Wednesday, 25 July 2007

A Moment of Silence

Before, I mentioned that the formation of a monument disrupts the broader landscape, such that the sculpting of place relies on the moment of gathering. The question arises of how this disruption gives room to silence. To phrase the presence of a monument as an embodiment of silence risks conflating metaphor with materiality. Yet it is precisely the appearance of the monument as an aural and more broadly sensible event which is of importance. Of course, this relationship between memory, silence, and commemoration is a lieux de mémoire in its own right, as Pierre Nora rightly puts it: “the observance of a commemorative minute of silence, an extreme example of a strictly symbolic action, serves as a concentrated appeal to memory by literally breaking a temporal continuity” (p. 19).

Note that in the case of the commemorative minute of silence, the seizure of time elicits the immanence of what is being remembered. In other words, in stopping to remember, the attention is not drawn toward the past, as though the past was located spatially and temporally elsewhere. Rather, the presence of the now is shown to be constituted by the persistence of an event that has already occurred. The marking of silence, then, is at once an attentive and physical gesture, whereby the cessation of activity commands the marking of memory. This reliance on a contextual break in time affords the emergence of silence to become pronounced. Not being bound by location, the collective silence transcends space, implicating a response far wider than that of a specified location.

It is for this reason that the visual appearance of collective silence coheres in an uncanny manner: presenting a sentiment ritualistically performed, which at the same time disturbs the order of a given timescale. The approximate synchronicity of the action leads to both a diminishment of subjectivity and a suspension of social regularity. Taken together, these forces produce a scene in which the limits, lawfulness, and legitimacy of place is shown to be ultimately contingent. What has so far been regarded as occupying a normative state—motion, distance, and anonymity—suddenly disperse.

In the dispersion, the existence of others assumes a presence rendered explicit in the silence. To commemorate means, therefore, to be joined with others in a non-anonymous mode of collectivity, that, nonetheless, attests to the existence of an event anonymous to the present. As a result of this gathering of public intentionality, the unfolding of the present is momentarily suspended. In its place, the past is given room to breathe into the present.

Monday, 23 July 2007

Monumentality and Space

"But if I see before me the nervature of past life in one image, I always think that this has something to do with truth." (Sebald).

In his article “Art and Space,” Heidegger states that: “Sculptured structures are bodies. Their matter, consisting of different materials, is variously formed. The forming of it happens by demarcation as setting up an inclosing and excluding border. Herewith, space comes into play” (p. 121). In the context of the monument, how does this demarcated border give space for the embodiment of silence? The question of landscape, silence, and monumentality seems central here, insofar as the monument offsets and disrupts the landscape.

Consider how the gateway to a monument serves to both delimit the geometrical borders of land and to offset the entrance to the site as an event within the encompassing environment. As a result, the interaction between world beyond the enclosed gate and the place which opens itself up within the gate underscores the predetermined significance of the monument. Put aside from the surrounding world, yet simultaneously looking toward the encompassing world, in spatial terms, the monument negotiates between inclusion and exclusion: inclusive of the world central to its commemoration, yet exclusive of a memory independent of the surrounding world.

Of course, for the most part, monuments remain concealed within the landscape, reduced to spatial beacons. Even if this levelling down of space is endemic, then the relationship between embodiment and silence remains unsolved. For Heidegger, “clearing-away” marks the opening of dwelling, whereby “a happening at once speaks and conceals itself” (p. 122). Place gathers, as Heidegger has it. Its power is not that of the strictly Aristotelian notion of containment, but an opening of regions, the “free expanse” (p. 123). In this respect, sculpture, for Heidegger, is the making of place: “an embodying bringing-into-the-work of places, and with them a disclosing of regions of possible dwellings for man, possible tarrying of things surrounding and concerning man” (p. 124).

In a different direction, Lefebvre counters Heidegger’s onus on disclosure and spatiality by underscoring the unifying role of the monument: “Monumental space offered each member of a society an image of that membership, an image of his or her social visage” (p. 139). Here, too, the monument as a space in which presence becomes disrupted by the (silent) commemoration of memory, is effectively effaced by a social assimilation. The social status of the monument—as a public marker—elevates a particular place to the point of atemporality, such that the surrounding world becomes implicated in that zone of non-time, so fusing the scene of the monument with the surrounding and history of the world.

As to the question of monumentality, memory, and silence: if the monument serves to break time, then it does so only by remaining complicit with a static formation of memory. The monument offset in the landscape, enclosed by the gate, stands alone as an object beyond the built environment. The production of meaning, is not simply symbolic, but also involves a geometrical interplay between absence and presence. The encounter is, ideally speaking, a disjunction, a moment of discovery in which the world is broken up “with the fullness of swelling curves suspended,” so Lefebvre writes,” in a dramatic emptiness” (p. 142). The interplay makes silence possible: as space commemorates the silence of memory, so the emptiness of the past reverberates into the presence of the now.