Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Oppositional Memory Practices: U.S. Memorial Spaces as Arguments over Public Memory

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Oppositional Memory Practices: U.S. Memorial Spaces as Arguments over Public Memory

Article excerpt

On a windswept hill in Wyoming, a cairn lamenting that "there were no survivors" now stands corrected by historical plaques recognizing 1,500 Indian survivors. On the high plains of eastern Montana, a sea of white marble tombstones now is interspersed with red granite warrior markers. In bustling Chicago, a tall, bronze police officer, removed from his original location, loses a century-long standoff with a nearby sculpture of Justice placing a wreath on a fallen laborer. The monuments that occupy sacred sites make arguments about who is worthy of mourning, honor, and remembrance. The monuments themselves endure, but their arguments often are controversial and judgments of worthiness have proven far less permanent.

In his influential work, The Sacred and the Profane, Mircea Eliade (1959) offered an understanding of the sacred that still resonates within scholarship of sacred space. The sacred, he wrote, "reveals absolute reality and at the same time makes orientation possible; hence it founds the world in the sense that it fixes the limits and establishes the order of the world" (p. 31). Nowhere are these functions more apparent than in sacred spaces: spaces set apart from their surroundings, ritually dedicated to the memory of a particular event, hero, or victim, and frequently adorned with enduring markers-often for those who lost their lives there--that offer seemingly eternal narratives of origin and orientation (Foote, 2003, p. 8). By enshrining particular narratives on a sacred site, monuments suggest what is worthy of remembrance at a site and solidify the history of a community. In so doing, they fix the limits and establish the boundaries of that community. Because of the perceived permanence of sacred sites, visitors often attach special significance to the civics lessons carved in stone and cast in bronze on the sites' monuments (Rosenzweig & Thelan, 2000, p. 105).

Although scholars have attended to the construction of narratives at memorial sites, and the conflicts that often accompany such constructions (e.g., Blair, Jeppeson, & Pucci, 1991; Gallagher, 1995; Gallagher & LaWare, 2010; Hubbard & Hasian, 1998), the question of how these narratives are argued for or against-particularly after a monument is dedicated-is under-theorized. In this essay, we explore how argumentation works at sacred sites, and how arguments about the past, once carved in stone and cast in bronze, may be countered. We suggest that attempts to stabilize memory in monumental form may be countered through several argumentative strategies, including dissection, transformation, and substitution. Each of these strategies destabilizes memory and opens up sacred spaces to alternative articulations of the past by expanding the lives deemed worthy of remembrance and grief. We believe that traditional understandings of refutation as linguistic negation (answering the claim "x" with the response "not x") cannot account for the unique strategies that excluded groups have used to argue at these sites. Recent work on visual argument has elaborated new modes of nondiscursive countering and we, in turn, extend these modes into three-dimensional experience by analyzing three highly-contested sacred spaces: Fetterman Battlefield, Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, and Haymarket Square.

These three sites invite comparison. Each was consecrated by the blood of the fallen, each was marked with a monument enshrining a particular narrative of its history, and each has been the site of sustained argument over who should be remembered. Therefore, each enables us to explore the visual argumentation of monuments, the functions of argument in sacred space, and the use of sacred space to expand communal boundaries. Although monuments compete at numerous other U.S. sites (e.g., the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse, Arthur Ashe in Richmond's Monument Avenue, Albuquerque's Cuarto Centenario Memorial), these three permit exploration of the relation between mourning and blood consecration, and of the ways in which visual argument may open, or close, consideration of who is human and worthy of remembrance. …

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