Exegi monumentum

monuments and memories

Posted on February 10, 2018

Exegi monumentum

Monuments have a hard time. Not that they ever had a soft one. But ancient monuments were in a better company. They were better integrated with the daily flow of citizens and commuters. There were more of them and they enjoyed more decorations, including lipstick, eye-liners and flowers in their hair. But they were also more frequently destroyed, damaged or removed in a symbolic sentence of death by forgetting pronounced by those, who wanted no competition in public memory.

The concept of contemporary monument has exploded. Instead of a statue in a city park, Elon Musk sends his Tesla convertible into space, promising to do the same with tourists heading for Mars. His monuments will be the landing platforms on other planets. For statues left behind on Earth a new round of memory roulette has started. A mounted warrior in Windhoek, commemorating the massacre of Hotentots and Herero by German soldiers hastily completing their colonial homework, went quietly to a hot storage without an airco. Monuments to confederate generals in the southern states of the United States are removed from their sockets, sometimes at night, by AfroAmerican mayors and majorities in order not to praise the famous defenders of infamous slavery. Monuments to Russian soldiers in central and eastern European countries are torn down for commemorating the communist colonization of the middle of Europe from the northern port of Szczecin to the southern Adriatic Sea in 1945. All this is normal, no matter how hard the former functionaries of genocide and apartheid mob the media.

Symbolic monuments fare much better. A software of poetry and prose survives a hardware of marble and bronze. A software of Mr Cogito (Zbigniew Herbert) and of Homage to Catalonia (Eric Blair), of Tadeusz Borowski (This Way to Gas Chambers, Ladies and Gentlemen) or Alexander Solzhenitsin (Gulag Archipelago) does. Or doesn’t it?

Haarlem, February 10, 2018