In her 2005 book Repair, the Impulse to Restore in a Fragile World, the writer and philosopher Elizabeth Spelman puts forth the notion that human beings are “repairing animals” engaged continually in a “creative destruction of brokenness”1 that touches upon every facet of human material and spiritual life. Inventively characterizing repair as a spectrum that ranges from the routine (household chores and auto maintenance) to the curative (surgery, restorative justice, and reparations), Spelman uses the work of three different types of homo reparans, as she calls them, to draw attention to the subject’s physical, psychological, and philosophical facets: a mechanic in upstate New York, a restorer of vintage motorcycles, and painting conservators at the Stedlijk Museum in Amsterdam. In exploring the work of the conservators, Spelman makes note of the field’s meticulous concern for keeping close watch on the boundary between the act of creation and that of restoration, and correctly describes this impulse as a means of insuring authenticity, a primary albeit vague value attached to all artistic and historic works. Yet like many outsiders who write about conservation, she sees the preservation of cultural property as a binary pursuit, based, on the one hand, on constrained hands-on intervention for damaged works, and on the other to an extreme hands-off approach to what she terms “oases of disrepair—Babylon, Palmyra, Troy, Angkor Wat, the Acropolis, Tintern Abbey, Machu Pichu…. places where H. reparans is persona non grata.”2
2. Ibid, p. 103.
The full article is available at Project Muse.