that we cannot control in our lives and better to simply move forward towards final enlightenment–  something that is historically hard for most people. It is also wise to learn from these mistakes as part of the repair process. A couple gets in a car crash while not wearing seatbelts, upon impact momentum carries them forward and they go flying through the windshield to some fate. As a result laws are enforced that seatbelts must be worn at all times and “Click It or Ticket” radio ads begin to air so that way no one else will suffer the same fate and those suffering may gain some peace.