Continued thoughts and notes from reading the chapter the Monument in Malcolm Miles book Art, Space, and the City.
The last post became quite lengthy, so I will try to be more concise in this post.
The Monument - History and Hegemony
Miles makes a case for the monument as a means of legitimizing and preserving the hegemony of the ruling class. Using the example of Hadrian and the rapid increase of statues and memorials during the nineteenth century he builds a theoretically stronger case for earlier statements of monuments as devices of social control. In Europe and America the monuments helped subdue "social conflict within a myth of national identity, and [...] personal grief for the deaths of colonial wars within a myth of sacrifice, supported by an established religion and commemorated in memorials which were sites of public remembrance, a process described by Bird as 'the state's desire to represent itself as the unifying authority.'"
Moreover the monuments also serve as a legitimizing of a 'national memory' by providing rites and cites of remembrance that replicate social hierarchies. The monument downplays the horrors and the sacrifices made by citizens far down the hierarchical ladder and the non-citizens whom have opposed, and been defeated by, the hegemony and instead presents an idealized image of war which supposes a reverence for the nation rather than its conscripts.
The Language of Allegory
I am a fan of anecdotes - so finding out that the Victory Arch in Baghdad was designed by Saddam Hussein himself, based on casts from his own hands/arms and was cast in a foundry in Basingstoke was great. I also thought the comparison of 'lack of authenticity' of the Victory Arch and the Statue of Liberty enlightening. The arch was made in anticipation of a victory in the Iran-Iraq war that was never recognized and lady liberty was being built as a welcoming symbol to the land of the free at the same time that the first laws restricting immigration into the United States, banning convicts, lunatics and Chinese laborers were being drawn and passed.
Miles discusses different theoretical frameworks one can use to interrogate the notion of the monument and lands in what he sees as three possible frameworks - as the imposition of ideology, as landmarks or signifiers of place, or, possibly, a framework of the democratized monument. Miles argues that the two first categories overlap, the first often times, over time, turning into the second - the monument fades, if you will, into the urban landscape and is, in the process, depoliticized.
Miles finishes this chapter with discussion on resistance and democratisation of the monument. This is perhaps the most interesting part in the chapter and I will return to the subject in a later post - I am collecting references and material for a short essay which will be completed in a few weeks.