Memory - Space - Politics: Public Memorial and the Problem of Political JudgmentPublic Deposited
Late twentieth-century architecture is increasingly charged with the task of constructing sites of meaning that generate awareness and understanding in the wake of catastrophic historical events. My dissertation explores the challenges of memorializing these events, in order to recover the importance of memory for politics. Insisting on the role of public memorial as a site of democratic practice, my work questions the dominant discourse that informs and directs acts of memorialization. That is, a discourse that circumscribes remembrance and forgetting as either a politics of memory, in which the meaning of an event is imposed on a particular community, or as its attendant ethics, in which one or more communities is obliged to remember, most often for the purpose of collective instruction. Theorizing the meaning of community in the representational strategies of public memorial, I ask: What kinds of memorials enable plurality and political speech? What kinds disable and silence? Which practices of remembrance are best suited to the events they want to memorialize, as well as to the imperatives of our own political present? Do these practices consolidate meaning, or do they provoke the kind of critical questioning that is essential to democracy? To recover the importance of memory for politics, I develop a distinctively political idiom for talking about public memorial. I draw from the texts of Walter Benjamin, Hannah Arendt, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Theodor Adorno to show how memory energizes our ability to think, judge, and act in the face of a past that can be neither forgotten nor changed. While these thinkers provide me with theoretical resources, I ground my readings in contemporary memorial architecture. Each site casts an individual perspective on the events it sets out to represent, and thus offers a singular notion of what it means to remember. It is not my intention to establish a paradigm out of a particular field of memory, but to bring each act of memorial into conversation with the theoretical texts in order to ask how space enables and disables practices of reflective judgment constitutive of human plurality and democratic community.