Eating the Statue
The abstraction of a work of sculpture from the muddled field of bodily and historical life is obviously partial, dialectical. The abstraction remains, as it were, part of that life; it is something the sculptor can both struggle against and use. Nevertheless, the fact that a statue can be said to draw back from time, to stand or defend against time—this is part of what makes statues such ideal homes for those ideals, virtues, aspirations, and accomplishments that we might wish to transcend time, survive history and physical contingency. That very distance is part of what makes them appeal to us as resonant images of a serious idea, as things with the look of something meaningful, worthy of a pedestal, but also comfortingly general and nonreferential. 1 Thing and image at once, the statue's very lack of obvious meaning may be what attracts us to it. As William Gass notes, the monument or statue may mark the site of an ongoing cultural struggle between memory and denial; its construction may make possible both a pretense of memory and a de facto oblivion. 2 The statue is often the substance of what we do not remember (no doubt why monuments beget so many diminished replicas of themselves in the form of forgettable "souvenirs"). The statue's saving feature is perhaps that it shows the inevitable bondage of our abstractions to some fantasy of the body's life and may thus help us reknow or relocate that life, though it may also do violence to both the life of the body and the different life of those forms we may need or wish to conceive of as without a body, as hovering within or outside the body.