Objectified Memory. Mutations of Monumentality in Post Historical Cosmopolitics 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.
Introduction What is Monumentality? Hyper-monumentality: Flagship and Fossil Sub-monumentality: Imaginaries of the outdated Unsuspected Memorials Conclusions: for a topological notion of Monumentality
Abstract: Canonical definitions of Monumentality tend to posit the commemorative ritual at the core of the monument’s essence: the physicality of the Totemic object dilutes the boundary between representation and active performance, giving rise to a complex process of agglutination whereby the shared recognition of the Monument is in itself the unnoticed rite that allows individuals to affirm their belonging to a social corpus. As the primary representation of society’s collective imaginary, the monument –may it be architectonic or not- operates as the political foundation of a communal “spirit” that modulates the ways in which its participants deal with the symbolic significance of objects. Such a process is highly determined by the commemoration of historical events, in a dialectical course between the local and the global, the individual and the communal, presence and representation, the present and the eternal, This paper tries to open the debate for a reconsideration of monumentality within post historical temporality and metropolitan –and global- spatiality. A very complex topic that is liable to be approached from certain contemporary epistemological standpoints that evaluate Identity –the monument’s essential core- from a more diachronic and dynamic perspective, than classical surveys on the same issue. Keywords: Monumentality, identity, ritual, memory, semiotics, post history, cosmopolitics,
1. Introduction Even if there’s not a univocal paradigm, most contemporary epistemology has long established the dogma that everything is ultimately flux. From actor-network sociology to developmental biology, from neuroscience surveys on the brain’s plasticity to architectural theory’s obsession with transitions and mutations, the Heraclitean River and its postulate of the metaphysical centrality of Becoming –as opposed to Parmenides´ monolithic Being-, seems to be the most accepted metaphor for apodictic knowledge criteria nowadays. However, contradicting Marx’s slogan that “all that is solids melts into air” 1, the post-historical city still has to deal with the insistent and intriguing presence of objects that are tightly reluctant to be demolished, erased or even merely transformed: the Monuments. While most geographers and urban analysts describe the territory as a network of relations in perpetual transformation, the monuments exhibit a strong resilience due to their capacity to change their significance in accordance with the dynamical identity of the community that guards them. Monumentality –as an imaginary instance- is dialectical and fluid, although the monument –as a material, physical object- is apparently freeze in time, perpetually unmoved and immutable. Amid the metropolitan maelstrom and its cannibalistic primacy of processes and relations upon identities, monumental urban spaces -hieratic footprints from ancient cultures, symmetrically fictional and factual-, seem to operate as some sort of identity anchor that signifies the amalgam of reminiscences that renders the city comprehensible both for its inhabitants and its visitor. The 1 Objectified memory. Mutations of monumentality in post historical cosmopolitics
cognitive and semiotic nuances of Monumentality deserve to be rethought from a radically posthistorical standpoint, evaluating its accordance with a world in which the “tradition of the new”2 has developed intricate strategies for the management of the outdated. Reception theory can be posited as an effective intellectual tool to evaluate the complex auratic phenomena surrounding monumentality, since monuments are paradoxical objects in which aesthetics, politics and ontology collide giving birth to interesting modes of socialization and shared symbolization. This paper is an attempt to review certain features of monumentality by considering the phenomenological processes of meaning production, identification and group consolidation it involves by a never ending dynamic dialectic of encoding and decoding, or transcoding, of special interest now that all metropolises went global and virtual. 2. What is monumentality? Most common definitions of monumentality are fuzzy and imprecise, as if there was an intuitively comprehensible significance for what a monument actually is: a spatial landmark inherited from the past, which operates – voluntarily or not- as the remembrance of some remarkable person, idea or event worthy of imaginary perpetuation. From this perspective, the monument obtains its essential functionality from its historical value: its intellectual content is fully produced by the accumulation and representation of the passage of time upon it. But far from being merely a piece of an anthropological archive, an archaeological trophy that gives testimony of cultural forms from disappeared civilizations, monumentality has historically been considered the illustration of eternity, or the radical continuity between past, present and future. That’s the main feature of its key property, which is commemoration: the celebration of common memories as the roots of a society’s consistency. From a Hegelian position3, the monument is thus the fundamental political device, for it’s indispensable for a Nation to exist as such. Globalization has completely subverted the former distribution of national identities, so that the clearcut Hegelian notion of Zeitgeist as a consensual “spirit of the time” own to each populace, has been superseded by a cluster of Zeitgeists that coexist simultaneously on a global basis and can no longer be located spatiotemporally. Gilles Deleuze4 described this thriving milieu as an assemblage, where unity has given way to plurality, and the extensive has been surpassed by the intensive. If the Body without organs is opposed to organization, may the emergent body politic nowadays be at odds with Monuments –the primer organizational device of a State’s dogmatic ideology, previous even to written law. But as long as individuals insist on meeting, gathering, sharing imaginaries and co-producing meanings, monumentality remains –for the human identity is essentially based on common semiotic codes, and hence on group memory. In order to illustrate the anthropological importance of monumentality, we can refer to Michel Serres´ book Statues. Le second livre des foundations 5, in which the French philosopher traces the origin of mankind’s gnoseological capacity to conceive the eternal and the transcendental, namely, that which is above and beyond time. Serres asks the reason why even the most primitive civilizations - precarious and poor societies, undergoing strenuous hardship to get food and live peacefully- devoted so many material and intellectual efforts to the production of statuesque figures, which apparently would have no immediate use value. The answer would be, according to the author, that the statue functions as a substitute for the corpse, because it can serve as a vessel in which the person’s transcendental identity may be embodied eternally and safe from nature’s corrosive power, from the perennial cycle of organic destruction and subsequent creation. Serres takes into account that primitive societies were still embedded in the natural cycle of life and death, and consequently assumed that every existent being is subjected to the necessity of its own disappearance. A “soul”, “spirit” or “eternal identity” was therefore unconceivable as pure idea detached from an immanent incarnation: when somebody dies, his corpse falls apart and becomes part of the undifferentiated organic substance of nature from which it once emerged. But the statue’s imperturbability opens the possibility to think otherwise: since it’s apparently incorruptible, it allows for the conception of some transcendental domain of reality where substances may be immune to the 2 Objectified memory. Mutations of monumentality in post historical cosmopolitics
corrosive power of time. The imperturbability of the statue –as opposed to the finitude of the corpse-, unchained the cognitive big bang that allowed mankind to conceive eternity, or identities as extemporaneous, immortal substances. This powerful peculiarity of the statue rendered it henceforth a key political item, since it was susceptible of being used as the symbol of an eternal authority: if the king’s spirit could be perpetuated in its statuesque embodiment, his authority may equally be posited as an eternal Law beyond time, and immune to disappearance. Symmetrically to this fundamentally cognitive process, if the statue is the representation of the eternal existence of a person’s authority, the Monument is the object by which a community guarantees its continuity over time by the loyalty to some shared symbols that base the National identity. A monument is originally the statue of an event that grounds and fixes the self image of a community, propitiating the constitution of a Nation or “a State” in the Hegelian sense. That crucial moment could be posited as the birth of Architecture as a cultural semiotic practice: the production of iconic buildings that are called to be above and beyond the life of individuals, and the symbol of the community’s transcendental endurance over generations. Monuments represent the collective memory and identity to the same extent that the statue represents the individual ones. Both of them enabled the political usage of transcendental metaphysics, since they illustrated the idea of permanent, fixed and imperturbable authority. Firstly they promoted the regimes of thanatocracy –the governance by the dead- but were quickly appropriated by all kinds of political structures destined to continue over time. From this perspective, monumentality is not necessarily related to long-term antiquity: his fundamental function is to serve as the scenario of commemoration. Its true utility depends therefore upon the political validity of the narratives it represents. The monument is not the testimonial, sterile corpse of past events that passed away, but the living body that ensures the continuity of the collective symbolic implications of those events. They are not metaphors, but totemic entities, immanent realities that doesn’t operate as passive reminiscences but as performative political devices. Most studies on Monumentality have nevertheless been posited from the field of aesthetics, inasmuch as the monument is often classified under the anthropological category of “Art”, often dismissing its political basis: its primary aim is to guarantee the equivalence of Tradition and Authority, by linking a Nation’s inter subjectivity to a fixed code of significations. Walter Benjamin had famously warned about the dangers of “the aestheticization of politics” 6, but he didn’t seem to realize that monuments have been doing it for centuries. In this regard, the blurry distinction between Monument and Memorial confirms that in any case their paramount role is to posit collective remembrances as the roots of communal identity. In order to comprehend the deep interlacement between a community’s shared identity and the monuments they produce and recognize as their own, Sigmund Freud’s theory o the psyche may be of interest. In a very remarkable quote he notoriously stated that “(the superego) is a memorial of the former weakness and dependence of the ego” 7. According to psychoanalysis, the whole structure of the ego is grounded on fundamental traumatic events that operate as referential landmarks for the individual’s identity. By enlarging this perspective to the Hegelian notion of the State –the Spirit of the community-, we get to the conclusion that the Monument –as memorial presence of outstanding past events- is indissoluble from the commemoration it produces around… According to Freud, trauma sets the basis for the structure of the self –in this case, a collective self- determining the way in which subsequent events are managed and dynamically incorporated to the experiential identity. Seminal painful or pleasant experiences set therefore the basis for the whole narrative structure of a body politic (both at a conscious and unconscious level), and hence operate as the primary prejudice to the reception of successive phenomena and their ulterior acquisition of meaning. The way in which a community recognizes itself as grounded on the remembrance invoked by a monument is surprisingly immune to changes in particular governments, or even in governmental structures. The kind of temporal continuity provided by these spatial symbols has more to do with the general epistemic configurations of a civilization than with the particular political institutions that seek to monopolize them. In terms of Stuart Hall´s Reception Theory 8, the so-called “hegemonic or dominant position” may have its deepest roots in what Johann Gottfried Herder and other German 3 Objectified memory. Mutations of monumentality in post historical cosmopolitics
philosophers of Romanticism called the Volkgeist 9, namely, a quintessential collective Spirit quietly perpetuated over the centuries and stronger than contingent situations of a particular time. But such hegemonic Volkgeist is not static but dynamic, and subjected to ongoing reevaluation and critical transformation. The monument is likely to change its meaning, the narrative core of its representations, so that most new political regimes have often tried to reconfigure the aura of a Memorial in order to appropriate it: using a computational parallel, its meaning can be reset and reloaded, or at least updated to a more efficient edition. This semiological vivacity evidence de Monument’s essential openness to the future, or a degree of indeterminacy in its meaning that allows it to overcome potential obsolescence. From a more nominal, Lacanian perspective Monuments are therefore what Ernesto Laclau has called “floating signifiers” 10: empty symbols whose meaning change over time as events go by, and whose ideological content evolves in parallel with the hegemonic subjectivity of the populace that embrace them. Therefore, monumentality doesn’t deal with fixed and frozen significations, but rather with the continuous process of meaning evolution and inter subjective mutability, ruled by very complex identity dynamisms. Such evolvement has often been studied according to historicity methodologies, disregarding the crucial disruption in the notion of “history” inherent to the process of globalization, remarkably at a political level: tradition seems no longer to be a legitimate argument for effective authority, and consequently Monuments have become objects of auratic seduction rather than dogmatic authoritarian imposition. One of the canonical theories on the study of monuments is Alois Riegl´s 1903 essay “The Modern Cult of Monuments: Its Character and Its Origin” 11, in which he states the difference between intentional and unintentional monumentality. The intentional ones would be those that satisfy Riegl´s strict definition of the monuments as “(…) in its oldest and most original sense is a human creation, erected for a specific purpose of keeping single human deeds or events alive in the minds of future generations”. This statement establishes the commemorative function as a necessary condition for the monument to exist, but he later proposes that every ancient building, even if it was constructed with no representative purpose, becomes a monument for the Modern beholder simply by virtue of its antiquity. Riegl therefore distinguishes the original use value (that of commemoration) from modern art value, by which any historical object may obtain cultural relevance simply for its aesthetic usage, devoid of true political significance. But Riegl´s discrimination, based on the intentionality behind the original existence of the monument, is irrelevant if we accept the concept of the monument as a “floating signifier”: it doesn’t matter the original scope of a building, but the modes and circumstances under which it is incorporated into contemporary collective subjectivity. In this regard, Reception Theory is highly controversial with the statement of any clear and universal art value, for it has to be produced and negotiated according to the implicit prescriptions of the hegemonic position that determines what “art value” actually is, and the cultural legitimacy of each artefact. In a very paradoxical way, we may draw the conclusion that Monumentality is the only argument by which modernity can legitimate the persistence of ancient objects –that are in many cases devoid of de facto use value-: by reckoning the implicit cultural otherness derived from its essential anachronism. Riegl tacitly posits monumentality as the purely aesthetical quality of the outdated: cultural or art value may then be what remains when every other kind of value fades away. The ethics of Modernity –as a disruption of tradition-, is disabled to appraise the political legitimacy that the monument once had. “The Modern Cult of Monuments” thus offers inadvertently a compelling outline of the way in which the modern “tradition of the new” has reduced long-term collective historical narratives to myth. The monument is respected and cherished only by virtue of some very fuzzy – and apparently apolitical- “cultural value” directly proportional to its otherness and, furthermore, to its mundane picturesqueness. 3. Hyper-monumentality: Flagship and Fossil The definition of the monument as a commemorative symbol requires the individual’s self identification with the narratives the monument brings about and its solemnized meaning: to admit a 4 Objectified memory. Mutations of monumentality in post historical cosmopolitics
monument’s authority is to accept its constituent “truth” from an endogenous point of view, namely, to recognize the legitimacy of the community that is coalesced around. It has to be assumed as reality beyond myth. If the post-historical epoch is –as many Hegelians have posited 12- the plenitude of modernity’s break with historical continuity, the contemporary use of monuments is in many ways anti-monumental: mass tourism and cosmopolitan travellers have transformed the experience of monumentality into a purely sensorial and aesthetical delight, free from ideological empathy. The invoked stories and commemorated events act as a contingent connotation of the monument’s singularity, but in any case are respected as legitimate political milestones. Namely, one can enjoy the Notre Dame cathedral without necessarily being catholic, for cathedrals are not only monuments of Christianity, but rather of the general history of mankind. Deleuze and Guattari described this loss of meaning by claiming the commonality of pure sensation, as if the bodily impression of the monument on the spectator’s cognitive apparatus would explain the resilient appeal of the Memorial, and its capacity to propitiate fellowship: “A monument does not commemorate; it does not celebrate some past event but it confides to the ears of the future the enduring sensations that give it its body: the ceaselessly revived suffering of men, their renewed protest, their relentlessly resumed struggle. Would everything be vain because the suffering is eternal and the revolutions don’t survive their victory? But the success of a revolution only lies in itself, precisely in the vibrations, the embraces and the openings that it gave to human beings at the time of their happening and that make up a monument which is constantly evolving, like those tumuli to which each new visitor brings a stone.” 13 After the globalization, monuments are trans-local and trans-cultural: they no longer belong to the particular community whose collective affections they illustrate, but they rather belong to the newborn political instance that is Mankind in general –the only legitimate populace in the post-historic era. According to Laclau’s analysis of the floating signifier, any community –and any Nation- must be constructed in dialogical relation to its outside. Commonality is constructed oppositionally, by the production of boundaries, by means of totemic symbols that delimit and articulate the extension of the community, both in the domains of physical spatiality and ideological subjectivity. Henceforth, the monument’s essential commitment is to locate the community’s hegemonic semiosphere 14 into space, namely, to give form and signify the specificity of the Local – as opposed to the universal. In a sense, then, monumentality establishes the basis for the deployment of the privacy shared by the members of a community –a privacy that constitutes its fundamental feature. The problem of the boundaries between specific forms of locality is one of the most controversial developments of the globalization process that started after World War II. Monumentality was one of the first legislative issues ensued on a planetary scale by global institutions, especially after the creation of the UNESCO and its universal guardianship of what had previously been local, private cultural manifestations 15. Surprisingly, the laws produced by international organizations to manage each culture monument established as fundamental axiom the pooling of all objects of cultural value, therefore imposing a universal manner of relating to them: the private commemoration of a community is tacitly forbidden whenever it takes place in places capable of being declared World Heritage, for culture belongs to the whole human species. Consequently, this kind of cosmopolitism tends to transform the local particularities of a community into exotic anthropological picturesqueness. The post modern citizens relate to monuments as their own –inasmuch as they have been produced by the universal human creativity-, but at the same time as radically alien –because the visitor do not recognize his subjectivity on the narratives that gave birth to the monument in the first place. According to Reception Theory, this new status acquired by the historical monument at the onset of the End of history may be understood as anti-monumental: buildings that had formerly served as commemoration symbols have lost their original function –gathering a particular community-, and have become part of what Guy Debord called the Spectacle 17. The consumption of monuments by the cosmopolite citizen on mass scale is implemented as part of the general market of cultural experiences that renders historicity a parade of exotic and culturally interesting enjoyments. The overturn of seminal monumentality into sterile and individual contemplation hides nevertheless the complex political shift entailed by this new paradigm: it implies the cancellation of Memory as authority, and 5 Objectified memory. Mutations of monumentality in post historical cosmopolitics
its transformation into consumable aesthetic delight. And such a cultural passage has strong political connotations, for it extracts people’s identity from their chronicled roots, and re-locates it in the postmodern experience of time as hyper-present and global synchronicity. But as we had previously advanced, the monument is an empty signifier whose meaning changes over time in relation to the particular modes of socialization typical of each period. Moreover, it’s not that monuments have been forgotten or dismissed, since on the contrary they are now more popular than they’ve ever been. Their cultural significance and identity have evolved, and been adapted to an era in which the global community is formed by anonymous foreigners that gather around totemic shared pleasures – such as spectacular monumentality. The globalization process has demolished the ancient boundaries between local societies, and the archetypical political body that has emerged from that shift is what many authors have termed as “the multitude” 16: an aggregation of diverse subjectivities that do not coalesce into fixed institutions nor share an affirmative common identity, but that nevertheless coexist peacefully due to their respect of a basic consensus about the “human rights”, regardless of each one’s ideological singularities. In this regard, the sense of commemoration inherent to contemporary monumentality has lost its original capacity for differentiation (every community used their monuments as symbolic landmarks that differentiated them from other communities), and has become an aggregation device: one of the modes of association typical of the multitude is the congregation around universal monuments. What spatially is now hiper-locality, has given rise to what we’ll call hyper-monumentality: the result of considering the monument a fossil of itself, after the political trans-coding of ancestrality into otherness. What once was memory is now myth –or simulation. History is hyper-story. The original monument was the flagship of a Nation’s particular and hegemonic inter subjectivity, while its contemporary significance has turned merely iconic, universalizing and post-historical – for there’s the radical hiatus implicit in the post-modern sense of chronology as disrupted from the teleological continuity of historical temporality. Michel Serres´ survey on Statues opposed the monument –the everlasting vessel of the identity- to the corpse, but contemporary memorials have lost their original life-giving “Spirit” (their semiotic substance) and only their cadaver remains, although fossilized for universal contemplation and consumption. This progression is equivalent to the passage from syncretism to monotheism: monuments were formerly as diverse as the different cultures that produced them, but after the globalization the new hegemonic usage of Memorials has turned, as Deleuze and Guattari foresaw, from the narrative to the purely sensorial and sensational. The multitude celebrates itself through the universal and undifferentiated experience of “visiting monuments”. The post-historical world has often been described as a post-political milieu, and the images from the remote past have acquired the status of phantasmagoria, or what Jacques Derrida called "the paradoxical state of the spectre, which is neither being nor non-being” 18. Hyper monumentality may so be seen as the disguise by which post modern societies try to hide the powerful significances inherent to the original monument, by a camouflage strategy that what could only be dismantled by means of what Derrida called hauntology, an endeavour that should be minutely developed on further monumental studies. The spectre of History is embedded in the hyper-monument –which is a paradoxical mummification of history’s concluded dynamism with its vigour weakened to (seemingly) death. On his investigations about cultural simulacra, Jean Baudrillard defined the opposite semiotic acts of simulating and dissimulating. "To dissimulate," Baudrillard has written, "is to pretend not to have what one has. To simulate is to feign to have what one doesn't have” 19. According to such approach, Disneyland may be the paroxysm of simulative artefacts, for its entire aura depends on fake castles, false magic, illusional characters and all sorts of spatial fictions: it replaces its inexistent history by means of pure hyper-symbols that are reminiscent of certain daydreams shared by its potential audience. The hyper-monument may reversely then be considered pure dissimulation, since the original political potentiality has been hidden under the purely aesthetical surface, so that the commemorative function can be replaced and normalized for the global denizen that inhabits hyperreality.
6 Objectified memory. Mutations of monumentality in post historical cosmopolitics
4. Sub-monumentality: Imaginaries of the outdated But beyond all these reflections on the political and aesthetical features of the monument as an object for commemoration, the fact is that contemporary inter subjectivity is very keen on the management of the meanings attributed to obsolete or outdated items. The consumption of “vintage” fashion or furniture is in line with what Simon Reynolds has recently called retro-mania 20, the popular culture’s obsession with its own mythical past. It’s a recent phenomenon that has reached its fullness after the process of globalization, and has radically transformed the mode in which the antiques market used to operate: nowadays, even an object with an age not exceeding twenty years is capable of being considered a vintage item, since the technical and aesthetical transformation of commodities has caused them to become quickly irrelevant, useless or outdated. But such objects do not die or disappear from the general circulation of products: they rapidly become fetishes, invested by the aura of the moment in which they where produced. Their former use-value is replaced by the enchantment of their phantasmatic reminiscences and evocations. The abolition of their utility gives rise to a mainly symbolic, representative or decorative presence: someone can use a twenty years old cell phone or a forty years old chair, but this requires a strong militancy about the cultural halo own to each of these objects. If the average long-lived monument has ended of becoming hyper-monument –the fossilized memorial of finalized universal history -, folk creativity promotes spontaneous new strategies to produce symbolic value out of objects that recall the atmosphere of any period from recent history. If academic and official monumentality focuses on ancestrality as a form of deep collective memory, the cult of retro is the result of the way in which the multitude deploys its own affections and modes of socialization: in this case, not by commemorating the community’s hegemonic narratives (because, as we have seen, those narratives are no longer particular or local, but general and global), but by transforming personal nostalgia into shared cultural commonality, even with political consequences. If a body politic emerges out of the recognition of certain meaningful tokens, the post-political society fragments its homogeneity by means of singular symbolic codes that favor the development of new communities which, although apparently lacking a political undertone, propitiate the same aesthetic and affective sense of belonging as traditional Nations. Retro-mania promotes the apparition of subcultures that break the uniformity of identities belonging to the multitude in the same manner that classical monumentality served to signify the differences between opposed nationalities. The role of former architectonic memorials is now partially transferred to objectual memorabilia. The outdated gadget and its inherent remembrance of latter-decades events has thus acquired a significant role in the propagation of self-conscious cultural minorities, that ground their mythological identity in the cluster of imageries embodied in that sort of spontaneous memorials. An example of this phenomenon could be the fascination, semi religious veneration that many pay towards brands like Harley Davison, that over the years has built a particular universe of subjective and iconic affectivities that makes its users feel part of a congregation that has its own tradition, its own rituals and its own existential values, namely its own history and identity. More than merely a vintage motorcycle, the Harley Davison is a monument, or rather a sub-monument (the monumentalized object specific to a sub-culture). The more outdated the object –the more it loses its use value-, the stronger it gets the purely symbolic value, its availability to acquire semiotic substance. The category of sub-monumentality illustrates the fact that contemporary communities no longer depend on physical proximity or neighborhood relations: the current citizen can choose its sub-culture from a wide range of possibilities, according to his personal affections, circumstances and desires. If the hegemonic majority is now the undifferentiated multitude, minorities or sub-groups are articulated around certain iconographies that are dispersed all over space and time. The conclusion is then that sub-monumentality can not be rooted locally on specific sites, inasmuch as the micro-societies that take part of its symbols are often scattered across the globe: that is, in the era of telematic communication, communities can no longer rely on architecture as their unifying element. The icons that gather distant subjectivities together are necessarily trans-local, for they must materialize in remote places, and spatially disconnected milieus. And, if every identity needs a minimum of history 7 Objectified memory. Mutations of monumentality in post historical cosmopolitics
to ground its meaning, the outdated object provides sub-cultures with the miniscule temporal traces necessary to develop an operative legendary narrative. The circulation of signs through the social field during the height of the consumer society based its dynamics in complex processes of collective meaning production and symbolic validation, modulated by marketing and branding strategies -and morally evaluated by academic institutions, or what Stuart Hall called the professional code 21. The various objects and symbols acquired their significance in terms of variables related to social status, collective affectivities, modes of socialization, hegemonic narratives, etc. which have often been studied as subsidiary of the intrinsic value of the radically new, characteristic of the postmodern era. In this context, studies on Reception Theory primarily focused to how newly minted cultural phenomena are incorporated to the collective imagination, but the problem implied by monumentality is the evolution of the meaning of existing signs, for as we have seen signs are subject to complex dynamics that constantly rebuild their endowment of meaning. The symbolic value of a particular historical item can not be reduced to a fixed and static identity but evolves in parallel with the cultural superstructure particular to each civilization. In that sense, the acquisition of the category of monumentality is heavily intervened by hegemonic institutions, which distribute the legislative exceptionality enjoyed by such objects. There is an academic arbitration that decides which phenomena deserve the category of "Monument" (with all its legal implications) and which don’t, modifying the way in which it is incorporated into the collective imagination. The Reception therefore should not be considered as a synchronic relationship between author and spectator, but as a living dynamic that ultimately refers to the episteme as described by Michel Foucault 22, whereas each society uses a range of knowledge and power devices by which it normalizes the hegemonic assignation of meaning to things. Monumentality forms a continuous field in which all objects are involved to a greater or lesser extent (inasmuch as each of them has a hyperstory, and is therefore registered in the domain of socio-political identification), and it progresses dialectically, confronting the different meanings and individual values to the general symbolic order of society. The fundamental prejudice that conditions the receiver’s expectations is not the intention of the author of each piece, but the way in which epistemic generality – academic institutions plus private branding strategies -invests each object with a particular aura. 5. Unsuspected Memorials However, if we accept the definition of Monument as the object that promotes the assembly of a community by commemorating its shared order of representations and narratives, such role often takes place unconsciously, without the monument being recognized as such. The contemporary city continues to host sites whose use has special meaning for its occupants, based on events there occurred or by its evocation of significant moments for its inhabitants. In such cases we see how the official declaration of its monumentality is a highly political decision, for such a categorization implies legal exceptionality and protectorate that immunizes such “unsuspected memorials” against the aggressions of the housing market, as well as it implies the recognition of the cultural dignity and identity of the community that revolves around it. In contemporary western society, one of the most interesting cases of unconscious monumentality is the urban role played by sports venues and stadiums, for they are places invested with strong emotional and representative connotations. Leagues in mayor sports are organized around rivalry between cities, so that each town’s team serves as an imaginary projection of the hegemonic values, aesthetics and memory of its inhabitants. Sports, then, are one of the strongest political instances in contemporary times, for they provide the sense of belonging necessary for the consistence of a community. Renowned sociologists and cultural theorists such as Manuel Castells 23, Anthony Giddens 24 or even Stuart Hall 25 have posited the overflowing relevance of sports as subtle political instances, in the context of a hegemonic society that seems to head the citizen toward neutral, impersonal anonymity resulting in an increasing demand for shared identity. Even if not explicitly, those kind of high-performance, epic events operate by the same procedures as the classical political distribution of identity: by means of oppositions and boundaries, so that every community relates to 8 Objectified memory. Mutations of monumentality in post historical cosmopolitics
each other dialectically and, if necessary, antagonistically. Rather than a fixed structure, a historical team is the mythology of its own history, the account of its successes and failures, its alliances and enmities. The players come and go, the institutional representatives are ephemeral, and the only thing that remains is “the Spirit” of the team, its colors… and generally also its stadium, that regularly ends up becoming part of the whole mythological semiotics of sports and thus, often unawarely, a monument. As modern sports have become increasingly popular and the exploits of each team acquired legendary status, the symbolic force of the stadiums has been gaining affective power on the supporters. Subsequently, during globalization the institutional apparatuses of the clubs started a process of modernization of their infrastructures whose primary objective is to provide venues of strong iconicity and aesthetic appeal that makes them attractive to both fans of a team, and to worldwide viewers. In that sense it is exemplary the Wembley stadium luxurious renovation in 2006, as designed by Norman Foster Architects. The former Wembley was opened in 1923, and offered a modest, functional architecture whose only iconic elements were a pair of historicist towers, but which mainly depicted an engineering appearance, like most stadiums planned for the first half of the twentieth century. However, as the great events it held have reached global popularity (because of television broadcastings and the proliferation of images on the Internet and the media), it became clear that it was time to sharpen the iconic component in order to illustrate the unaware monumentality it had acquired over the years -at least on its supporter’s imaginary. As a result the new project is a high tech, instantly recognizable building, whose program has been expanded with commercial and recreational allocations that favor the development of social activities related to the kind of community spirit that these sports evoke. This process of monumentalization of sportive architecture has led to numerous examples in this decade, often involving glamorous architectural firms as well as large multinational companies for their financing and management. One paradigmatic case may be the Allianz Arena in Munich, built to replace the Olympic stadium that was previously set in the same site. Designed by Herzog and De Meuron, its appearance and shape is strongly iconic, and shows an innovative facade that changes the color of its lighting depending on who is playing as the home team in each game. Its strong affective charge is used by the insurance company Allianz as an opportunity to advertise, to the point that in exchange for direct funding, the Stadium itself is called with the name of the company. It is a visually stunning space, whose visual strength is evident during the international broadcasts of the major events that take place in it. It works as a playing field, but also as the perfect showcase for the teams’ aura, its vocation is to become soon a landmark for the supporters of the narratives and myths involved in the whole physical experience of attending football matches. Other examples would include Beijing Olympic Stadium (2008, also signed by Herzog & De Meuron), the Dallas Cowboys Stadium (2009), the Water Cube in Beijing (2008), the Donbass Arena in Donetsk (2009), the PGE Arena Gdansk (2011) or the National Stadium in Poland (2012). All these cutting-edge, high-end buildings represent a formal and conceptual evolution of most precedent typologies of sports facilities. If more antique Arenas generally opted for clean, functional structures and simple aesthetics, the newly created advocate for globally identifiable appearances, emphasizing the iconic component inherent in every monument, and especially expanding the original program of functions to make them places of socialization, and often trade. The consideration of architecture as a hallmark of the "spirit" (or "brand") that is the imaginary core of each team, acquires in these cases all the characteristic features of monumentality: places of strong representative connotations, clearly differentiable from its rival’s equivalents, oriented towards gathering and cheering, and able to represent and commemorate the singular narratives and values that give content to its auratic fascination. Most stadiums have implemented their own Museums over the years, increasing their aim for historical status, and thus consolidating the fellowship and unity among supporters. It is necessarily an “amphibious” monumentality, namely, they run both at the physical site by the physical presence of the actual, material building, and simultaneously as the facet they give in extemporal, immaterial media representations. : the contemporary monument has to impact not only 9 Objectified memory. Mutations of monumentality in post historical cosmopolitics
locally for its implementation in the city, but also at the global level for all those involved as spectators in the distance of these popular sports and its symbols and narratives. In this regard it would be interesting to assess how marketing processes aimed at producing identity on an object using branding strategies that may be the contemporary version of what monumentality has traditionally provided in architecture: auratic fascination, and social engagement. International sports Arenas are rapidly incorporated to the global circuit of mass tourism, as their iconic power resonates in the aura of the city in which they are located. The casual visitor may enjoy their grandiloquence and visual glitter, while the true supporter of the team is engaged in a more emotional and empathic mood, in compliance with the Memorial meanings. 6. Conclusions: for a topological notion of Monumentality On their classical essay “Nine points on monumentality” 26, J. L. Sert, F. Léger and S. Giedion claimed the necessity for modern architecture to implement its own language for monumentality, as if the “tradition o the new” and the rupture with the former historical periodicity had disrupted the traditional symbolic identification between a society’s values and its built environment. This quest for a renewed consideration of the monument for modern times may have been one of the concerns that led to architectural post-modernity and its synchretic emphasis on historicist and picturesque formality. The difficult challenge of finding a new language for contemporary monumentality failed over and over for disregarding the complex dynamism of the cultural agencies that are involved in the rituals of commemoration. Monumentality often appears unawarely, by the sedimentation of local or particular narratives into iconic objects, and therefore it requires the convergence of formal singularity with social engagement. History can not be simulated (as in post-modern kitsch) nor can it be dissimulated (as in global hyper-monuments for the masses): monumentality emerges when shared identity is vividly projected into objects, avoiding false representations and the potential fossilization of the signifier, that run against the evolution of the collective inter subjectivity that provides it with meaning.. In his studies on reception theory, Stuart Hall put the accent on the encoding and decoding process implicit on the management of the new cultural object. But with respect to monumentality, the process may rather be called “transcoding”: a community’s imaginary evolves in parallel with a wide range of parameters including the economical, the political, media representations, and especially the dialectical relationship with the monuments belonging to communities outside. Reception is therefore a never ending process of re-signification in which architecture, objects, symbols and brands depict a network of mutual relations to be studied diachronically rather than synchronically. Classical studies on monumentality started from a perspective similar to Michel Serres’ analysis on statues: based on the opposition between the ephemeral and the eternal, the corpse and the spirit. This point of view has its roots in Parmenidean notions of “being” and “identities”, but such position may no longer be operative for an era in which most epistemological and analytical resources are focused on the relational and the processual, namely on Heraclitus’ foundation of knowledge in “becoming” and “flux”. There’s a fluidity intrinsic to the monument, under its apparently monolithic status: its Memorial function is acquired and increased over time, and the validity and legitimacy of it’s monumentality runs in parallel to the narratives that join communities together –and to the boundaries that disjoin them from their outside. In the era of global cosmopolitics, the paroxysm of formal iconicity in architecture is consequent to the amphibious nature of symbolic objects: they must be recognizable as actual material presence but also as virtual representation; the acquisition of true Memorial value can not be simply reliable on grandiloquence or sumptuousness. Monumentality demands emotional engagement and vivid commemoration, it’s a vivacious semiotic process that coalesce a network of significations, remembrances and identities, giving rise to cultural entities whose substance is objectified memory. “A Sign is what?” “What every object presupposes. Something presupposed by every object”. This aphoristic definition of the sign by semiotist John Deely 27 gives account of how contemporary semiology describes the cognitive construction of the objectual reality: the whole structure of our 10 Objectified memory. Mutations of monumentality in post historical cosmopolitics
intellectual access to the world is based upon the reverberation of meaningful reminiscences between objects. Reality is a semiosphere where every sign is constructed upon resonances within memory, and every object exists inasmuch as it is connoted by a set of relations with other objects and with the subject’s affections, which in turn are determined by his inscription in the surrounding intersubjectivity. Memory is thus a fundamental issue on the construction of the real: the whole domain of cognitive objects is saturated with monumental evocations. Monumentality therefore is a topological surface, in which the whole reality is embedded, where the personal and the communal, the past and the future, the singular and the general are displaced, curved, hidden, mutated, re-invented. As with human memory, the Monument’s meaning is an ongoing narration, always under construction: its eventual reception modifies the way it functions in the social sphere, which in turn induces new denotations and evocations. Such a process occurs at every scale –even at the personal level, for each one of us has his own private, intimate Memorials- and in many senses all architecture is ultimately monumental: as Aldo Rossi puts it, monuments are permanences, “a past that we are still experiencing” 28, and they imply the same complexity, dynamism and social intercourses as every human production of meaning.
References: 1. Karl Mar; Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, Australian National University (2011) http://www.anu.edu.au/polsci/marx/classics/manifesto.html (accesed june 10 2013) 2. Harold Rosemberg, The Tradition of the New, Boston, Da Capo Press, 1994 3. Shlomo Avineri, ,. Hegel's Theory of the Modern State. Cambridge University Press,1974 4. James Williams,. Gilles Deleuze's Logic of Sense: A Critical Introduction and Guide. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008. 5. Michel Serres, Statues: Le second livre des foundations, Paris, Flammarion Champs, 1989 6. Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, London, Penguin Books, 2008 7. Sigmund Freud, The Ego and the Id, (The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud), New York, 1990 8. Stuart Hall,. Encoding and Decoding in the Television Discourse. Birmingham [England: Centre for Cultural Studies, University of Birmingham, 1973 9. Antoine Berman, L'épreuve de l'étranger. Culture et traduction dans l'Allemagne romantique: Herder, Goethe, Schlegel, Novalis, Humboldt, Schleiermacher, Hölderlin, Paris, Gallimard, 1984 10. Ernesto Laclau, , La razón populista, Buenos Aires, Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2005 11. Alois Riegl, Der moderne Denkmalkultus, sein Wesen, seine Entstehung (Vienna, 1903). Tr. K. W. Forster and D. Ghirardo, “The modern cult of monuments: its character and origin,” Oppositions 25 (1982), 20-51 12. see Alexandre Kojève, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1980. 11 Objectified memory. Mutations of monumentality in post historical cosmopolitics
13. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Qu’est-ce que la philosophie? ,Paris, Les Éditions de Minuit, 1991 14. Yuri M Lotman,.On the semiosphere. (Translated by Wilma Clark) Sign Systems Studies, 33.1 (2005) 15. See the UNESCO database of National Cultural Heritage Laws http://portal.unesco.org/culture/en/ev.phpURL_ID=33920&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html 16. See Antonio Negri, Approximations: Towards an Ontological Definition of the Multitude, http://www.nadir.org/nadir/initiativ/agp/space/multitude.htm (accesed June 17, 2013) 17. Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle, Michigan, Black & Red, 2000 18. Jacques Derrida, Spectres de Marx: l'état de la dette, le travail du deuil et la nouvelle Internationale, Paris, Éditions Galileé, 1993 19. Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, Michigan, University of Michigan Press ,1993 20. Simon Reynolds, Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to Its Own Past, London Faber & Faber, 2011 21. Stuart Hall, Encoding and Decoding in the Television Discourse, Birmingham, Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, 1973 22. Michel Foucault, Les mots et les choses. Une archéologie des sciences humaines (1966). Spanish translation: Las palabras y las cosas: una arqueología de las ciencias humanas, Buenos Aires, Siglo XXI Editores Argentina, 2007 23. Manuel Castells The Power of Identity, Oxford, Blackwell Publishing, 2004 24. Anthony Giddens, Modernity and Self-identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age, Cambridge, Polity Press, 1991 25. Stuart Hall, Politics of identity. In T. Ranger, Y. Samad, & O. Stuart (Eds.),Culture,identity and politics ,Aldershot, Avebury, 1996 26. J. L. Sert, F. Léger and S. Giedion “Nine points on monumentality”, http://www.ub.edu/escult/doctorat/html/lecturas/sert1.pdf, (accesed june 13, 2013) 27. John Deely, A Sign is a What?, ttp://www.ut.ee/SOSE/pdf/deely_Semiotic_Sign_Dialogue.pdf (accessed June 19, 2013) 28. Aldo Rossi, Architecture of the City , Cambridge, MIT Press, 1984
12 Objectified memory. Mutations of monumentality in post historical cosmopolitics
Published on Oct 1, 2013
Objectified memory mutations of monumentality in post historical cosmopolitics