Memorials and meaning

Seeing the photo in today’s paper of the new Pentagon 9/11 memorial, I am wondering about the trend in “funerary architecture” of creating memorials with individual identical pieces for individual dead. It didn’t start with 9/11 (Oklahoma City comes to mind) but it does seem like a relatively new emphasis. There is a recently completed Holocaust memorial in Germany that does the same, although of course only symbolically (although with that event, I think conveying the sheer numbers of murdered is an imperative). But, with other disasters, we seem to be seeing more and more of “X number of people died, so we must have X number of pieces to the memorial…” But what does that mean?

In elder days, a single memorial usually stood for commemoration of a single tragedy or crime (which may have taken many individual lives). Is it because we were more able to assign tribal, religious or nationalistic meaning to the deaths of a mass of individuals; that they represented something other than just themselves? Today, perhaps we feel individuals in a mass no longer add up to anything greater than themselves. So we feel they all have to be individually represented… except, we really don’t know who they were, how they felt, what they wanted or what they stood for at the time of their deaths… so we just turn out an exact number of somber, identical pieces into a memorial desert, and call it peace.

4 Replies to “Memorials and meaning”

  1. I think maybe memorials that list names, of which there are bazillions, have a similar tone. The wall or shrine or monument may be a single unit, but the names are what’s really important, at least to the individual mourners. What these new pieces do is to emphasize the stark aloneness of death, much as the endless, identical tombstones at Flanders or Arlington do.

  2. When I read your (fantastic post), it made me think of this particular excerpt:

    “In some ways, these canisters serve a double betrayal: a man or woman left alone, in a labyrinth of medication, prey to surveillance and other inhospitable indignities, only then to be wed with metal, robbed of form, fused to a lattice of unliving minerals – anonymous.”

    ” – as if staring into unlabeled graves, monolithic and metallized, stacked on shelves in a closet – the tragic howl of reduction to nothingness, people who once loved, and were loved, annihilated?”

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