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    Find Yourself in America’s Abandoned Malls

    Finding Space to Think in America’s Abandoned Malls


    As malls across the country crumble, they retain a structural allure.

    Until recently, the remains of the Raleigh Springs Mall could be found just off Interstate 40, in an aging ’70s suburb of Memphis, Tennessee. The Raleigh Springs Mall—a “dead mall,” so to speak—spent more than a decade mostly vacant, home only to a cash for gold business and a fast fashion depot, as well as a few pop-up church services and AA meetings. The doors of the massive building seemed to always be open, but to wander around it felt like trespassing. A broken, sun-bleached cement parking lot fronted the entryway. In the vast cavities where accessory shops or anchor stores once stood, busted gumball machines and discarded office supplies lay strewn across carpeted floors. Lacking fluorescent lighting, the hallways appeared strangely tunnel-like, as if the mall were underground.

    The Raleigh Springs Mall was dead, but it was more than dead. It was a ruin. Ruins have their own sort of life, one anchored less in the present than in both past and future. Abandoned spaces allow room for the imagination. The Germans call the tingle of excitement we feel when entering abandoned places ruinenlust. English writer Rose Macaulay argued in her 1953 classic, Pleasure of Ruins, “Ruin is always overstated; it is part of the ruin-drama staged perpetually in the human imagination, half of whose desire is to build up, while the other half smashes and levels to the earth.” Macaulay, the daughter of a Classical scholar, wrote specifically about the English preoccupation with Greek and Roman ruins, and about how the idea of Western Civilization emerged from fragmentary and romantic visions of the past.

    Are dead malls the fragments out of which we construct and relive our fictive pasts, so as to envision our futures? When Chuck and I decided to go to the Raleigh Springs Mall—on a hot spring afternoon sometime in 2014, a few years before it was completely demolished—it was not because we wanted to see a ruin, or because we had any outstanding ideas about the formation of Western Civilization. We’d been driving around sprawled districts on the outskirts of Memphis burning time and had a few hours before either of us had to be anywhere. The mall was a place to go, nothing more. So we parked my car between caved-in sections of the parking lot and ambled inside, into a lobby furnished with cartoonishly shaped architectural embellishments and a cheerily mosaiced floor. Plastic trees in blue planters lent the space the feeling of a lost atrium. In either direction, the hallways tapered off into darkness, leading the way to the dead ends of closed department stores. There seemed to be mirrors everywhere. We walked the length of the mall and back again, looking through panes of glass at reflections of ourselves. In several stores, makeshift chairs were set up to accommodate small crowds. In others, busted arcade games and empty kiosks collected dust.

    Wandering a dead mall does not produce the same variety of angst as wandering an ancient city, or even the same as wandering an industrial ghost town. Malls don’t exactly reflect the tastes or preferences of people who spent time there, so what we miss while wandering them isn’t the humans who once shopped there. Nor do we miss a way of life—there are other malls, other food courts. It is difficult to mourn the collapse of civilizations in spaces that feel, on the outset, so naturally obsolescent. Could a mall last? Was it ever meant to? Walking the breadth of the mall, I felt no nostalgia, no regret. But I did feel giddy, as if I’d discovered a hiding place.

    What draws people like myself to dead malls is, I believe, a sense of deep privacy. In the ruins of a once-thriving mall, we get to feel hidden from the world outside, as if we’ve slipped through a pocket of space-time and into a place neither future nor past. We want to feel ourselves in a forgotten part of the present. In an era when each step we take is tracked by smart devices, when connectivity is at an all-time high, there is an immense relief in sidestepping into a place that feels mostly unmonitored. The feeling of being “unmonitored” may not be literal (even dead malls have a security guard or two), but it doesn’t matter.

    A dead mall isn’t just a mall that has ceased to function, it is the spiritual inverse of the mall. It is a place that has stopped pretending—pretending to be Vegas, pretending to be a Miami atrium, pretending to be a perfectly aerated and inoffensively Muzaked network of balmy stores—and, standing in a dead mall, you can cease pretending, too.


    Photography and video by Adam Golfer and TJ Proechel

    大豪门彩票

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