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.