Material Memories

By Marius Kwint; Christopher Breward et al. | Go to book overview

ten
From the Arengario to the
Lictor's Axe: Memories of
Italian Fascism
Tim Benton

If memories are the residue of personal experience managed in various ways by the mind, buildings and artefacts might be said to provide particular kinds of memories of social experience. There is an obvious difference. We may try to ‘construct’ our own memories ‘in the making’ as it were, in the ‘actions to be remembered’, but we're not very good at it. If Freud was right, the subconscious works through the psychic material of recent experience and uses it for its own ends, typically in dreams. Buildings, on the other hand, are commonly designed with the specific intention of performing as repositories of public memories of political actions and assertions. To be politically effective, such buildings must not only communicate the claims of the patron (‘Mussolini ha sempre ragione’) but also somehow evoke ideas and associations among those for whom these claims might ring true. A smart, modern and attractive railway station, post office or government building might make a favourable impression on those for whom Fascism represented a positive modernization of the state. For the victims or opponents of Fascism, however, regime buildings might be expected to attract considerable hostility. Between buildings as ‘public memory’ and the memories of individuals there is always likely to be a tension.

Most monumental buildings are more or less conceived of as testimonials to authority, presumably in the hope that the architectural and expressive qualities of the building will itself sustain that authority. Once built they can of course be physically changed, their meanings

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