This week’s readings on memorials by Erika Doss and Scott Sandage were really thought provoking and made me reconsider past readings from previous classes, especially Trouillot’s Silencing the Past. What I would like to address is the inherent nature of the memorial. It is a material, physical object imbued with complex and conflicting memories of an important event or figure meant to outlast the constraints of human mortality and memory loss. To stand the test of time, memorials are unchanging, fixtures of the national or communal landscape; a rigid and tidy keepsake of memories meant to be viewed from a distance. And, yet, what puzzles me is that the very nature of the events or figures that we tend to memorialize is their significance and the reverberations they send into the future. If we memorialize a moment in time, do we shift the responsibility of remembering onto a material object and shrug off the burden and the implications of these memories? Once a memorial is constructed and finalized, do we then write off that memory and its future consequences?
Trouillot discusses this problem when he addresses Disney’s potential slavery-theme park. By making a theme park to commemorate slavery, Disney, he posits, was rendering slavery to an isolated and distant time in the past, not an atrocity that has had continuous consequences into the present. A theme park in of itself is meant to serve as another realm of reality, but is not our American reality still impacted by the legacy of slavery?
Sandage’s also grapples with this problem, as did we during Matt’s presentation on MLK, when he writes, “King’s induction into the pantheon of official memory threatens to construct a new national savior whose work is, of course, finished” (165). Does King’s memorial serve as proof that the civil rights struggle can now be relegated to the past? This, I believe, is the dangerous nature of the memorial; it tends to freeze a moment in time.