Category: November 8 (Page 2 of 3)

Monumental Revolutions

On Monday night, Professor Schnapp spoke regarding the value of monuments and their roles in revolution – not only during their time of establishment, but also establishment and through history. Do monuments really matter? Should they be left standing even if public values pertaining to the monument change? It is true that monuments often mark significant moments in history, such as the Marine Corps Memorial of Iwo Jima, or commemorate lost ones for their service, such as the Vietnam War Memorial – however, often monuments are taken down after a community changes their overall perception in values, such as taking down Joe Paterno’s monument after discovery of his wrongdoings. While we may no longer want to recognize one’s inappropriate actions, does taking down a historic monument speak equally to our values? By removing something we once stood for, we are pretending that it never existed, which is a obvious falsification, creating gaps in history. While a monument may no longer serve with the purpose of commemoration, I do not support the removal of monuments when there has been a change in values, as we must still recognize history to acknowledge when we, as a community (of whatever size), may be at fault. In modernity, should there be a method to alter an existing monument, if values change regarding the said monument – if so, whose liberty is it to change the monument, and how can it be changed? It is an incredibly valuable not to necessarily remove a monument, but rather acknowledge, and understand where faults with it may lie. Given that monuments are dependent on the time in which they are created, it is likely that a number of monuments will be erected during, and related to the presidency of Donald Trump. With a country so heavily divided, on whose authority should pertaining monuments be built, and if they don’t accurately represent the majority of views in such a large nation (which is impossible given a population of 300 million), how do we appease everyone? If a wall is built separating the United States and Mexico, per Donald Trump’s hopes, must be use this as a marker of our nation, and one representative of our views as a whole? Surely not, however does this mean it should not be acknowledge as a monument? There is also another layer with this example, as this monument serves a major purpose, and not one strictly of decoration and/or commemoration. It becomes much harder for those not in support, to turn a blind eye given the clear role of this monument. Monuments are important in understanding a community’s views at a very moment in time, however they mustn’t be taken as the values of an entire population.

Monument

Different people and scholars have different views on monuments. Some see it as a waste of space, especially in cities, where monuments and memorials are often devoted to the dead they provide less of a concrete service to the living. There’s also many different styles of monument, some grand and imposing like the Arc de Triomphe, and some much smaller. It is hard for me to parse out what makes one monument better than another, if there is such a metric. No matter what though, most modern monuments hold memories to stimulate a though or recollection in a way that seems permanent and unquestionable in scale, hardness and duration. That suggests to me that often the choice material would be stone. But even stone can be torn down or without maintenance be let back into the earth. At some point, will all monuments be forgotten, fade away, or turn into something unrecognizable? Probably so, but it can be a slow change. However, it is a much faster phenomenon for monuments on the “wrong side” of history.

When I think of a monument I think of something permanent that serves to provide a message through time. Being relatively young and alive now, I probably don’t have firsthand memories of what any given monument stands for. I also have my own unique background and so do others, so a monument may mean different things to different people—whether it stirs thoughts or stirs memory. However, overall, a monument will have an overarching message behind it that is collectively understood during a period of time. But Jeffrey Schanpp broached further interesting questions that I had never given much thought to: how does the meaning of a monument change over time, must a monument be permanent, and can a monument be reframed to become relevant again? My short answer to all three questions would now be: It’s complicated.

Schnapp and a team reimagined the Bolzano Victory Monument. He said the goal is to “extract a monument from the history of its genesis into a message of our time.” That’s an incredibly eloquent way of putting it, but also very descriptive. And often, he suggests, there is more value in critically reforming a monument to foster new engagement than to just destroy it and erase its memories from out time. I think I agree with him in most cases. If you had a monument to a truly horrible message then maybe not, but with something that can effectively educate us about the past and not let us forget something that still has relevance now and in the future, it is clearly worthwhile. However, I do understand that people from different backgrounds may have very negative connotations towards a monument or what it stands for, while other will be less affected and feel more objective having different experiences. Reframing a monument in an effective and respectful way can overcome some of this, as is the case with the Bolzano Victory Monument.

(im)permanence

Some day, the big cosmological clock will stop ticking. Mozart’s Requiem, Shakespeare’s plays, the Sistine Chapel, Einstein’s theory of relativity, all of Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, all of our libraries, museums, monuments, and buildings, even my name graffitied on my 6th grade locker will be forgotten and destroyed in our sun’s explosion. Everything we have worked so hard to create will be destroyed, the law of conservation of energy has no exceptions. These objects to which we have associated such deep significance are only arrangements of atoms in the larger scheme of the universe.

What happens to an object when it outlives its time period of significance? How can we preserve that? What does it mean? It seems as if everything we make has an expiration date if no one is around to interpret it anymore. Most items that outlast generations are forgotten in favor of novelty and contemporary objects, but a few of them are preserved in museums, libraries, and archives.

Museums, libraries, and archival buildings have always faced the challenge of forgetting. They become reservoirs of strength, of wisdom, and reminders of the continuity of the human existence in the face of our fast-paced lives. They urge us to slow down and appreciate objects and books instead of living in the Web. They remind us that all art was once contemporary, and the people who made it were just like us.

In our generation, where content is created with one click and physical objects seem to hinder us, the virtual world seems to rush past the physical one. Even considering our generational the bias towards the virtual, I always thought that having things as opposed to having thoughts provides a sense of permanence and longevity. This is the paradox of our times: trying to reconcile permanence with impermanence, and keeping those two ideas coexisting and contradicting each other. This urges a new take on what we consider permanent. The ubiquity of technology makes it easy to use it as a repository and a time machine, knowing that once it is online, it will be there “forever.” However, an entire generation has not lived and died with the internet yet, and we are still figuring out the consequences of storing everything digitally. and museums and libraries help us slow down.

Although museums and libraries seem futile in the future of the universe, they do not need to be. They might not be relevant to the universe, but they are relevant to us. They are a record of our existence, our past, present, and future—they are our graffiti  in one of the universe’s corner. Just because the sun is going to die one day does not mean we should give in to hopelessness and cynicism.

History as a Second Thought is Still History

Jeffrey Schnapp began his lecture with the question “what happens when a monument outruns its historical meaning?” Personally, I do not think a monument can completely lose its historical meaning, but its historical reference can become second thought. For all monuments, there is an underlying recognition that it was built to represent an event or a person/people, but the importance of monuments nowadays is to symbolize a place. I think it is safe to say that when someone see the L’arc de Triomphe they think of Paris first, not of the French soldiers who fought in the revolution, or when someone sees images of the towering Christ the Redeemer, they think of Rio de Janeiro before they recount scriptures. It is an unfortunate truth. So, how can we bring the historical meaning back to the forefront? Professor Schnapp presented one way, which was renovating a monument in ways that make history relevant again. While this is an effective strategy, it can only do so much. It is just time before the importance of the historical memories are once again replaced with the structure of the monument and the place in which it stands. Those famous monuments that were built to preserve and honor the memories of historical moments but are now known for more superficial ideas may be a lost cause, but perhaps this generation could learn something from that.

Professor Schnapp mentioned arguments against modern monuments, such as, how monuments are irrelevant to living humans and has no use for societies in modern civilizations. While I agree to some extent that it is worth asking if a monument in which living humans cannot occupy or use in any form of production should take up a city’s limited available land over a skyscraper, for example, I do not think we should, or could, eliminate monuments altogether. As societies, I think we want to commemorate significant moments in history that we do not think we could simply write them down in history books and leave it at that. And what grander gesture is there than to build something that could last centuries? I also would not say monuments are completely irrelevant to living humans. First, they bring in tourism. Second, that is almost like saying history is irrelevant to humans. Even though many people think of a monument’s historical meaning second to its structure or location, the historical meaning will always be connected to it. Whether it be through engraved names and dates or through the image it replicates. Monuments are reminders of historical moments that many of us otherwise would not think about. However, seeing both sides of the argument, I propose that we could incorporate modern use into monuments. For example, a monument honoring those who fought for our country could also be the headquarters for veteran support. That could be an example of a modern monument.

Revolutionary Monuments

When Professor Jeffrey Schnapp introduced the topic of the lecture, the preservation of monuments, the first thing came to my mind was “leave as it is”: preserve, or restore the historical site as how it was, not as how it might potentially be.

However, BZ ’18-’45 defied this convention about monument restoration. A project lead by Professor Jeffrey Schnapp, it re-envisions the Italian Fascist regime monument into an interactive, futuristic museum that makes its statement clear by embedding a large three-banded LED ring to the third column of the monument’s façade in order to alter the meaning of the monument.

A keyword in Professor Schnapp’s presentation was “contextualization”: the popular opinion about a monument shifts unpredictably and the message that a monument conveys could easily be altered by culture; therefore, a monument itself is not an effective tool to provide any historical context or meaning to the people. A monument, therefore, exists no higher than a fancy structure that carries little original information. By “appropriating” the monument BZ ’18-’45, Professor Schnapp introduces people with more information than the monument initially carries and attracts and educates more people than the monument initially intended. This is the new notion about monument restoration and many people would agree with me that it is a rather smart and innovative one.

Last summer I traveled with my friends to China and visited some of the most famous historic sites in the world: The Forbidden City, The Great Wall, and The Summer Palaces. The Forbidden City was partially preserved as it was and partially developed into museums displaying artworks and bronze crafts. However, there was not much interaction in the exhibitions which are mostly still objects locked up in glass boxes. There were only small windows open for people to peek into the preserved portions and with hundreds of people outside tip-toeing to peek in, we could barely immerse ourselves in the historical context of the Forbidden City. The Great Wall also follows the “preserve as it is” logic and the construction was underway to build a walkway so that people would no longer walk on The Great Wall itself. After our return we also read news about some towns attempted to restore the great wall by smoothing all the stairs into a slope using cement and concrete, completely altering The Great Wall’s appearance for the worse. For The Summer Palace, this preservation logic was used to the extreme: after the second opium war, the entire place was looted by the French and British; thousands of treasures were lost while buildings were burnt down and bridges destructed; only ruins remain. The ruins were intentionally preserved, rather than restored, to serve as a “patriotic lesson for the Chinese people” and to this day these historic events, including the first and second opium wars and colonization attempts still evoke strong emotional response among the Chinese people: with less investment and alteration, more people were educated in the way that the government desired and a strong, sometimes distorted patriotism and group identity were formed.

To conclude, the two approaches, preservation and innovation, should both serve the purpose of educating history in an objective, contextualized way, so that people walk away with better knowledge rather than blindly evoked emotional responses.

Black Panthers and the Radical Imagination

Stanley Nelson’s Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution covers one of the most tumultuous times in American history and one of the most controversial groups of the Civil Rights Era. The Black Panthers were one of the most radical and revolutionary social movements fighting for the rights of African Americans of its era. While the Southern States activist were fighting fire with love, compassion, and non-violence the Black Panthers were working with in a reality they deemed could not be changed without the protection of black people, the organization of strong community, the re-education of black people, and the reclamation of black pride.

The Black Panther’s initial message consisted of a ten point program that was deemed necessary for the emancipation of black people from the confines of white supremacy and the structures of inequality that African Americans have been historically and forcefully forced into. Self determination, full employment, reparations, housing, education, military exemption, end of police brutality, end of prison industrial, free and fair trial, and overall equality were the points of revolution for this group. Contrary to popular belief and the narrative shaping perpetrated by the US government the Black Panthers started out as a group that did not advocate for white hate or violence upon others but advocated for the basic rights put forth by our constitution and the material qualities necessary to live a peaceful life.

However, what made the Black Panther party so revolutionary was the ways that it advocated for the a decolonization of the mind of black people and the need to protect both the community and physical body from harm of white supremacy, whether that be the police or racist people. Armed African Americans in all leather gear, large afros, radical rhetoric, and bubbling confidence is what was scary. Unlike the Freedom riding activist of the south that fell so nicely and comfortably into the lives of white and black middle class people was not the case for this group. They stood outside the status quo and vowed for a complete redistribution of the material inequities that plages minority groups across the country and this meant first fighting this status quo through education and thinking outside of the limited theoretical confines of the civil rights movement.

Stanley Nelson captures both the swagger, radicalness, and impact on not only the political landscape in the ways that police, federal government, and intelligence agencies moved to suppress such a movement but its impact in the paradigm of black self respect and the push for a reorientation in the ways that black communities and latino communities looked at themselves in relation to white people. Specifically, Nelson captures the way that the Black Panther radically changed the way that black pride came to be. A pride that the Black Panthers disseminated with ease but also came to a swift end because of the power of such ideas in a country that was not ready for such power in the hands of a minority group.

Defining Revolutionary (or not so revolutionary) Monuments

Professor Jeffrey Schnapp of Harvard University discussed monuments and how a monument can sit on a thin line between being a revolutionary or an uncomfortable symbol. In his research and evidence he presented multiple examples of monuments and set up his presentation in a way that made it clear where the room for error comes from with the huge physical structures that are most monuments around the world. Monuments, while not uniform in physical form or expressive content, have the power to express and memorialize something that is revolutionary to something. However the issue with the revolutionary power embodied in these structures that most individuals fail to consider is what kinds of revolutions should and should not be memorialized in these structures?

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Destroying Monuments is Destroying History

What happens when a monument outruns its historic epic? Should it be destroyed, altered, or remain unchanged? One of the biggest critics of monument building, Lewis Mumford, said that by allowing architecture that has no meaning for the living, we are paying homage to the dead, and as a result turning our cities into tombstones. However, in my opinion, monuments of outdated significance should not be subjected to destruction. Just because they are no longer compatible with modern views, their historical significance should not be willingly forgotten.

 

Part of the problem I see with a desire to destroy monuments that represent old and outdated views or ideologies is that they are often monuments that are symbolic of what we consider as “bad”. Thus, whereas we have an inclination to revere monuments we see as “good”, we reject and want to destroy those we see as “bad”. But when we start to pick and choose and discern bad from good for ourselves, we run into a conflict to contradictory views, and while there may be a general consensus as to which one is good and which one is bad, it doesn’t warrant that the “bad” monument should be destroyed. If, as a society we are going to allow a particular view, then we must allow competing views as well or else we are guilty of hypocrisy and censorship. The same holds true for destruction of monuments. In my opinion, we cannot justify the destruction of a monument we perceive as “bad “ with reasons and arguments. While they our arguments may be valid, they are not sufficient causes to revere one monument more than the other. For instance, if a modern community (that is mostly Christian) wants to erect a monument to God or Jesus or one of His Disciples, they are completely within their right to do so. They breach their rights however when they forbid other monuments from being built because they represent conflicting views. Similarly, they too breach their rights when they destroy monuments that represent conflicting views. If, for example, there is a small following of Judaism or Satanism within the predominantly Christian community, they too have the right to have monuments symbolic of their beliefs even though they challenge Christianity.

 

The Monumento alla Vittoria faces the aforementioned dilemma. Mussolini had it built on an abandoned monument site in Austria to symbolize their victory in World War 1. It became symbolic of the fascist movement, which is no longer fitting with modern Italy.

 

The solution agreed upon was to alter, not destroy, the monument. In a play on history, a ring was added to one of the monument’s pillars as to poke fun at the idea of Fascism wherein the individual was wedded to the state. What right did the government and organizations that spear-headed the effort have to change the monument? Since it was impossible to confer with Mussolini, they took it upon themselves to determine what the monument would stand for. The monument was changed because of one reason, and that is that the powers at be in Italy did not want anything to associate them to Fascism. However why should this warrant the change (and an ugly change if I do say so myself) to the monument? They had no right to put the ring on the monument. They could have expressed their view by building another monument, or constructing a sign outside the monument that expressed their discontent with what the monument stands for. All of these viable options were disregarded simply because Fascism is outdated.

 

The historical significance of the Monumento alla Vittoria was smeared, degraded, and vandalized by modern society because its message didn’t coincide with the current views society values. What this is then, is trying to rewrite history. By changing and destroying monuments we consider “bad”, we are literally taking away the physical manifestation of history in exchange for a view that better suits modern society. There are other ways to voice discontent for a certain view or ideology without censoring it or destroying it. Thus, in response to Lewis Mumford, I think that our cities are becoming tombstones because we destroy old monuments. The views they harbor are killed, and replaced with ones we agree with.

Monuments and Their Role in History/Our Election

In Jeffrey Schnapp’s lecture on monuments he spoke about the role of monuments in modern history and how monuments became so abundant and also why they were so frequently scrutinized by the public of their respective nation. Professor Schnapp began his lecture with a discussion of what we consider a modern monument. The definition he provided was that a modern monument was “a commemorative statue that marks a time or memory,” and he gave the example of the Arc de Triomphe. He stated the the Industrial Revolution is truly what gave rise to the abundance of monuments we have today. This definition of monuments and their development during the Industrial Revolution relates directly to our political scene. It was made clear by Professor Schnapp that monuments were directly related to their country’s leader at the time and also to history at the time. This can be compared to Trumps victory of the presidency and its relation to the media coverage he received during the election. Now that he has become the president-elect he plans to build a massive monument along our southern border in his wall. This just goes to show how history at the time and the media coverage Trump received during the campaign and in general surrounding his role in politics were directly related to a new monument that is going to be built in our country.

 

Another topic Professor Schnapp discussed was specifically the Victory Monument in Bolzano, Italy that was built on top of where the old monument was with the stones from it as well. It was built originally as a dedication to the soliders of WWI and now has been turned into a museum with inscriptions like “here at the fatherland’s border, plant the banners. From here we enlighten others with language, law, and the arts.” The most controversial aspect of the transformation of the historic monument was the digital ring put around one of the massive pillars in the front of the monument. This originally sparked controversy and protest from many people including the mayor of Bolzano. I thought this was especially interesting that a monument could be just altered and changed so drastically as putting a ring around a column and ruining its symmetry in the front, even when people such as the mayor were protesting it. This monument has since become a piece of architecture that has brought much tourism and leads to many people traveling there just to visit this particular museum and monument. I thought this related to our assumptions about human nature and how we think about things, because this is a major monument in Italy’s history and although it now bring much tourism to the area and boosts the economy, it still has been vandalized in a way and is never quite the same in terms of its pure stunning architecture. This relates to peoples assumptions about human nature because even though according to Professor Schnapp the mayor of Bolzano originally was opposed to the ring on the column, he was eventually convinced that it was okay because of the benefits and clear success the transformation of the monument had been. This can be drawn in to the definition of a monument itself and how although it is a mark of time or history, it does not necessarily need some unique form of respect or admiration, for it truly only represents one leader, of one nation, of one time period in our vast human history. This can again be tied into our current political scene, and how much of our country is protesting and against having Trump as their president, and yet he is going to create a massive monument that will probably remain as a part of history for many years. Many are against Trump’s comments he has made and will not tolerate him leading their country, but at the same time he is now the president-elect and plans to create a massive monument of a wall along our southern border. This shows how monuments can truly be created regularly in our modern time and can be altered in our modern time, but this does not mean they are necessarily a representation of an entire nation’s thoughts or wishes. This also shows how although monuments can be highly important to an area and can be huge in terms of counting towards historical records, and how they generally tie into the political scene and the leadership scene of a nation at that point in history.

Remembering the Past

In Jeffrey Schnapp’s lecture, he makes a compelling argument on the subject of curating and revitalizing monuments in the modern age. Throughout the 20th century, the rise of fascism in Europe led to an epidemic of radically different monuments with stark aesthetics that marked an ominous development in world history. With the fall of fascism, the monuments still remained, and the question arose of what to do with these monuments that signified a dark time in history. I found his solution of what to do with the monument in a small town in Italy very interesting. His “wedding ring” addition to the column does exactly what it is meant to: get a conversation going about what the monument means and how we remember the past.

However, while debates surrounding controversial monuments have certainly become a hot button issue in the 20th and 21st centuries, controversial monuments are nothing new to human society. Humans have been creating monuments for as long as recorded human history, and even before recorded history, and monuments in the past could be just as controversial as in modern times. For example, in Ancient Greece, Greeks put up all sorts of monuments for important things. After the Peloponnesian War, which was a series of conflicts between rival Greek city states, mainly Athens and Sparta, hostilities resumed between Sparta, the foremost infantry-based military power of the Greek city states, and their allies, and a coalition of Thebes, a state that had recently rose to prominence, and their allies. In the battle, the Theban commander, Epaminondas, employed a radically different battle formation, which resulted in a decisive Theban victory, and crippled the Spartan’s military abilities to a point from which they never truly recovered. After the battle, the Thebans erected a monument to their victory at Leuctra in the form of a large column with Greek shields carved into it, as well as more complex elements, which have since crumbled into ruins. While it may seem perfectly normal to create a monument to victory, the monument of Leuctra was very controversial at the time, and came under a fair amount of criticism. This was because ancient Greeks typically did not erect permanent monuments for their victories against fellow Greeks due to a tradition of Panhellenic values. They did, however, erect permanent monuments for victories against non-Greek enemies, such as their victories against the Persian Empire at Marathon, Thermopylae, and Plataea. Erecting the monument at Leuctra signaled an erosion of the customs binding Greeks together, which had been stressed to the breaking point during the Peloponnesian War, and would not heal for some time.

Overall, I enjoyed Schnapp’s lecture. I also found that his answers to the questions regarding monuments to colonialists on college campuses very reasonable. It seems that there is a trend on college campuses to erase history without regard for the context in which historical figure lived, and it’s refreshing to hear someone so invested in this field to advocate for having a more open conversation regarding this subject.

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