Thank You for Dying for Our Country: Commemorative Texts and Performances in Jerusalem

Thank You for Dying for Our Country: Commemorative Texts and Performances in Jerusalem

Thank You for Dying for Our Country: Commemorative Texts and Performances in Jerusalem

Thank You for Dying for Our Country: Commemorative Texts and Performances in Jerusalem


Combining ethnographic, semiotic, and performative approaches, this book examines texts and accompanying acts of writing of national commemoration. The commemorative visitor book is viewed as a mobilized stage, a communication medium, where visitors' public performances are presented, and where acts of participation are authored and composed. The study contextualizes the visitor book within the material and ideological environment where it is positioned and where it functions. The semiotics of commemoration are mirrored in the visitor book, which functions as a participatory platform that becomes an extension of the commemorative spaces in the museum. The study addresses tourists' and visitors' texts, i.e. the commemorative entries in the book, which are succinct dialogical utterances. Through these public performances, individuals and groups of visitors align and affiliate with a larger imagined national community. Reading the entries allows a unique perspective on communication practices and processes, and vividly illustrates such concepts as genre, voice, addressivity, indexicality, and the very acts of writing and reading. The book's many entries tell stories of affirming, but also resisting the narrative tenets of Zionist national identity, and they illustrate the politics of gender and ethnicity in Israel society. The book presents many ethnographic observations and interviews, which were done both with the management of the site (Ammunition Hill National Memorial Site), and with the visitors themselves. The observations shed light on processes and practices involved in writing and reading, and on how visitors decide on what to write and how they collaborate on drafting their entries. The interviews with the site's management also illuminate the commemoration projects, and how museums and exhibitions are staged and managed.


I am glad he was not my father

—Anonymous entry in the visitor book at Freud’s Museum in London

Visitor books are fascinating cultural artifacts. Typically presented in museums, hotels, galleries, churches, and even airports, the writing surfaces that visitor books offer serve as intricate communicative portals. The books, the face-tosurface interactions they invite, and the inscribed traces of these interactions provide a unique perspective on situated acts of written communication, audience participatory practices, the collective articulation of identity and memory, and visitors’ travel trajectories and experiences. Visitor books, perceived here broadly, are public volumes that performatively embody and present encounters between institutions and exhibits and those visiting and consuming them.

On some occasions, visitor books and the entries within them possess a light and humorous air. Such is the case with the anonymous and witty entry of the epigraph, which—Freud would have been the first to note—is Oedipal in nature. A similar occasion comes to mind from some twenty years ago, when my partner and I traveled north to the more forested parts of Israel to spend the weekend in a small and romantic wooden cabin. The cabin had its own guestbook, which contained large, blank white pages. The most recent entry written there, apparently by the guests who preceded us, included a large “smiley” symbol and a short text: We enjoyed it here a lot. We played pick-up sticks with one stick

Other visitor books, the entries they hold and the circumstances of their production, are more serious—at times, disconcerting and grave. In Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Museum, in a visitor book paying homage to survivors of the atomic bombing—a book positioned near a display of writings authored by a few who survived—a visitor wrote in English: “Hiroshima was awful, but it was an act of war: [nuclear] weapons must be kept to ensure that TERRORISTS never get a hold of them.”

Another difficult occasion, which also has its roots in the Second World War, took place in 2001, when Jewish physicist and Nobel Prize Laureate Jack Steinberger was honorably invited by the municipality of his Bavarian hometown of Bad Kissingen (from which he fled as a young boy before the war) to sign the town’s celebrated visitor book. Before Steinberger, other notables and . . .

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