Posts Tagged ‘’

Story Telling Time

November 27, 2011

            Monuments. The memorials, remembrances of a life, lives or events gone by. Works of will made to withstand the everyday that ultimately erases, erodes and obliterates what is deemed significant (the everyday of The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera). The Column of Trajan, a 3D account of Trajan’s exploits from a time when the only 3D movie experience to be had was while sleeping (no glasses needed). Maya Lin’s list of names on reflective marble literally sunk into the real estate of our nation’s capital. GPS assists in accounting for ownership of each square meter of that real estate, as the Wall Street Occupiers have learned. Public space is not but it “belongs” to someone, even if it is the public’s in name only. And so recent memorials and monumental endeavors are scarce and few, for reasons as profound as agreement as to what is significant (to remember) to as mundane as the lack of financial resources to build and maintain the edifices. Recent memorials have been designed around chairs and benches (signifying the absence of the loss). One suspects it could also have as much to do with our culture’s emphasis on multi tasking and user friendly function.

            Memory today is about something else (other than the subject) embodying the significance, much as an icon or idol was once believed to “embody” a spirit or value (such as the flag of a country “embodies” that country’s vitality). A contemporary Column of Trajan would now be located online, virtual, in cyberspace. No disagreeing that texts, images, documents, photo’s, video, movies, technical readouts, etc. are all significant. Storage in the cloud is cheaper and easier to maintain (and, ostensibly, totally accessible). A recent Christmas TV ad for electronic communication devices capitalizes on the “absence” of the soldier father becoming a real embodied presence through his toddler’s interaction with his “being” on a tablet. One can almost imagine a perverse movie script about a child growing up believing that her father is an image on a screen (and not knowing any better).

            What of the unimagined, the elided when speaking of soldiers and war? Are they to be forgotten? A study out of Switzerland at the latter part of the 20th century (during the Balkan conflict) found that civilian deaths far outnumber those of the military in today’s armed conflicts (chances of survival favor those in the military. This says something depressingly accurate about the current conflict in Somalia). Prior to the American Civil War, military deaths outnumbered those of civilian casualties in organized armed conflicts. That war marked a stasis. With the First World War the balance shifted, with the Second it started to be lop sided, with Viet Nam and beyond it took on proportions like 100:1 civilian deaths to soldier’s. Today? Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died, were maimed or disappeared during the conflict that is now “winding down” with a final American withdrawal (save for “some trainers and advisers”). We mourn our lost, in countless local monuments and memorials to those who “have served and made the ultimate sacrifice”. But what of the Iraqi civilians? Again, disagreement over significance as well as the economics of a devastated country constrains such an expression of memory. The summer 2011 Critical Inquiry (Vol. 37, No. 4) features an article entitled Virtual Commemoration: The Iraqi Memorial Project. It is the contemporary monument, by Joseph DeLappe (no glasses needed).

            Historic fact is determined by economic necessity. Little did Marx imagine the incredibly creative ways used to accomplish this. It all works as long as no one pulls the plug on the cloud. In that event, it is back to story telling time.