Elizabeth Anderson, Avril Maddrell, Kate McLoughlin, Alana Vincent. Memory, Mourning, Landscape. Amsterdam: Editions Rodopi, 2010. 234 pp. $60.00 (paper), ISBN 978-90-420-3086-2.
Reviewed by Gabriela Welch (Uppsala University)
Published on H-Memory (June, 2012)
Commissioned by Catherine Baker (University of Hull)
This volume is a collection of ten essays that explore mourning at the intersection of temporality and spatiality. The contributors come from a variety of fields--history, anthropology, theology, literary studies, archaeology, law, and fine arts--and the volume thus aims at multidisciplinarity. The editors explain briefly in their introduction the goals of their collection and its contribution to memory studies. As Kate McLoughlin--the author of the introduction--puts it, the aim is "to uncover the situational dimension of memory and mourning and with it what those two activities may dis-locate." At the same time, she specifies that one needs to examine the landscape within a historical context, not only "synchronically." If not, there is the risk of "overlooking what is not evident on the surface: the displaced, the buried, the otherwise vanished." That is why "the volume also attempts to act as 'ghost story,' decrypting or unearthing the substrata of the past" (p. ix). Thus, one of the most significant contributions that this volume makes is bringing together the temporal and spatial dimensions of memory and mourning--and an entangled account of how a traumatic past is remembered, represented, and understood.
The volume includes examinations of mourning and loss in the context of revolutionary or war experiences (Jay Winter, Joseph Clarke, and Cynthia Wachtell) and in the personal (private) sphere (Sarah Wagner, Hilary Hiram, and Avril Maddrell). It engages with the correlation between public and private spaces of mourning, spaces that at times are complementary and at times conflicting (Wagner, Hiram, Erin Halstad-McGuire, and Judith Tucker). It goes beyond twentieth-century mnemonic practices and includes studies of the remembrance of the U.S. Civil War (Wachtell), the dead of the French Revolution (Clarke), and Viking funerary practices (Halstad-McGuire). A broad examination of mourning requires such a multidimensional perspective, which could only be achieved through a collaborative volume.
The tone of the book is set with Winter's examination of the Historial de la Grande Guerre in Péronne, Somme, France. Having been involved in the design of the museum, Winter engages in an inspiring discussion of modern representations of war experiences in museums. One of the main innovations of the Historial, Winter explains, is the horizontal, rather than vertical, use of the museum's space to display objects. This allows a shift from ideas of glorification, as expressed in the vertical design of monuments, to a space of contemplation and reverence, as intended in this museum. These innovations, together with the observance of silence and sacralization of space, aim, as Winter suggests, to evoke the transnationalism of war experience as well as the confluence of military and cultural history in representations of the war.
In his essay on commemorative practices for the dead of the French Revolution, Clarke shows that remembrance of war dead was not a twentieth-century innovation but can be traced to the early modern period. Clarke engages in a detailed analysis of several episodes of remembrance of war casualties at the end of the eighteenth century, more precisely, in 1793. Although few of the cenotaphs or commemorative plaques outlived the Revolution or the Restoration in 1815, Clarke argues that the remembrance of the dead derived from the "language of Republican citizenship" and a new type of social solidarity instituted by the Revolution (p. 27). Mobilization of the masses and local communities played a crucial role in the performance of these rituals and the establishment of these commemorative spaces.
Herman Melville's literary representation of the Battle of Malvern Hill, during the U.S. Civil War, is the subject of Wachtell's paper. Melville's poem, according to Wachtell, represents an insight into how human loss was commemorated at the time. It is also notable for the poet's interpretation of death: Melville did not idealize or romanticize soldiers' deaths as other contemporary poets did, but he instead presented a gruesome picture of the battlefield.
Wagner's examination of the memorial center at Srebrenica-Poto?ari provides a well-documented view of the debates that were generated both locally and internationally by the conceptualization of this memorial site. Wagner also explores how the site influenced the commemorative practices performed there by the families of the missing. She argues that the cemetery and the memorial space have two aims: "to impart a sense of order on the site of annihilating violence and to materialise absence through tabulated loss" (p. 63). Looking at the architecture of the memorial space as well as at the impact of DNA testing on the identification of the physical remains of the missing and their subsequent remembrance, Wagner explores the contested memories and challenges involved in remembering the Srebrenica massacre.
Joel David Robinson analyzes how the idea of forgetting is reflected in contemporary funerary architecture, such as cemeteries and graveyards. He suggests that an examination of these sites reveals that attitudes toward death have changed in recent decades to incorporate the passage of time and its ruinous effects. Robinson argues that contemporary funerary sites are designed to have a more critical relationship with the landscape and to engage with the concept of forgetting as an intrinsic part of memory.
In her paper on the Scottish laws of succession, Hiram explores "how the law has reflected and articulated social attitudes toward and psychological reactions to death and mourning," as she formulates it (p. 100). Hiram examines several cases in which courts in Scotland have contested the wills of individuals who demanded to be memorialized after their deaths in lavish memorial sites. Drawing on Sigmund Freud's theory of melancholia, Hiram concludes that "the decisions of the court achieved congruence between, on the one hand, the intuitive sense that property is for the living, and, on the other hand, the requirements of the law of succession" (p. 115).
Maddrell examines debates around the increasingly popular practices of placing commemorative signs and improvised memorials in the Scottish mountains. Focusing on online discussions, Maddrell engages with the dichotomy between natural wilderness and domesticity in setting up private memorials in public spaces and the impact of private mourning on the "mourners" or "users" (p. 123). Alana Vincent analyzes examples of imagining Jerusalem in Jewish liturgy and follows similar examples in an Italian psalter, essays by André Aciman, and paintings by Marc Chagall. She examines imagined and real landscapes and their relationship to memory and mourning. The chapter by Halstad-McGuire focuses on three examples of boat-burials by looking at the varied symbolism employed to express the relationship between the deceased and the homeland, religious and secular symbols, and the gendered elements of burial places.
The volume concludes with the artist and academic Judith Tucker's analysis of her own series of works called Tense. Tucker explains how a family photograph of her mother learning to swim prompted her to visit the site of the swimming pool that her mother had used and then to create a series of drawings and paintings. The author engages in an inspiring examination of photography, architecture, and painting as means of visualizing lived experience, postmemory, and representation after the Holocaust. Tucker relies on Marianne Hirsch's concept of "postmemory," which is distinctive from memory "by its generational distance and from history by its deep personal connection" (p. 196).
Although multidisciplinarity is desirable and highly encouraged in contemporary research, and it is inevitable in memory studies, the editors of this book have failed to create a forum for dialogue between the disciplines in this volume. While the papers individually are worthwhile, the book lacks coherence as a whole. Greater connections, not easy to accomplish in an edited volume, could have been pursued more in the introduction, for example, by engaging in a more detailed examination of the theoretical contribution of the book. Still, this is a welcome addition to ongoing research in memory studies and is a useful collection of up-to-date research in each of the disciplines represented in this volume.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-memory.
Gabriela Welch. Review of Anderson, Elizabeth; Maddrell, Avril; McLoughlin, Kate; Vincent, Alana, Memory, Mourning, Landscape.
H-Memory, H-Net Reviews.
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