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Landscapes of Memory: Trauma, Space, History
 9783034322027

Table of contents :
Contents
List of figures
Introduction
1 Remembering trauma: From compulsion to traumatic heritage
2 Spatializing trauma: From the trace to suffering as spectacle
3 Re-presenting the horror: The Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide Crimes in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
4 The rhetoric of nationhood: The Memorial Hall in Nanjing
5 The difficult memories of Latin American dictatorships: The case of Chile
6 The difficult memories of Latin American dictatorships: The case of Argentina
7 When trauma meets art: The Museo per la Memoria di Ustica in Bologna
Bibliography
Index

Citation preview

Landscapes of Memory Patrizia Violi

Trauma, Space, History

Peter Lang

Landscapes of Memory

C U LT U R A L

M E M O R I E S

VOL. 7 SERIES EDITOR Katia Pizzi Director, Centre for the Study of Cultural Memory Institute of Modern Languages Research, University of London

PETER LANG Oxford • Bern • Berlin • Bruxelles • Frankfurt am Main • New York • Wien

Landscapes of Memory Trauma, Space, History

Patrizia Violi Translated from the Italian by Alastair McEwen

PETER LANG Oxford Bern Berlin Bruxelles Frankfurt am Main New York • Wien •









Bibliographic information published by Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the Deutsche National­biblio­ grafie; detailed bibliographic data is available on the Internet at http://dnb.d-nb.de. A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. Library of Congress Control Number: 2017941152 The translation of this book has been funded by SEPS SEGRETARIATO EURO PEO PER LE PUBBLICAZIONI SCIENTIFICHE

Via Val d’Aposa 7 - 40123 Bologna - Italy [email protected] - www.seps.it English translation of Paesaggi della memoria: Il trauma, lo spazio, la storia by Patrizia Violi © 2017 Giunti Editore S.p.A. / Bompiani Firenze-Milano Bompiani, an imprint of Giunti Editore S.p.A. First published under the imprint Bompiani in 2014 www.giunti.it www.bompiani.eu Cover image: Decayed Peugeot 202 and some buildings in Oradour-sur-Glane. Licence: CC-BY-SA 3.0, photograph by TwoWings. Cover design: Peter Lang Ltd. ISSN 2235-2325 ISBN 978-3-0343-2202-7 (print) • ISBN 978-1-78707-432-3 (ePDF) ISBN 978-1-78707-433-0 (ePub) • ISBN 978-1-78707-434-7 (mobi) © Peter Lang AG 2017 Published by Peter Lang Ltd, International Academic Publishers, 52 St Giles, Oxford, OX1 3LU, United Kingdom [email protected], www.peterlang.com All rights reserved. All parts of this publication are protected by copyright. Any utilisation outside the strict limits of the copyright law, without the permission of the publisher, is forbidden and liable to prosecution. This applies in particular to reproductions, translations, microfilming, and storage and processing in electronic retrieval systems. This publication has been peer reviewed.

Contents

List of figures

vii

Introduction1 Chapter 1

Remembering trauma: From compulsion to traumatic heritage

9

Chapter 2

Spatializing trauma: From the trace to suffering as spectacle

73

Chapter 3

Re-presenting the horror: The Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide Crimes in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

145

Chapter 4

The rhetoric of nationhood: The Memorial Hall in Nanjing

175

Chapter 5

The difficult memories of Latin American dictatorships: The case of Chile

205

Chapter 6

The difficult memories of Latin American dictatorships: The case of Argentina

247

vi Chapter 7

When trauma meets art: The Museo per la Memoria di Ustica in Bologna271 Bibliography301 Index 319

Figures

Figure 1.1:

A view of Oradour-sur-Glane.

64

Figure 1.2:

Oradour-sur-Glane, detail.

65

Figure 2.1:

The bomb crater.

83

Figure 2.2:

The breach in the wall.

84

Figure 2.3:

Commemoration of the dead in Iraq.

122

Figure 2.4: The Risiera di San Sabba.

138

Figure 3.1:

Tuol Sleng, exterior.

153

Figure 3.2:

Individual cell. Painting by Vann Nath.

158

Figure 3.3:

Communal cell. Painting by Vann Nath.

158

Figure 3.4:

Barrel torture. Painting by Vann Nath.

159

Figure 3.5:

The map of human skulls.

161

Figure 3.6:

Photos of prisoners.

163

Figure 3.7:

Photos of prisoners.

163

Figure 3.8:

Photos of prisoners, detail.

167

Figure 4.1:

Model of the Memorial Hall.

180

Figure 4.2: Map of the Memorial Hall.

181

Figure 4.3:

182

The Sculpture Square outside the Memorial Hall.

Figure 4.4: The Wall of Calamity.

184

Figure 4.5:

185

The large cross monument.

Figure 4.6: The Bell of Peace monument.

185

Figure 4.7: Inside the museum: Technological devices.

189

Figure 4.8: The Graveyard Square.

193

viii

Figure 4.9: The Mass Grave of 10,000 Corpses, interior.

195

Figure 4.10: The altar in the Memorial Square.

197

Figure 4.11: The Meditation Hall, interior.

198

Figure 4.12: The Peace Park, detail.

200

Figure 5.1:

A view of the Peace Park.

215

Figure 5.2:

A view of the Peace Park.

215

Figure 5.3:

The mosaics in the park.

216

Figure 5.4:

The mosaic inscriptions.

217

Figure 5.5:

The rose garden.

218

Figure 5.6:

The wall with the names of the victims.

219

Figure 5.7:

The monument to the victims from the Chilean Communist Party.

220

Figure 5.8:

The monument to the victims from the MIR.

220

Figure 5.9:

The monument to the victims from the MAPU.

221

Figure 5.10: The pavement in front of Londres 38 with its “stumbling stones”.

229

Figure 5.11: The pavement, detail of the “stumbling stones”.

230

Figure 5.12: Londres 38, the entry.

231

Figure 5.13: Londres 38, the offices.

231

Figure 5.14: Londres 38, detail of gunshots.

232

Figure 5.15: Casa Cañas before its demolition.

233

Figure 5.16: The remains of Casa Cañas, detail.

234

Figure 5.17: The remains of Casa Cañas, detail.

235

Figure 5.18: The monument at the entry to Casa Cañas.

235

Figure 5.19: Mural in Casa Cañas.

236

Figure 5.20: The space behind Casa Cañas.

238

Figure 5.21: The space behind Casa Cañas.

239

ix



Figure 5.22: Nido 20, exterior.

240

Figure 5.23: The interior of a cupboard in Nido 20.

241

Figure 6.1:

Photos of the disappeared at the entrance to the ESMA.251

Figure 6.2:

Photos of the disappeared at the Faculty of Architecture.251

Figure 6.3:

The main façade of the ESMA.

253

Figure 6.4: Plan of the complex.

254

Figure 6.5:

259

Diagram of semantic relations.

Figure 6.6: Diagram of various actors’ positions at ESMA.

268

Figure 7.1:

The adjacent tram station.

276

Figure 7.2:

The exterior of the museum.

277

Figure 7.3:

The wreck, Museum for the Memory of Ustica.

280

Figure 7.4: The boxes beside the wreck, Museum for the Memory of Ustica.

281

Figure 7.5:

The gallery of black mirrors.

284

Figure 7.6:

The white booklet.

292

Figure 7.7:

The white booklet.

294

Figure 7.8:

The white booklet.

295

All photos courtesy of the author.

Introduction

A few years ago I was in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, on a trip through Southeast Asia. It was on that occasion that I made my first visit to Tuol Sleng, the museum of the Cambodian genocide, situated in the very place where, during the Pol Pot regime, 17,000 Cambodians were imprisoned, tortured and killed. Traces of their blood are still visible on the tiled floor of what was originally an elegant high school for the city’s upper middle classes, and their motionless faces gaze at us from the countless ID photos that cover the walls of the museum. And we know that right there, in the place we are visiting, those persons suffered and died. A visit to Tuol Sleng is a very powerful experience and unforgettable in its way, an experience that leaves you distraught and horrified, but also a little disoriented and puzzled: you “feel” a great deal but you understand very little. Why were all those people slaughtered so barbarously? What really happened in Cambodia in those years? How could it have happened? The museum shows us a horrific event that occurred, but it does not help us understand the causes, or to decipher the rationale behind them. It was starting from that first visit that I began to wonder about the meaning of these terrible places, and it was from that moment that I began to visit and study them, in many different parts of the world. At first it was only the Holocaust and Europe. Many of us have memories of school trips to Auschwitz or Dachau, but today it is more and more common to come across similar museums on our more or less exotic travels, and we may even deliberately make a visit to one of them a part of our tourist itinerary, pretty much anywhere in the world. Not to mention the “tourism of memory” that has become popular in these last decades. The connections between the memory of terrible events and tourism lead to other, decidedly problematic issues: in Phnom Penh the guided tours of the city offer a fixed itinerary that puts in unbroken sequence the royal palace, Tuol Sleng and the local craft market, considered to be the capital’s three

2 Introduction

main attractions. There is no doubt, let us admit it, that shopping for souvenirs after a visit to Tuol Sleng would be a source of some embarrassment. My profession is semiotics, that is to say the processes through which we make sense of words and things, and it therefore came naturally to me to try to use the tools of my trade to seek answers to questions that others ask from different perspectives. What interested me was not the idea of reconstructing the historical reality that these places are intended to commemorate, but that of examining how they function, as well as the strategies they adopt to tell us their story and above all which story they tell us, and which memory they transmit. These places apparently “conserve” the memory of the event they bear witness to, but on examining them more closely we discover that things are more complex and the relations between space, events and memory are less linear than they appear at first sight. More than constituting a faithful trace of the past, these places contribute to reconstructing it, specifically in the forms chosen for its memorialization. What seems a simple reflection of the past reality becomes the source of its meaning. By working on memorials, I gradually realized that collective traumatic events such as dictatorships, massacres and genocides are not, solely, the starting point for the successive memory. They are also the result of a cultural and symbolic process that determines the form of the memory and in a certain sense reconstructs the trauma a posteriori, in the way that we are then accustomed to perceive it. From this standpoint trauma is no longer an ontological category in itself, nor a universal form of experience, but a culturalized object and as such susceptible of a variety of formulations according to specific sensibilities linked to diverse viewpoints. We should also remember that such viewpoints vary depending on culture, as well as geographical and temporal considerations. Even the Holocaust is not remembered in the same way today or fifty years ago, in Germany or in Israel, in Poland or in the USA, and the places that commemorate it tell partly different stories. Museums of memory contribute to the construction of a discourse on the past that, like any other discourse, is inevitably a partial, slanted, prospective one, a discourse that when it throws light on one aspect or figure ends up by obscuring others. Sometimes this partiality becomes an evident ideological reconstruction of the past, but even when that does

Introduction

3

not happen museums of memory always tell a partial story. And, paradoxically, it is precisely by virtue of their partiality that places of memory reveal themselves to be preferred vantage points for interpreting other things too, the balance of power, the logic of social control, identitary strategies, plans for political hegemony: it is impossible to separate the politics of memory from politics in general. These places help us to understand the network of relations between individual memories and the diffuse memories of a community, they make us see how memory is often something less innocent and more opaque than it seems at first sight, being itself the stakes in a game of composite interests that range from the manipulation of the past to its economic exploitation. Trauma takes the form of a genuine traumatic inheritance, the logic of which is a web of symbolic values and economic interests. While memorials and museums are more and more often important places for the construction of the map of our traumatic memories, we must nonetheless ask ourselves to whom do the memories we preserve belong, and to whom do we wish to transmit them. Unlike other places of memory, such as, for example, war museums, the places analysed in this book are places where civilians were exterminated and they all tell the story of the victims. We find here the “victimizing paradigm” which is so widespread today that, while it has some merits, it also runs quite a few risks, especially that of making it hard to interpret the specific, and different, story that lies behind individual episodes of mass violence. If the persecutors and their barbarous logic remain in the background, unanalysed, all traumas risk becoming equal and all victims becoming confused with one another. And again: whose memory, memory for whom? For whom do we wish to conserve the memory of victims? For their relatives, for the survivors, for the local community, for future generations, for tourists? It is not necessarily the same thing. The choices to conserve and restore trauma sites can vary greatly depending on the addressee you wish to reach and the type of public you wish to approach, as will emerge from the debates that have been held in many countries on these topics, which we shall be analysing in the course of this work. Not only this, but the choice of one ideal or favoured addressee over another often depends on a different addresser: we shall see that the outcomes of museum choices can be very different

4 Introduction

when the state is in charge or when there is an intervention on the part of private associations or organizations within civil society, subjects who are bearers of different priorities and different value systems. Every research effort that selects only a limited number of analyses in relation to a series of what, alas, is today a vast number of possible cases must provide reasons for its choices. As far as my corpus is concerned, I have deliberately excluded the sites connected with the Holocaust, partly because they have already been widely analysed and discussed, but above all because I wanted to shift attention towards cases that are different, both in geographic and temporal terms. Behind this decision there was the need to call into question a view of trauma that is still far too Eurocentric and based exclusively on what we consider to be the trauma par excellence: the Holocaust. I was interested in understanding how elsewhere in the world different cultures deal with the representation of their traumatic past, which different sensibilities are in play, which narratives take shape, which debates they arouse and which subjects are involved. And so I worked on places that are very different to one another, from the far east of China and Cambodia to Latin America, especially Chile and Argentina. There is only one European case, and that is the Museum for the Memory of Ustica in Bologna, a highly particular example and to some extent a case in itself. I have personally visited all these places, some of them more than once. Each one required further study of the specific literature, even though naturally I am not a historian of any of the places I have analysed. But in order to gain a better understanding of each of them it was indispensable to explore the specific historical-political conditions of all given situations of conflict and post-conflict. What was in play was not so much a “contextualization” of the site, but the reconstruction of the memory system in which every given site was inserted, even though the specific object of my analysis was the place itself, its meaning, its structural organization, and its value system. The landscape that emerges from my cases appears to be extremely diversified: the politics of memory and representation underpinning museal forms that are most unlike one another on the aesthetic, ethical and political level were diverse, sometimes poles apart. This diversity suggests the need to

Introduction

5

overcome all universalizing and ontological forms of the notion of trauma, to think about it rather as a category always to be declined in the plural, investigating the different modalities that take shape each and every time. In the same way, it seems necessary not to remain anchored exclusively to the paradigm of the Holocaust, central to our history but perhaps less so in the history of other peoples and cultures. That said, however, we will discover that the model of the Holocaust often continues to operate covertly, like a sort of hidden prototype that resurfaces in many contemporary trauma sites in the form of quotations, references and allusions. This leaves a last question, the most important and the most urgent one: How can we, how must we, remember the many traumas that still stud our history? What political, cultural and human responsibilities do survivors have with regard to the memory of those who are no longer with us? What should we do with the places that represent a terrible and still vivid testimony to wounds that can never be healed? Some time ago I visited the ESMA (the Escuela Superior de Mecánica de la Armada, or the Naval School of Mechanics) in Buenos Aires, a barracks transformed during the dictatorship into a centre for detention and torture. It was from this place that the death flights left, during which prisoners, alive and drugged, were thrown into the Río de la Plata. The ESMA is an enormous place, now transformed into a great memory site, and is composed of almost twenty buildings set along wide, tree-lined avenues. While we were visiting the place led by our guide, an impassioned young woman whose parents had been persecuted by the regime, a boy crossed the avenues on his bicycle, happily singing at the top of his voice. Our guide scolded him, saying that it was necessary to keep silent in that place and it was not permitted to be so happy. Then, really moved, she told us she found that show of joy unbearable in a place where so much suffering had taken place. That episode had a great effect on me. It was a glaring contrast between two very different passional systems, but also two ways of experiencing the past and the space of memory. I remember having thought then that in some way the joy and light-heartedness of that boy was a lovely thing, and that life should always get the better of death. Yet I also understood why that young lady, a latter-day Antigone, reminded us

6 Introduction

of the rights of the dead. Perhaps not necessarily in that way, perhaps not necessarily in that form, but that was the gist of the matter. What does all this mean for our memory sites? If we transport this little episode onto a more general level, it brings up some basic questions, and once more we find ourselves wondering: what to do with these places? Transform them, perhaps make them come alive again, but with the risk of losing their symbolic value as testimony? Keep them unchanged, “museify” them to the point that they become out-and-out archaeological finds? And perhaps also running the subtlest risk that underlies all museums of memory, the risk of “normalizing” the past and thereby placing it at a safe distance, in order to assure us that the horror shown is a distant one that does not concern us. The evildoers are always someone else, evil is always elsewhere. And a museum of memory can be very useful for silencing the suspicion, or perhaps the secret certainty, that the evil is not finished, that it can always return. There is no answer to these questions, or at least I have not found one yet. There certainly is not a single, definitive answer, perhaps only experiments currently underway. And I would like it if this book went some way towards explaining them. During the period I was working on this research, together with a small group of colleagues and friends, at the University of Bologna we set up TraMe, a centre for the study of memory and cultural traumas which has constituted a reference point and a constant stimulus in all these years. My first thanks go to all the participants, in alphabetical order, Cristina Demaria, Anna Maria Lorusso, Francesco Mazzucchelli, Sara Saleri and Daniele Salerno. With each of them I have shared reflections, stimuli and reading material. I owe something to each one of them and I thank them all. A special thanks to Anna Maria, the intelligent and painstaking editor of the Italian edition. With Claudio Paolucci I discussed various methodological points, and he also gave me some very useful suggestions. My thanks to Tamar Katriel, for many fascinating “brainstorm lunches”; thanks also to Daria Bonfietti and Andrea Benetti for conversations on the Ustica Museum but especially for all they have done. For the English edition of this book I thank Katia Pizzi for her faith and support, and Alastair McEwen for his scrupulous translation.

Introduction

7

As always, when you work for a long time on a project, you listen to a vast number of opinions, which you absorb and which influence you without your being aware of it. And only after a long period of time has passed do you realize how valuable certain ideas were. This was what happened to me, too, with many friends, with my students upon whom I inflicted my thoughts for years and from whom I have had comments and suggestions, and with the many Italian and foreign colleagues with whom I discussed these topics. Even though this is a book on memory I cannot remember them all, and so I thank them collectively. Perhaps each one of them will find an echo of our conversations in the pages that follow. I never discussed this book with Umberto Eco, but I thank him all the same. In all these years and on all these journeys, Patrick was with me. With him I shared discoveries and toil, enthusiasm and discouragement, worries and laughter. This book is for him.

Chapter 1

Remembering trauma: From compulsion to traumatic heritage

The age of memory Perhaps no epoch has been so obsessed and permeated by the thought of memory as much as ours has. Note: by the thought, rather than the memory itself. In point of fact, it is not necessarily true that our age cherishes its past more, or better, than other eras; in fact some maintain that our time is, rather, one of forgetfulness and widespread amnesia.1 On the other hand, the fact that every epoch holds its own past within itself, reflects on it, elaborates it and sometimes erases or conceals it is nothing new: culture, as Yuri Lotman (Lotman and Uspensky 1975: 43) maintains, is none other than the memory of the past and it is precisely on that culture-memory that a society bases its identity. Since memory is not a faithful transcription of the past, but its continuous reading and interpretation, it can also happen that memories are rewritten and the tradition invented (Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983), a difference that has great importance for historians, but is less relevant from the standpoint of the semiotic and cultural processes that govern the construction of collective identities. History and memory are not the same thing, even though they are interwoven in highly complex

1

According to Pierre Nora (1989), for example, we talk so much about memory because by now we no longer have it. In this sense, the superabundance of memory becomes an artificial substitute for the original capacity to remember the past. For a discussion on this point, see, among others, Radstone and Schwarz 2010.

10

Chapter 1

ways, and the collective memory often diverges from historical reality.2 Of course, starting with the more or less truthful representation we give of our past, we construct our present and especially our future identity and on this basis we tell our story, we relate to those who are not us, and in short we produce culture. Memory, culture and identity are, from this point of view, three different ways of putting the same reality into perspective. Our era seems to add two new elements to these highly general dynamics. In the first place a new and acute self-reflective awareness: memory is no longer the automatic and “natural” assimilation – rewriting, reconstruction, even invention – of our own past. It is directly thematized as the specific object of a series of varied cultural and transversal practices that permeate our culture and our everyday activities ever more pervasively. The fact is we have moved from memory to the discourse on memory, with an explosion of memory-related phenomena, which multiply in every field, from the proliferation of commemorations and remembrance days,3 to the incessant opening of new memorial museums, from the frequency with which artists work on the subject, down to the more frivolous, but semiotically no less relevant, phenomenon of the nostalgia for the past that runs through much of our culture, from design objects to television series, and leads us to think of an authentic cultural consumption of the past. And not only this. The “meta discursive” aspect of the contemporary insistence on the themes of memory has even led to the definition of a specific academic field of university studies, and specialist publications, “memory studies”, today 2

3

It is impossible to provide a review of the debate on relations between history and memory. As De Luna has observed: “History and memory are far too interwoven to enable us to show clearly the boundaries between the respective territories” (De Luna 2011: 18). For further considerations on this point, see, at least, Ricoeur 2000; Koselleck 1984; Pomian 1999; LaCapra 2001 and 2004; Cubitt 2007; Passerini 2003; Le Goff 1977; Tamm 2013. See Pisanty 2012. In recent years, apart from the Day of Remembrance on 27 January for the victims of the Shoa, in Italy there have been established many other days of remembrance to commemorate different categories of victims: the victims of the foibe, or pits of death massacres (10 February), the mafia (19 March), of terrorism and mass murder (9 May), those who fell on peace missions (12 November) and the list is probably destined to grow even more.

Remembering trauma: From compulsion to traumatic heritage

11

so well established especially in English-speaking countries that it is now impossible to make so much as an attempt at a review, even a limited one.4 The second element, on which this book hinges, is the ever closer bond that has come to be established between memory and trauma. It has been observed that today, when we talk about memory, we talk more and more often about the memory of trauma (Antze and Lambek 1996). Commemorations almost always concern traumatic events, remembrance days are dedicated to ever more differentiated categories of victims, museums and memorials linked to trauma are multiplying, even legislation deals more and more often with the connection linking collective traumas and memory: in Spain in 2007 they even enacted a law popularly referred to as the Ley de la Memoria Histórica [the Law of Historical Memory], but all so-called transitional legislation, from the Commissions for Truth and Reconciliation, to the now ever more widespread practice of apologizing, have to do with the trauma-memory nexus. It would be arduous to attempt a genealogy of the causes that have determined the current picture: why does contemporary society feel such a strong need to think about memory, and traumatic memory, in particular? What does this need conceal? From what does it spring? Does the Shoa, the event that marked an insurmountable divide in our recent past, lie at the origin of our obsession? Or is it the uncertainty and opacity of our difficult present that causes us to look backwards? Or is it the effects of the process of globalization on nation-states, with the migration of entire populations and the consequent “trans-nationalization” of memory? (Levy 2010). Or is it the disruptive spread of new technologies with their practically infinite capacity to file away and conserve all data and information, and then show the traumas live, as we have seen with the most recent revolts and rebellions? To conserve but also to forget rapidly. Because never as in the age of Internet has it been shown that memory and oblivion are two faces of the same process.5 I shall not even attempt to answer these questions, and not only because of the scale and complexity of problems that preclude univocal answers, 4 5

For a very complete bibliography, see Erll 2011. Cf. Hopkins 2011 and 2012.

12

Chapter 1

but for a more basic reason, epistemological in nature, which delimits the scope and the import of my own discourse and constitutes its indispensable methodological premise. My work is set within a semiotic perspective and as such it has above all a descriptive and interpretive vocation: it does not examine so much the causes that engender cultural phenomena as the semiotic effects that they produce, the value-driven transformations they determine, the narratives they authorize, the identities they contribute to building. Semiotic effects are always effects of meaning, traceable in the process through which phenomena signify and communicate. While semiotics, consistent with its analytic vocation, does not put forward hypotheses on the initial causes of phenomena, it can still make suggestions on possible alternative configurations. Understanding how things work perhaps does not serve to understand why they work in that way, but it can prove itself very useful in order to understand how they might work differently. To put this in other terms: one of the aims that my analysis will pursue will be that of giving ourselves instruments capable of imagining other possible semiotic scenarios for traumatic memories and their elaboration.

Trauma sites: A vantage point The spatialization of memory The semiotic functioning of the collective memory can be examined in many ways and from almost infinite standpoints, for so many objects take part in its construction: there is virtually no text, image, music or object that is not a vehicle at the same time. It is no accident that the historian Pierre Nora, in his classic work, described as “places of memory” a varied series of elements that are both material and symbolic, all susceptible to being interpreted as signs that are meaningful in relation to the collective memory.

Remembering trauma: From compulsion to traumatic heritage

13

Given this practically unlimited field, the perspective I shall adopt in this book will restrict the analysis to some phenomena of the spatialization of memory, concentrating on the ways memory is fixed, but also elaborated and constructed, in specific places that hold traces of trauma. Why this decision? Why prefer the spatial dimension? Memory, as we shall see better in Chapter 2, seems to have a privileged relationship with space that becomes one of the principal modalities through which memory is transmitted, sometimes without our even being aware of it. Places always talk to us about our past, even when we do not listen to them. It is even possible to go so far as to consider the spatialization of memory as a condition for its narrability.6 If this happens, it is because space is a primary dimension of the articulation of meaning that expresses a semiotics of its own, it is in other words an authentic language in which an Expression refers to a given Content, a modelling language in Lotman’s (1992) terms, capable of modelling the structure of the world and at the same time of being modelled by it (Lotman 1998).7 Space as it presents itself to us phenomenologically always carries various and diverse meanings, it tells stories, it brings into play an underlying value system. As has been said, space talks about things other than itself, “It talks about society, it is one of the principal ways in which society portrays itself, and represents itself as a meaningful reality” (Marrone 2001: 292). Space reveals our social reality but it also talks, perhaps in the first place, about what has been, the transformations that our reality has undergone, and the values it has adopted. Space talks, therefore, about our memory and at the same time, as we shall see in the course of this entire work, it produces memory, rewrites it, interprets it, and sometimes erases it. Among the various possible places of traumatic memory, I shall concentrate on a place of memory of a particular type, which has appeared very recently, starting from the middle of last century, which I have defined as a 6 7

See, among others, Mazzucchelli 2010, who develops the issue in depth in relation to urban spaces in Balkan countries. On the semiotics of space, see, among others, Greimas 1976; Hammad 2001; Marronce Pezzini 2007; Marrone 2010b; Pozzato 2011; Tramontana 2009; Violi and Lorusso 2011; Violi 2008; Volli 2005. For a general introduction, see Giannitrapani 2013.

14

Chapter 1

trauma site (Violi 2012a). By “trauma site” I mean a memorial that elaborates an existing trace and arises in the very place where horrors and carnage on a huge scale have taken place; concentration, prison and torture camps subsequently transformed into museum places and opened to the public. We might say that sites are traumatic places institutionalized and musealized in the form of memorials or museums, places in which access and visiting becomes regulated and formalized as specific practice. The passage from place, understood generically as a portion of space where traumatic events have occurred, to site, can be interpreted as that of a semiotic transformation that is public in nature: a given place is vested with value, semiotically marked and institutionally recognized as a sign of the event. Trauma sites are a subclass of a broader category that includes monuments, memorials and actual memorial museums, all places whose fundamental semiotic characteristic is that of inscribing a memorial value within a physical space. What specifically characterizes these places, and differentiates them from all other similar ones, is a nexus of continuity between event and space that constitutes the very raison d’être of their musealization: the sites appear as traces of past events to which they seem connected by a causal bond. As we shall see, in reality things are not so simple and the semiotic notion of trace will require verification and further investigation. In Chapter 2 I shall discuss the particular nature, far more problematic than it may seem at first sight, of the connection between the event, physical space and the memorialization procedures. For the time being it suffices to observe that these memorials, which begin substantially after the Second World War and whose prototype is without a doubt Auschwitz, have spread more and more over the last fifty years to every region of the world, and it is hard to say whether this is because of the multiplication of mass crimes such as genocides and dictatorship, or whether it is because of a more general awareness of the need to remember them, an awareness that in its turn can have various motivations, from a growing attention to the voices of the victims and their rights, to the previously mentioned memorial obsession of our modern times.8 8

A diffusion that is reflected in more and more attentive interpretation of the phenomenon and in the growth of research on this topic. The terminology has also

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The semiotic analysis of these sites starts from an indispensable methodological premise. While space can be thought of as a language, nonetheless we must not imagine that it is composed on the one hand of a material landscape made of “things” and on the other of a series of contents that would become associated with it on the basis of a cultural code. Semiotically, space should rather be understood as an “organized extension in which objects and persons move” thereby constituting its plane of expression and giving rise to a syncretistic semiotics, that is, one made up of various heterogeneous semiotic systems. The meaning that emerges from this is the outcome of a process that associates a series of practices, customs and functions with certain material configurations and in this way determines their meaning. The meaning of a place is always the result of a complex web of things and persons, a pairing of a space and the subjects that inhabit and move within it. Hence the same place can vary in meaning according to how it is used and experienced; while its physical morphology (in semiotic terms its substance of expression) does not change, it can nonetheless vary the function that links from time to time certain contents and certain expressions (more precisely, the relation between forms of expression and forms of content).9 Places are therefore subjected to continuous operations of semiotic rewriting and this becomes particularly relevant when we deal with sites, that is, places that radically transform their function and meaning, according to a dual movement of de-semanticization and re-semanticization. What was once a concentration camp becomes a museum, it loses its original meaning to acquire a new one, and the trace of the past event is transformed into a sign of the memory of that past. In certain cases, the successive operations of de- and re-semanticization can be even more complex, giving rise to a stratification of differentiated temporalities each characterized by its own traces that go to compose a particularly complex landscape of historic memory. This happens, for example, when the place of imprisonment and torture was originally a public

9

burgeoned: today we talk of “terrorscape” (van der Laarse 2013), “traumascape” (Turmarkin 2009) and “memoryscapes” (Philipps and Reyes 2011). For a discussion of this point, cf. Violi 2008.

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building intended for other uses, such as a private dwelling, a school, even a place of entertainment, later used as a prison and “marked” by this new use, and sometimes even refunctionalized for public use before becoming musealized as a place of memory. In each of these successive operations of re-semiotization the traces can undergo transformations and in some cases can also be erased, in an attempt to destroy the memory of what occurred in those places, or simply as an effect of time. We shall see in our analyses numerous examples of these complex rewritings and their diverse vicissitudes. There are places that have kept their material configuration unchanged (what we have called the substance of expression), such as the Tuol Sleng museum in Cambodia, and others that have been completely destroyed and of which only fragmentary traces, debris or ruins, remain, as in many places of secret imprisonment in Chile and Argentina. The material state of the traces is then overlaid by the different strategies of re-semanticization that can be brought into play when the site is transformed into a memorial. It can be decided to keep everything as it was, to reconstruct what has been destroyed, to make the operations of transformation explicit or, conversely, to narcotize them. In some countries that have emerged from ferocious dictatorships, as in Latin America, these different options have been at the heart of an impassioned debate that has seen different subjects vie for the role of Addresser, in semiotics the figure that establishes the subjects’ programme of action and determines their value universe.10 Here we could understand it as being responsible for the 10

In semiotics, addresser and its corresponding term, addressee, stand for the two abstract roles underlying all processes of communication. But it should be remembered that semiotics sees communication as something more than the simple idea of a flow of information between a sender and a receiver. Communication is a broader narrative function, which involves acting on other subjects so as to prompt them to perform actions on the basis of certain shared values. In semiotics we talk of “manipulation” to indicate this action that a subject (the addresser) can exercise on another subject (the addressee) to persuade it to perform certain actions. The addresser/addressee pair refers therefore not only to the plane of communication, but also to that of the motivation to do. Motivation, nonetheless, also involves giving reasons, and hence refers to a universe of underlying values. It is precisely this aspect that is particularly important in this context, insofar as – as we shall see – the reasons that prompt a

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basic choices regarding the transformation and conservation of the places of trauma, the figure authorized to sanction the “right” use of the memories, confirmation of the fact that memory is never neutral, and the modalities of its conservation anything but irrelevant.11 In the case studies I have analysed, the strategies adopted each time varied greatly. In many Chilean sites it was decided to underline the successive transformations by bringing to light the remaining traces, but framing them as real exhibits of the past by means of a restoration that forms a quasi-archaeological interpretation of the site (see Chapter 5). In these cases, the trauma appears as a detached, remote event, to be discovered and traced through a circumstantial paradigm, through signs erased by time, faint tracks, and hidden traces. Conversely, at Tuol Sleng (Chapter 3) the choice was made to keep the original place completely unchanged, showing all the still visible traces of the horrors perpetrated there. In this case re-semanticization has not modified the substance of the Expression in any way; the past trauma has not been archaeologically reconstructed but re-presented in an atemporal fixity. Finally, it can also happen that the meaning of a place is modified by practices of utilization that are “aberrant” with respect to the original forms of utilization. These unforeseen practices, however, can in their turn give rise to a new semantic stratification, to a new meaning of the place, which in turn will replace the previous one; at times instead it will be opposed and banned.12

11 12

collectivity to remember can be many and the role of the addresser highly differentiated, depending on which concrete actors come to embody it: the state, the victims’ associations, human rights NGOs, and so on. Each of these actors can interpret differently the values that prompt a society to remember a given traumatic event. I shall return to a discussion of the function of the Sender in relation to museums in Chapter 2. An example of this last case is the great memorial to the fallen in the First World War in Bassano del Grappa (northern Italy) which was recently cordoned off because it had become a place where the local youth would meet up in the evenings. In this case, what had been a place of memory and commemoration with connotations of sacrality (in fact it is a memorial – shrine) had been re-semioticized as a social rendezvous for local youngsters, an unacceptable semantic transformation within a

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Starting from these very first introductory observations we can begin to outline an interpretive hypothesis that will run right through this work: a trauma site is far more than a place that conserves the memory of the past; rather, it is a mediator and producer of memory, a subject operating new rewritings, one agent among others that contribute to the creation of the interpretive habits of a given collective historic experience. Sites are never mere “deposits” of memory and it would be restrictive to see them merely as places in which the collective memory has been fixed and is transmitted. Sites are almost always more than this: by creating the collective conditions of the memory they can perform many various functions, from the foundation of national identities to elaborating the post-conflict phases of a traumatized society, down to the ideological rewriting of the past, and often all of these things at once. For this reason, trauma sites can tell us many other things, apart from the memory of the trauma that they hold in their material traces. By going deeper into the study of these sites, which fill our landscape more and more, we realize that they constitute a vantage point from which to ponder many questions connected with thinking on trauma, and with the meaning that it comes to take on in a given culture, its possible elaborations and transformations and also, why not?, its possible exploitation within what presents itself to us more and more as an authentic cultural trauma industry. And that is not all. If we read sites attentively, they can also tell us many things about the conflicts that produced them and about the way in which people emerged from them, about the cultural and social functions of memory and finally about the diverse ways in which a community reconsiders its traumatic past and commemorates it, but also, and perhaps above all, how it constructs, transforms or represses it. Sites are places where memory is recorded in space but also powerful mediators of memory that contribute to determining the conditions of its collective elaboration. Since the relationship that a culture establishes with the traumas it has undergone makes it possible to understand many things about that same culture, its places of

cultural logic involving the sacralization of memories. For a discussion of this case, Cf. Sozzi 2012.

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memory, when suitably examined, show themselves to be real optical devices that allow us to see underlying cultural dynamics of a more general order. The expression “trauma sites” is a syntagm composed of two terms: “sites” and “trauma” and each of these concepts refers to a series of open methodological and theoretical questions. Trauma sites are above all physical places in which tragic events have taken place; while on the one hand this opens a series of questions about the relationships between space and memory and methodological questions concerning the analysis of spatiality, at the same time it obliges us to ponder the nature of the trauma, and on the very concept of traumatic event. The first of these two questions will be tackled in Chapter 2, whereas we shall devote this first chapter to a reflection on the problematics of trauma reinterpreted from a semiotic standpoint. The system of semiotic memory Sites are places of memory, and this entails a preliminary clarification of the way in which, in my work, I understand the concept of memory, a term now greatly over-worked and often used in senses that are at least partially different. Unlike psychology, semiotics does not think of memory as a mental faculty but as something with an existence outside the mind, which lives in thousands of texts, documents and objects that function as back up to memory understood as a faculty. This, moreover, is also the position of many historians and cultural scholars: memory, in order to be shared and transmitted, or even just preserved if only for ourselves, must be fixed on external supports. Almost all the academics who have studied memory have developed analogous concepts, from the historian Pomian (1999) who talks of “semiophores” to Aleida Assmann who uses the term “mediators of memory” (1999). Today, we often talk in this sense of externalized memory, but the expression should be made clearer, in order to avoid the risk of a substantialist interpretation of the concept. In the first place, to think of memory as something exteriorized entails assuming the character of symbolic mediation that the texts come to have within a culture and hence the interpretive

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and productive practices that determine them. Memory is not in the objects that support it, it is not deposited in the texts, but lies in the processes of construction, interpretation and translation of their meaning. Only from this viewpoint is it possible to avoid a substantialist interpretation of the relationship between memory and its “supports” that should not be seen as a static archive but rather as a set of continually re-readable and re-interpretable traces, and hence always further translatable. Such a definition, if we think about it, is not very far from the idea of semiosis itself and this coincidence is anything but fortuitous: externalized memory is none other than a semioticized memory, that is to say one textualized and set within a system with Expression and Content. From this point of view, externalization holds for individuals as it does for collectivities: the externalized, or semiotic, memory, is not, or is not necessarily, a synonym for the collective memory and, in this sense, any simplistic opposition between individual and collective memory seems untenable.13 The pertinent opposition is not, in fact, one between the individual and the collectivity (or culture) but one between a mental faculty (and hence within the individual) and a semiotic form (hence necessarily external) that makes it potentially, albeit not necessarily, public. Naturally, the individual memory can be externalized, in other words it can be translated from an internal image into a semiotic form, as happens in diaries but also in the shopping lists we make up every day to remind us what to buy in the supermarket. All these forms of memorialization, from the personal memo to public commemoration, can vary greatly with regard to the extent of their insertion in the public sphere, but they are not qualitatively different forms of memory. Individual memory, no differently from what happens with individual enunciation, is always set within a collective and encyclopaedic web of references, permeated and run through with the words, and the memories, of others.

13

On the other hand, that the two levels are not clearly distinguishable is, from another point of view, the central tenet of the work of Maurice Halbwacks, according to whom all our memory is completely immersed and governed by cultural and collective schemata and even the idiosyncratic memories belonging to single individuals take shape only within these memorial frames of reference (Halbwachs 1925, 1950).

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These observations lead us to make a critical review of another very popular opposition in memory studies, namely the one proposed by Jan Assmann (1992) between communicative memory and cultural memory. According to this author, there are two distinct forms of memorialization: on the one hand communicative memory, more direct and closer in time, entrusted to the biographical memory of individuals, and on the other, cultural memory, which lasts much longer over time, and is supra-personal and transgenerational. The circuits of transmission are also different: communicative memory is transmitted directly in the forms of oral and personal communication within the circle of family and friends; cultural memory is established in institutions and texts, no longer mediated by bodily practices but deposited in attested symbolic systems, far from the direct experience of subjects. On analysing trauma sites we shall get a better idea of how a clear distinction between these two types of modality of memory is often difficult, if not impossible: even when the trauma whose story is told by the sites moves away in time, making its memory, according to Assmann’s definition, more cultural than communicative, the set of practices carried out there constantly re-actualize the memory, they make it present, make it circulate through other media, and re-mediate and retranslate it in forms that may also be new and unforeseen. It suffices to think about the thousands of images of memorials taken with mobile phones and posted onto social media sites, such as Flickr, which blur more and more the boundary between the different forms of memorialization and their diverse temporalities. In a different way, the concepts of post-memory (Hirsch 1997) and prosthetic memory (Landsberg 2004) also question the possibility of clearly separating a communicative memory from a cultural one. Both generational memory, which often passes in indirect and non-communicative forms, and the mediatic and prosthetic forms of memory alter and blur all clear differentiation between the two levels. The externalized memory, understood as the semioticized memory defined previously, allows us to make an interesting comparison with another concept now very popular in cognitive studies, that of the external mind, that is, a faculty no longer exclusively thought of as located in the brain of the individual, but as a process distributed among many actors,

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human and non-human.14 Interest in such a notion from our point of view lies above all in its distributed nature: the external mind is a necessarily systemic mind, which is not located in one place alone, but is spread variously among different figures. It is no different with memory: even the memory of a historic event always has a distributed nature inasmuch as it is conveyed by and embedded in countless texts, documents, objects and images that come into relationship with one another, sometimes contributing to the construction of a coherent sense of the past, but more often giving rise to an unstable set of memories and counter-memories. But in this case, too, we are still in the presence not of single, isolated memories but a memory system, in some cases organized in a more stable and coherent way, in others more fragmented and divided into subsystems. The memory system should therefore be analysed as a semiosphere or local encyclopaedia with regard to which it would be especially worthwhile investigating places of tension or conflict, remembering that memory is always, by its nature, a place of contrasts and differences. Memories, especially those relative to collective traumas, always have a conflictual nature, they are memories in competition with one another: each memory implies a counter-memory, just as every narrative holds within itself a counter-narrative. In this, the lesson of semiotics reveals its usefulness because it teaches us to duplicate the prospect of analysis, identifying in each actant its polemical opponent, and in each narrative programme a counter-programme. The analysis of sites can show itself to be an important element in this picture insofar as it is a significant node in the traumatic memory system, a place of possible objections to the rewriting of the past, as we shall see in the debate that has developed in Argentina on the conservation of the ESMA (Chapter 6), but also a place of re-mediation, and so sites come into relation with other texts, forming significant series with them. The Tuol Sleng museum in Cambodia thus becomes the place where Rithy Panh, the Cambodian director who survived the genocide of the Pol Pot regime, sets

14

For a discussion from a semiotic point of view of the concept of the external mind, see the special monographic edition of VS dedicated to it (Fusaroli, Granelli, Paolucci 2011).

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his revisitation of that country’s trauma;15 the Chilean sites show theatrical works on the memory of Pinochet’s dictatorship; the Museo della Memoria in Italy’s Ustica is the home of a cultural festival, and examples are likely to multiply. In all these cases the sites are not only places of memory in se, but also take part in the construction and reconstruction of the meaning of the past, they form a system with the other texts, and they participate in the distributed nature of the collective memory. We have seen that places always mean something other than themselves. Trauma sites talk to us in the first place of the trauma that occurred there, and so it is necessary to start from the trauma.

The “knot” of the trauma Individual traumas and traumatized societies Studies on trauma are almost as equally widespread and varied as those on memory, so much so that they have given rise to a specific disciplinary area, trauma studies, which joins memory studies and is interwoven with them; as we have already remarked, memory and trauma recall and refer to each other more and more often. There are many, often divergent, explanatory theories and even definitions of the category of trauma itself, a category whose story in its turn appears transversal to many disciplinary fields, from psychology and psychoanalysis down to the neurosciences, but that more and more often, in recent years, has involved the humanities, from literary criticism to cultural sociology. Following a suggestion by Luckhurst (2008), perhaps the most productive way to think about this notion today might be the idea of a “knot” as proposed by Latour (1999): from this point of view the knot is the point of interconnection between a broader and more complex conceptual

15

Cf. Demaria 2012.

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network that holds together and binds a varied and heterogeneous series of different perspectives, crossbreeding conceptual fields and subjective forms of experience, even if distant from one another, and making it possible to move between different discursive and theoretical levels. And this starts from the definition of the object of analysis, which can be seen as an intrapsychological phenomenon pertinent to the individual or as a general form of the culture of an entire traumatized society. Thinking of trauma as a conceptual knot makes it possible to highlight how this category is, also, the result of a discourse on it, in fact multiple discourses that have been expressed in various disciplines in recent decades. As we shall see, every discipline has constructed its own and partly different notion of trauma, often extending it to situations and contexts different from those that had generated it. On deconstructing these diverse views, we realize that trauma is not at all something self-evident and “natural”, even though it seems that way to us by now. For the analysis of sites this conclusion will show itself to be particularly important, because it will allow us to see how, behind every conservative or transformative choice, complex dynamics are at work on the way in which the traumatic event is understood, categorized, and transmitted. Within the psychological and clinical purview, the starting point for thinking on trauma can without doubt be seen in Freud’s first works on hysterics, although thinking on the matter had begun even before Freud and comes down to the 1980s with the formulation of the syndrome known as PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder.16 One observation is necessary here: in Freud’s first works the trauma at the basis of hysteria symptoms is a strictly individual trauma, moreover of sexual origin, which is suffered by an individual. Instead, PTSD is a psychiatric diagnostic category that emerges following a general and collective event, specifically the Vietnam War, to define the symptoms of veterans returning from that terrible experience. Over time the notion of trauma 16

In 1980 PTSD was included by the American Psychiatric Association in the first version of the DSM, a diagnostic manual for psychiatrists, legitimizing traumatic neurosis as a specific form in itself distinct from other disorders. Since then the category has expanded enormously and cases treated as PTSD are ever more numerous.

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undergoes progressive broadening and extension, and is today applied to wider and wider categories of patients: not only the direct victims of a traumatic event, but also the so-called secondary victims, such as onlookers, family members, rescuers and even the television spectators of traumatic events, as was the case with 9/11. Ironically, Ruth Leys (2000) points out that even Paula Jones, during President Clinton’s trial, maintained she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder: an extension not devoid of problematic elements and also the subject of much criticism.17 More crucial for our thinking is the qualitative transformation that, starting from the 1990s, affected the notion of trauma, which left the field of psychiatry and related therapeutic problematics to enter the humanities in its own right. Especially in response to the works of postmodern literary critics such as Cathy Caruth (1996a) or of historians such as LaCapra (2001, 2004) trauma has moved on from being a specific psychological disorder to become an interpretive model for a re-reading of the contemporary world, a theoretical interpretive approach far greater in scope, which aims to rethink all our most recent history starting from what has by now become the trauma par excellence, the Holocaust. I shall not attempt here to make a review of this entire field of study, more than amply documented elsewhere.18 Instead, I shall restrict myself to picking up a few terms of the debate and pausing to consider those points I believe to be central to the purposes of my analysis. The theory I intend to

17

18

Allen Young (1995), for example, maintained that PTSD is a historical construct, and not an entity in itself outside time and history, resulting from the practices, technologies and the narratives with which it has been diagnosed, studied, treated and represented, under the pressure of various interests. More recently, Fassin and Rechtman (2009) have questioned the generalization of the notion of trauma by wondering why, and in what way, a conceptual category that originated to explain a specific and rather limited series of phenomena, linked above all to the disorders suffered by soldiers in the First World War, had later become so pervasive and important in both theory and application. For an informed critical review in Italian, see Demaria (2012) and Busch (2007). In English it is worth taking a look at least as Leys (2000) and Luckhurst (2008) whose works contain extensive discussions on the various (psychological, psychoanalytical and literary) developments in trauma theory.

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support is that trauma sites can be interpreted as so many elaborations of the same problems that one also comes across in the theory, or rather in the various theories, of trauma. For this reason, these theories form an indispensable frame of reference, one that transforms the different expository choices – aesthetic but also ethical – made in each of these places and renders them meaningful. At the origins: The two phases of trauma Inevitably, for this brief reconstruction of the conceptual genealogy relevant to the purposes of my analysis, we must start from Freud, and in particular from the first theorization of trauma that we find in his works, right at the beginning of the discovery of psychoanalysis, in the essays on hysteria written in collaboration with Breuer (1892–1895) and in the contemporary early formulations of the role of unconscious fantasies. It is here, in fact, that we find clearly delineated a non-deterministic and anti-causal idea of trauma, which is extremely important from a semiotic point of view. For Freud, hysterical disorders originate in a trauma, generally sexual in nature, but they are not the direct result of that experience, but of its re-emergence after a period of latency and following a second triggering event. In short, hysteria is distress of the memory, not the causal effect of an event, according to the well-known formulation of Freud and Breuer whereby “hysterics suffer mainly from reminiscences” (179). The interesting thing about this position is the time lag established between the traumatic event and its consequences. Freud talks of “deferred” or “delayed” action, an idea that returns in the same years as his theory of infantile seduction. Here, too, the precocious seductions of an adult cause a traumatic effect only much later, when the person, with puberty, has reached full sexual maturity and is therefore able to understand the event. It is only then that the memory is subject to repression, in après coup, or afterwardsness,19 to emerge later, in adult life. The theory of trauma is thus divided into two 19

The German term is Nachträglichkeit, often translated as “deferred action”, “a posteriori”, “afterwardness”, or après coup.

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phases and sees trauma as a phenomenon that is not linear but characterized by a fragmented course that interrupts every direct causality. Afterwardsness means that there is an interval between the event and the consequences of the event, an intermediate, non-deterministic space, in semiotic terms a thirdness that is not reducible to the cause – effect dualism. This is the “space C” that Eco identified as determinant for distinguishing physical phenomena from the semiotic variety and for tracing the lower threshold that separates biological naturalness from semiosis and, all in all, from culture (Eco 1975, 1990). If trauma can no longer be interpreted as causally determined by events but emerges subsequently following other events, internal or external, and from their interpretation, there opens up a very different perspective not only on the aetiology of the traumatic disorder, but on the very concept of trauma, which becomes the result of a semiotic process involving the attribution of meaning, which is far more complex and less linear than it may seem at first sight. The space of afterwardsness establishes an interval that separates the event from the meaning of the event, making trauma an essentially semiotic phenomenon and hence to a certain extent a constructed, or reconstructed one, in the interpretation we make of it, and one not “naturally” given as an inevitable consequence of events. This was to be the path followed recently by some cultural sociologists such as Alexander (2003) who propose a radically constructivist interpretation of the notion of trauma. Even though these positions often distance themselves from the Freudian psychoanalytic paradigm, it seems to us that, paradoxically, in Freud and in the delayed distance of afterwardsness it is possible to see the premises of a constructivist-type approach, to which we shall have occasion to return because it is certainly of crucial importance to our analyses. In Freud’s first works there is also another idea that strikes me as being very relevant for the purposes of this discussion, specifically that of unconscious fantasy. In his first “seduction theory” of 1893, Freud attributed the origin of hysteria to a seduction that had really happened to an adult person in the family circle. Subsequently, however, starting from 1897, he became convinced that the determinant role was played by an unconscious seduction fantasy, and not so much or not necessarily a real experience.

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The boundary between reality and imagination is never clearly definable, and it is not easy to distinguish for either the patient or the psychoanalyst. In this case, too, as with the concept of deferred action, what counts most is the distance of this idea from every deterministic and realistic idea of trauma. In a non-causal theory of trauma the concrete event seems to lose significance and set itself in the changing, shifting internal world: it merges with unconscious fantasies and desires, throws into crisis every clear distinction between external and internal experience and becomes important only when it is remembered, but memory of it is unstable and subject to constant rewriting. Naturally, such theorizing certainly cannot be transposed without mediation when it comes to collective traumas: no one would think of suggesting that wars, dictatorships and genocides can be understood as the result of unconscious fantasies. Nonetheless, as we shall see, even events that are unfortunately very real can be recorded and re-elaborated culturally in very different ways, within narratives that construct highly diversified responsibilities and roles. The forms and modalities with which the collective memory re-elaborates and gives narrative form to its own past traumas cannot fail to constitute just as many partial, oriented reconstructions of those traumas. And they leave in this space an imagination of the trauma that does not necessarily coincide with the historical reality of the events. We shall have to return to this point. Freud was never to formulate a consistent and unitary trauma theory; on the contrary, his main writings on this topic after the studies on hysteria, namely Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920) and Moses and Monotheism (1937–1939), propose partially divergent views. Of particular importance for our discussion is the position assumed in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, where for the first time Freud offers a completed formulation of the hypothesis of a death drive together with that of life. It is significant that the stimulus in this direction came to Freud precisely from thinking about the traumatic neuroses triggered by the First World War, a collective trauma very different from infantile sexual seduction or abuse, in which the compulsion to repeat an unpleasant memory seems to defy any possibility of pleasure. On the basis of this new clinical data Freud rethought the preceding theoretical structure, especially the role of psychosexual drives,

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and formulated a hypothesis regarding the traumatic symptom that was to influence all subsequent thinking. The fixation of the traumatic experience springs from the impossibility of elaborating the event that caused the trauma, and from its being unable to make itself the content of a conscious memory. Not having been elaborated, the repressed thought comes back over and over again in the exact same form. The crisis of representation: Trauma as repetition This is the point marking the start of trauma studies in the 1990s, especially the work of Cathy Caruth (1996a, b), a literary critic and influential representative of the humanistic turn that this field of research has taken. A concept central to this approach is the “crisis of representation”, in other words the impossibility of representing trauma, of signifying it in semiotic form as we might say. While the fixation previously noted by Freud leads to a compulsion to repeat, the symptoms are not “representations” of the trauma, but exact replicas of it. Hence for the traumatized subject there is no possibility of “semioticizing” the experience, transforming it into a narrative and giving it a meaning, and not even of remembering the trauma in the form of a semantic memory. The trauma can only repeat itself endlessly as an “acting out” that does not “represent” a content but simply itself, the very structure of the event, as Caruth maintains. The trauma never reaches the threshold of signification, but returns to the scene identical to itself, it re-presents itself rather than represents itself. The victims themselves would not be able to represent their experience but only to re-actualize it ad infinitum, in a performative manner: in other words, the trauma is given no meaning but is merely repeated literally. In her argument, Caruth also refers to the neurosciences, especially the neurobiological theories of Bessel van der Kolk (1996), according to whom the traumatic event leaves a literal imprint on the brain (a “reality imprint” 1996: 52) that precludes on a neurological level any possibility of representation. This theory would even constitute biological confirmation of the notions of the unrepresentability of trauma, but this position is hotly contested and debated, both for its scientific bases and its overly

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literal application to the historical and critical discourse. I am not able to assess the scientific importance of van der Kolk’s data, but it certainly seems problematic, not to say paradoxical, that a theory such as the trauma theory developed within the ambit of postmodern literary criticism might seek confirmation and validation on neurophysiological bases thus assuming a reductionist position of a scientistic and substantialist type. Even if it were true that the traumatic experience produces a direct imprint on the brain, it would still be necessary to demonstrate every deterministic causality of this datum on complex phenomena such as the elaboration of the experience itself. What seems highly debatable about this position is not the possible material basis of the traumatic phenomenon, but the extreme naturalizing reductionism that reduces trauma to a symptom produced by such a basis. This is not the only reason why Caruth’s positions have been the subject of countless debates. One especially criticized aspect has been the abstract and metaphorical nature of her trauma theory (which springs from literary criticism) as well as the idea of the mimetic and contagious transmission of suffering, which effectively renders specific traumatic experience generic and impossible to locate in any individual.20 But other positions are present in the variegated panorama of trauma studies, less rigidly catastrophic in the preclusion of all forms of representation of traumatic experience. Dominick LaCapra, for example, has elaborated more tentative hypotheses, working on the spaces of articulation that the historian’s discourse will open up in any case when he lets the witness speak. No matter how difficult and delicate the practice of listening to a witness may be, it permits a translation of the experience into an account that suggests the possibility of discursive readability. It cannot be denied that it appears paradoxical, at the very least, to speak of a “crisis of representation” in relation to an event such as the Holocaust, the subject of countless representations, accounts and images in the most diverse media. But we must bear in mind that the positions we are discussing are characterized by two traits: first of all, a strong theoretical vocation and a certain abstractness of approach, as already pointed out; 20 For an extensive and well-documented critical discussion, see Leys 2000 (especially Chapters 7 and 8) and Kansteiner (2004).

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in second place, focalization on the individual response to trauma rather than its being set within the cultural and social discourse. Authors such as Caruth, Hartman, Felmann or Dori Laub think about a collective trauma such as the Holocaust above all starting from a model of individual singularity, in other words the effects that trauma has on the individual, in the possibility or impossibility that the victim has of elaborating the experience, and in the bodily responses of the symptoms that take the place of speech. This dual approach has consequences both for the focalization of the object – the position of the victim, the witness, the survivor, more than the texts produced around the Holocaust – and for the theoretical reference model, which is mainly the psychoanalytic one. From an analytical instrument for the psyche of the individual, psychoanalysis becomes a general theoretical model that goes well beyond individual intrapsychological workings. In this sense an emblematic thought comes from the historian Dominick LaCapra, who takes the psychoanalytic concepts of transfer, acting out and working through in order to apply them to the work of the historian, reinterpreted from a strongly ethical-political standpoint.21 The semiotic perspective within which my research operates diverges from this approach both in terms of the object and in its aims: the objects of semiotic analysis are the processes of signification and communication and hence all the texts that recount, describe, and show trauma, including spaces, which from a semiotic standpoint are also to be understood as texts.22 The aim of the analysis is that of describing the discursive modalities of this social incorporation of trauma: through which narratives is trauma recounted? In addition, through which images is it portrayed? In which places, by which subjects, and above all for which purposes and within which narrative programmes? Nonetheless, the analytic predisposition that lies at the roots of semiotics does not exclude the possibility of a critical interpretation of the forms 21 22

It should be stressed that for this author the use of psychoanalysis and its theoretical apparatus is not to be understood in any therapeutic sense and not even as an instrument of individual self-awareness but rather as an essential form of critical theory. For a further analysis of the concept of text in semiotics, see Pozzato 2001, Marrone 2010a and Volli 2005.

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chosen to transmit and recount memory; on the contrary, it will be precisely the description of the object and its diverse levels of organization that will render the values set within these spaces readable, thus paving the way for a critical reflection, and to some extent a political one, too, on their possible uses and social significance. Some might feel that it is unfashionable to use terms such as political criticism, today considered outdated, but the expression is not used by accident: thinking about trauma and its recall obliges us to think about how individuals and the materiality of their bodies are reintroduced to the texts we analyse and the theories we use to talk about them, charging the task of interpretation with a strong commitment to values and making the analysis itself an act that is at least potentially political. Mimesis and anti-mimesis Despite the different approach, these reflections on trauma studies amount to an important stimulus for our work. In particular, what will prove central to the discussion on trauma sites will be the tension that emerges within that model between two modalities of thinking about trauma and its possible memorialization. To describe them, we can have recourse to the opposition suggested by Leys (2000) between mimetic and anti-mimetic theories, even though the way I shall use these notions will partly diverge from the formulation proposed by Leys. According to this last author, in the mimetic version the trauma represents itself in a direct, non-mediated form, such as acting out and repetition of the same; in the anti-mimetic polarity, instead, the trauma is thought of as an event accessible to the memory, therefore subject to representation and constant revision, distinct and differentiated from the subject who has experienced it. The mimetic theory holds that trauma, or the experience of the traumatized subject, can be understood as involving a kind of hypnotic imitation or identification in which, precisely because the victim cannot recall the original traumatogenic event, she is fated to act it out or in other ways imitate it. The idea is that the traumatic experience in its sheer extremity, its affront to common norms and expectations, shatters or disables the victim’s cognitive and perceptual capacities so that the experience never becomes part of the ordinary memory system. (Leys 2000: 298)

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Conversely, in the anti-mimetic approach victims remain to some extent distant and separated from the traumatic event, in the position of spectators able to see and represent the events to themselves and to others. The antimimetic theory is compatible with, and often gives way to, the idea that trauma is a purely external event that befalls a fully constituted subject; […] there is in principle no problem of eventually remembering of otherwise recovering the event, though in practice the process of bringing this about may be long and tortuous. (Levy 2000: 299)

Despite the noted closeness between the mimetic polarity and acting out, the mimetic and anti-mimetic categories do not entirely overlap with those of acting out and working through; in fact this last term practically never appears in Leys’ book, nor does the author attempt a critical comparison of the two concepts, a shortcoming that she has been criticized for at times.23 Despite these limitations, the polarities of mimesis and anti-mimesis can help us to outline a field of tensions, a significant thematic “knot” within our thinking on trauma, and will prove themselves useful in mapping the diverse forms of the spatial memorization of trauma sites. The opposition between a mimetic and an anti-mimetic theory also concerns the issue of testimony, set very differently in the two cases. From the mimetic standpoint the victim’s account of his own experience is not entirely reliable: “To the extent that the traumatic occurrence is considered never to have become part of the victim’s ordinary memory, it is unclear how she can truthfully testify to what befell her” (Levy 2000: 299). In a certain sense you could say that the victim really has not “had experience” of the trauma, but only of its deferred effects, since the event cannot be entirely assimilated when it actually occurs, but only subsequently, in its compulsive repetition. This is the position of Cathy Caruth, who defines trauma as “an overwhelming experience of sudden or catastrophic events in which the response to the event occurs in the often delayed, uncontrolled repetitive appearance of hallucinations and other intrusive phenomena” (Caruth 1996: 11). The strength of the trauma does not depend only on the

23

For this, see LaCapra 2004 pp 83 and ff.

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fact that experience of it is repeated after having been forgotten, but “that it is only in and through its inherent forgetting that it is first experienced al all. […] [The trauma] is fully evident only in connection with another place, and another time” (ibid. 17). Traumatic events are experienced only when the past, which to some extent has not taken place in the awareness, intrudes into the present and demands attention. For this reason, the experience of the trauma is “unclaimed”, but is only suffered through the effects of its recurrence. In the anti-mimetic theory, instead, the subject is to some extent a spectator to an external event that she can therefore represent fully to herself and to others; in these cases, there would not occur phenomena of identification with the aggressor on the part of the victim, violence being represented as pure aggression from the outside. Right from its origins, the history of thinking about trauma has oscillated between these two positions, often in the same author, as happens in the case of Freud, who on the one hand can be considered the father of a mimetic position on trauma, understood as fixation and compulsion, while on the other, on the level of treatment, he called for the elaboration of the experience through talking, which we can place on the anti-mimetic level.24 In the same years as Freud, Pierre Janet suggested a distinction between traumatic memory and narrative memory, which in a certain sense we could put in parallel with the mimesis versus anti-mimesis opposition. Traumatic memory is an unconscious repetition of the past, whereas narrative memory makes it the subject of a narrative and in this way elaborates it, integrates it and, from a therapeutic standpoint, cures it, or at least blunts its most disturbing and destructive aspects. To a large extent trauma therapy can be seen as a transformation and integration of the traumatic memory into the narrative memory whose ultimate purpose, according to the words of Judith Herman (1992: 77) is that of “putting the story into words”. To this day one of the most widespread, albeit controversial, treatment models for PTSD is Recovered Memory 24 Here the anti-mimetic concept would appear close to the task of working through. But in reality things are more complex because, at least in the first phases of Freud’s thinking, a model based on hypnosis was still central. For a discussion, see Leys.

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Therapy (RMT) based on an analogous principle, namely the recovery on the subject’s part of the traumatic recollections buried in the memory but still recoverable through therapy.25 But it is not solely on the level of treatment that questions arise regarding the relationship between traumatic memory on the one hand and possible forms of its discursivization and elaboration on the other; all contemporary thinking on trauma ponders these issues: can we semioticize the traumatic experience in the form of an account and a representation, or can it only be reproposed mimetically through a “direct”, so to speak, representation of it? Acting out and working-through Dominick LaCapra, reflecting on the form of the historical discourse on trauma, starts from Walter Benjamin’s distinction between Erlebnis and Erfahrung and connects it to the concepts of psychoanalytic origin, namely acting out and working through. Acting out is the compulsive and literal repetition of the past, the tendency to relive the trauma without being able to distance oneself from it in a fixed atemporality over an expanded and continuative present. This non-semioticized acting out that does not manage to produce meaning but remains symptomatic is opposed by working through, a process that makes it possible, together with the narrativization and the enunciation of the trauma, to get over it – even though this is difficult and always partial. The moment of acting out has often been absolutized in trauma studies in polemical opposition to any facile attempt to suture and “harmonize” trauma by representing it in watered-down forms. From this standpoint, every representation of trauma becomes impossible or trivializing: trauma cannot be represented but only re-presented, above and beyond any logic 25

In reality RMT is hotly debated and has given rise to controversial legal cases such as that of George Franklin, accused of homicide in California in 1990 on the sole basis of the testimony of his daughter, who had “recovered” the repressed memory in therapy. For a discussion on RMT, see Loftus and Ketcham 1996 and Terr 1994.

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of discursive “normalization”. From this viewpoint we can interpret the dispute over so-called “redemptive narratives” (LaCapra 2001), of which one typical example is the successful television series of the 1970s, Holocaust, subsequently broadcast in many European countries, too, which contributed greatly to the popularization of the genocide of the Jews.26 But we might consider many more examples, from Roberto Benigni’s film Life is Beautiful, sometimes accused of reducing the historical reality of the camps to a Disneyland that is “too unrealistic or not unrealistic enough” at one and the same time (LaCapra 2004: 100), to Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, at the end of which the tension and the contradictions linked to the main character, a Nazi industrialist who nonetheless helps the Jews, are resolved in the edifying reconstruction of Schindler’s image as a totally positive hero and martyr. I shall not go into this particular debate, even though the issue is certainly of great semiotic interest because it deals directly with forms of representation, of how extreme suffering can be represented, and of the voyeuristic and at the same time self-reassuring components that many media representations of the Holocaust, and traumas in general, seem to exhibit. In other words, this would be a matter of thinking about the issue of the “right distance” with regard to trauma representation, a problem that arises, albeit with its specific modalities, also in relation to trauma sites and that I shall tackle in the course of the specific analyses of these places. In general, the question of the complex relationship between the representation and the traumatic event has been mostly solved in trauma studies through a radical distancing from every form of representation, with the result of reproducing a paralysing oppositive logic: on the one hand a trivializing objectification, and on the other compulsive repetition, without intermediate possibilities. In their own way, these two responses are complementary in their absolutization of a single interpretation. 26

Note that a series such as Holocaust played a dual role with respect to the knowledge and cultural construction of the Holocaust as the collective trauma of the twentieth century, acting on the one hand as the stereotypical trivialization of the trauma, and on the other as a powerful mass media instrument that popularized the genocide of the Jews. On this point, see Pisanty 2012.

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Within this framework it is interesting to take another look at the positions of the historian Dominick LaCapra who, although he agrees with many of the assumptions of the authors we have cited, tries to pinpoint a different answer. In fact, LaCapra suggests a less dichotomous interpretation of trauma by recognizing its ineliminable complexity and trying to avoid any radical contraposition between processes that are always partially intertwined and co-present. Acting out and working through, more than a dichotomy or a clean separation between totally different categories, appear to be distinctions between processes that interact one with the other, often in an ineliminable manner. The acting out of the trauma on the part of the victim can be a necessary phase that is not, however, absolutely opposed to a complementary process of elaboration . From this standpoint, working through is a process of re-articulation and of realignment of forces that balance the compulsion to repeat characteristic of acting out, rather than a form of total control and memorization of an affective experience that is not completely conscious at the moment of the traumatic event. It does not ensure any definitive integration of the representations and the affects dramatically sundered in the traumatic experience, not does it guarantee their conciliated transformation into a narrative form. The story cannot be rewritten as if the trauma had never happened, but it is possible to work on the symptoms so as to attenuate their compulsive repetition, linking past and present in a non-deterministic opening towards the future, a receptiveness that does not mean the definitive overcoming of the traumatic split, nor does it exclude forever the re-emergence of acting out. This co-presence of attitudes and responses does not hold only for the victims but also for those involved, in various roles, in the task of reconstructing traumatic events. LaCapra is thinking in the first place about historians, in their turn subject to “empathic unsettlement” (LaCapra 2001) when confronted with the experience of trauma, an unsettlement that can also lead to processes of transference and identification with the victims. Empathic unsettlement is to some extent not only inevitable in those who approach traumatic events as scholars, but can also prove itself to be a precious antidote to all forms of neutralizing objectification with respect to the object of one’s study because it brings into play the subjectivity of the

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person writing and his or her involvement with the events they recount. In this complex work of rewriting and, we might say, of the translation of the other’s words, historians make themselves witnesses, too, secondary witnesses, potentially possessed by the very suffering they give voice to. In this case, too, actually, it is a matter of the “right distance” with respect to the account of suffering: which modalities, which discursive forms are chosen in order to give an account of utter horror without becoming internally captured by it, without identifying with the victims by becoming a surrogate victim in one’s turn? So as to avoid running this risk it is necessary to avoid confusing empathy and identification, a distinction we shall consider once more in relation to our sites. For LaCapra, empathic unsettling does not imply identification with the victim and the consequent disappearance of all otherness and distance, it is rather a kind of emotional resonance that makes it possible to go through loss without absolutizing it. The historical discourse takes on, from this standpoint, an ethical and political function insofar as it is a specific writing practice that can contribute to the process of working through the trauma. In working-through, the person tries to gain critical distance on a problem and to distinguish – as well as explore the interaction – between past, present and future. […] Working-through involves coming to terms with extreme events, including the trauma that typically attends them, and critically engaging – but not simply reinforcing – the tendency to act out the past while nonetheless recognizing why acting out may be necessary and even compelling. (LaCapra 2004:104)

Acting out and working through are not just psychological responses to trauma, they can also be seen, semiotically, as diverse forms of discourse, different textual modalities aimed at organizing the narration of trauma. It is from this standpoint that we can re-interpret the distinction suggested by LaCapra between writing the trauma and writing about the trauma (LaCapra 2001). Writing about trauma is an aspect of historiographical writing whose aim is the objective, but not objectified, reconstruction of trauma, where the criteria of historical verifiability do not imply a denial of the researcher’s subjective involvement in the problems he or she is dealing with, as already suggested by the idea of empathic unsettlement.

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Writing the trauma is a metaphor more than anything else, since every writing always implies a form of distance from its object; it is impossible, therefore, to write the trauma, if for no other reason than the trauma, even if connected with specific events “cannot be localized in terms of a discrete, dated experience. Trauma indicates a shattering break or cesura in experience which has belated effects” (LaCapra 2001: 186). So writing the trauma becomes one of these possible traumatic after effects, which in its turn can be expressed in different combinations and hybridized forms of acting out and elaboration, between artistic and performative practices, in the laborious effort to come to terms with the traumatic experience and its symptomatic effects, to give voice to a past that resists the word. In other words, a discursive form that often translates into aesthetic, literary and artistic writing, strongly charged with pathos and aimed at arousing a participatory relationship with the reader rather than developing a critical analysis. The distinction suggested by LaCapra might be more incisive if reformulated within a more rigorous methodological framework, one more focused on the specific discursive strategies of every single writing. We can talk trauma, or talk about trauma, in many different ways, adopting differentiated points of view and narrative perspectives, getting closer to or moving away from the enunciation, setting it within highly diverse textual genres. It is not only a matter of distinguishing the historian’s critical task from the literary scholar’s more evocative one, but also of specifying every time the entire articulation of the discursive forms of every single text. What is, for example, the subject of the enunciation that talks about trauma (or the trauma)? Is it the victim, the witness, the survivor? Are they the children or grandchildren of those directly involved? Is it the historian, the literary person, the philosopher? Within which discursive genre to set one’s narrative: the autobiographical account, the work of fiction, the academic essay? What distance does the enunciator assume with respect to her own enunciation and how does she set her own words within it? More analytical work in this sense could take account in greater depth of the many different ways of expressing

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the discourse of trauma, redefining some of its descriptive categories that, albeit useful, risk becoming over simplified.27 Representing and re-presenting trauma in space Erlebnis and Erfahrung, acting out and working through, mimesis and anti-mimesis, writing trauma and writing about trauma: pairs of opposite terms that, albeit in their respective diversity, refer to recurrent concepts in critical thinking on trauma, and that will prove to be useful instruments for elaboration also for the analysis of the real places of trauma. We shall discover here the tension between a representative logic, which in any case brings into play a distance and a separation between event, experience and representation, even though in different forms and ways to be specified each time, and a re-presentative logic, which tends rather to re-actualize the trauma by collapsing past and present in the ongoing act of the visit. Naturally, extending the concepts discussed until now to the analysis of spatiality is an operation that requires some caution: here we are not talking about either the response of the victims or the forms of the theory, as was the case in the works of Leys or LaCapra. Albeit with this distinction, and anticipating a theme that we must return to in Chapter 2, we might say that the places of trauma are also classifiable, approximately, in “mimetic” and “anti-mimetic” sites, sites that “act” the trauma, presentifying it in a form similar to acting out, and sites that distance themselves from it in accordance with a more critical and reflective modality.

27

Semiotic instruments might also help to reformulate a problem frequently discussed in trauma studies, namely that of the “middle voice” (Hayden White 1992), occasionally compared with the free indirect style, even though the two notions do not coincide. It seems to me that the problem could be formulated in a more precise methodological manner by using, for example, the theory of enunciating instances (Coquet 2007) that describes the relationship of assumption between enunciation and the enunciate starting from the hypothesis that the production of a text does not always imply total control of what is produced but can call for various modulations and distances.

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All those memorials and museums that tend to re-represent directly and without mediation the place “just as it was” are mimetic, even though we shall see that conserving a place “as it was” is something less obvious than it appears at first sight. One prototype of this model is certainly the Oradour site in France. Oradour-sur-Glane was a little village in the Limousine area, destroyed by the Nazis in 1944 during their retreat. It is still not known whether this was intended as a demonstration aimed at spreading terror or a result of the conviction that partisans of the maquis were hiding in the village. In reality the only people in the village were women, elderly people and children, all slaughtered or burned alive. At the end of the war it was decided to keep the ruins of the village exactly as they were, without altering a single detail, and the entire village, fenced off, became a great open-air memorial site, which is entered through a little documentation centre.28 Another example is the Tuol Sleng museum in Phnom Penh in Cambodia, which I shall analyse in Chapter 3, where even the victims’ bloodstains have been preserved exactly as they were. In these cases, the scene of horror is kept and reproduced in the most faithful manner possible, in a mimetic and re-presentative form. In other cases, instead, conservation takes more mediated forms that distance themselves from all direct mimetic effects. Naturally, this is merely a simplification, because there are very many possible contaminations between these two ideal models, and many sites effectively combine diverse elements and forms, not to mention those memorials that seek innovative solutions, eluding the alternative at least in part. In some cases, and we shall see in an exemplary fashion in the Museo per la Memoria in Ustica (Chapter 7), the path chosen has been that of an artistic elaboration that has given rise to a museum-installation, a hybrid form that is at once a place of memory, aesthetic event and art exhibition.

28

On Oradour-sur-Glane, see Sarah Farmer’s research (1999). Oradour is not the only example of similar sites that we might define as “extensive” sites, and conserve not only a particular place, such as a prison or a concentration camp, but an entire village or city struck by a trauma. Another similar case is the Chernobyl museum and the entire neighbouring town of Pripyat, which numbered 47,000 inhabitants and was abandoned after the disaster and can be visited today as a memorial.

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An operation that, in its artistic and performative values, really seems to choose to write the trauma, in the sense indicated by LaCapra. And so even a museum can also be seen as an entirely particular form of writing and as such it opens up questions analogous to those we have posed so far, in the first place those regarding the social and political function that a memorial space can perform. Can a museum contribute to the process of elaboration of the trauma of a community? What role can be played by the rewriting, reinterpretation and transformation of the past? What images can it convey, what narratives can it legitimize, what actorial roles can it redraw? Concrete analyses will show us how museums of memory perform highly differentiated functions regarding these problems, at times aiding the work of working through on the part of a traumatized society emerging from a conflict or great distress, at times instead concealing the story of past events by suggesting an ideological, partial and functional interpretation of them to new logics of power and dominance. Finally, we observe that the sites I have called “mimetic” here imply a curious paradox if read in the light of the positions we have just discussed, exemplified above all in the work of Caruth (1996). In point of fact the mimetic option translates into a direct exposition of the horror without any form of discursive or interpretive mediation. While this option can bring to mind a kind of unthinking acting out of the trauma, the realism exhibited by extreme violence seems to be poles apart from every hypothetical crisis of representation. In reality the paradox depends, yet again, on the possible misunderstandings hidden behind the notion of “crisis of representation”. The analysis of those particular texts that are trauma sites will lead us to rethink and reformulate this concept in different terms: from our point of view it is not so much a matter of wondering whether the trauma is more or less representable, but of how it is chosen to show, recount and elaborate it, through which traces, according to which mediations, and with which voices and through which eyes. The discussion on the forms of representation obviously concerns in the first place the meaning of those places, but it also raises ethical and political questions, starting with an ethics of testimony, another question at the heart of the debate on trauma.

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Unwitting witnesses The witness is never alone: Testimony as translation If trauma cannot be represented, if it cannot be spoken because it can only present itself as a symptom, nor can there be any witness to it: the survivor, insofar as he is a victim of the event, cannot bear witness to it because of the very nature of his experience. In trauma theory, reflection on the crisis of representation is immediately interwoven with a debate on the difficulty of testimony, starting with what is the trauma par excellence of the twentieth century, the Holocaust, an “event without witnesses”, as it is defined by Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub (1992) because it is an event that eliminated its own witnesses. The Holocaust irremediably shattered the pre-existing frames of reference and the interpretive categories that are no longer able to contain and give a discursive form to what happened. For Felman and Laub, is the watershed event of the twentieth century because, unique in this sense, it exceeds our capacity to understand and interpret it. Responsible for a crisis of representation that is epistemological and ontological at the same time, which manifests itself on the level of language, the Holocaust represents the aporia that seems to run through contemporary thinking on trauma: “The necessity of testimony it affirms in reality derives, paradoxically enough, from the impossibility of testimony” (Felman and Laud 1992: 224). What is in play here is not just a psychological impossibility on the victim’s part, but a far more radical existential interdiction, the paradox that Primo Levi referred to by evoking the figure of the “integral witness”: faced with the Holocaust, the only possible witnesses are those who can no longer testify, the dead and the submerged. From Adorno (1966) to Lyotard (1979), down to Agamben (1995, 1998), philosophy has asked itself many questions about this theme, reflecting on an aesthetic of the unrepresentable and on the impossibility of testimony. Nonetheless it is legitimate to wonder why victims should not tell their story. If we think about it, such a position seems to presuppose a kind of implicit negative sanction with regard to survivors, almost a direct responsibility for the very fact of having survived. Now, while it is true that,

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often, those who manage to survive a highly traumatic experience can feel a great sense of guilt and continue to carry this burden for the rest of their lives, on a less psychological level it should not be forgotten that survivors are always, and above all, victims. The suspicion lingers that some philosophical reflection on this subject is guilty of the same excessive abstraction that characterizes the idea of the crisis of representation: despite all the difficulties that the act of testifying involves, in point of fact victims have continued to testify – fortunately, one feels – from the Eichmann trial down to the numerous recent trials for crimes committed in former Yugoslavia, not to mention the archives that above all in the United States have begun to collect on a vast scale testimony regarding the Holocaust, starting from the 1980s.29 An active part in the construction of these archives of testimony was also played by Dori Laub, whose position on this point is very different to that of Cathy Caruth, thanks also, perhaps, to his therapeutic work with survivors as a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. Laub would certainly not maintain that victims “must not” tell their story, on the contrary in his view testimony is conceptualized as a “brief therapeutic contract” (Felman and Laub 1992: 70) in which the victim goes through her own experience through a process that has something to do with working through and the elaboration of grief, whereas the interviewer can maintain a certain objectivity and detachment from the event recounted. However, even in the form of an acting out that still does not manage to become a finished narrative, or of a corporeal acting out that becomes a symptom, or a recurrent nightmare, the victim-witness gives voice to his own fragmented memory, and in so doing constructs in his turn those who listen to him as a witness. This is a secondary, or vicarious, witness, a witness’s witness so to speak, through whom the trauma may spread and also pass to other generations, as all the post-memory literature has begun to investigate.30 29

There are two important archives in North America: the Holocaust Archives of Yale University, directed by Geoffrey Hartman and opened in 1981, and the Shoa Visual History Foundation, organized by the director Steven Spielberg in 1994. 30 For post-memory, see Hirsch 1997 and 2012.

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In trauma studies thinking about the secondary witness has often, and especially, entertained questions of an ethical nature, such as the empathic dimension that characterizes this highly particular kind of listening. We have already mentioned empathic unsettlement (LaCapra 2001), which can strike those involved in the reconstruction of events, such as historians, but we shall see that something very similar also strikes those who visit trauma sites, and are left captured by their evocative power. The power that these places can emanate sometimes even configures the experience of the visit as traumatic in itself. This is an emotional involvement that does not regard (only) an individual psychological reaction, but is provided for and written into the very structure of the place, and as such it should be questioned not on the level of individual responses but on the more general one of the expositional strategies that express the meaning of these places. We shall come back to these issues in Chapter 2, but for now I would like to deal briefly with another aspect, more strictly semiotic in nature, which regards the problematics of the witness and which has not always received sufficient attention. When it is received by someone else, even the most mimetic and less mediated symptom and bodily acting out of linguistic and discursive awareness is interpreted and inevitably enters into an intersubjective and social process of construction of meaning that transforms the replica of the event into a sign of that event. The shift from the direct witness to secondary ones always involves a translational semiotic dimension that produces conversions of meaning; while for the victim-witness the traumatic memory is only expressed as a somatic image and sensation, nightmare or flashback, in the act of listening the secondary witness translates all this into another form, interpreting it and lending it meaning. If we no longer look at the witness as the bearer of an absolute truth, but place him in the context of a shared space, by its nature a semiotic space of translation, then the testimony, in whatever form it is expressed, even if with silence, is meaningful all the same. It could be said that the witness is never alone: the act of witnessing, in whatever form it takes, is an enunciation that always implies two actants, an enunciator and an enunciatee, and constructs a dialogical space in which an intersubjective construction of meaning takes place. All testimony introduces a new point of view and in this way it transforms the previously deposited meaning, producing a

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new narration that is added to the event. While the experience of the traumatic event can be questioned, following Freud, as the intra-psychological process that occurs within individuals, their testimony always takes form in the dialogical intersubjective space. This implies the necessity to ask ourselves in a more precise way about the various discursive forms within which witnesses’ words are set, the various enunciative positions and the various genres that that receive and give form to their words. Testifying at a trial is not the same as elaborating one’s own trauma within a therapeutic setting, neither is it the same as writing one’s own memories. All testimony is set within a discursive genre that poses specific constraints, even though the single text can always transcend them, and is at once a denunciation, a literary work and a therapeutic form, expressing within itself heterogeneous discursive dimensions. In the light of these considerations, it seems more and more problematic to speak of the impossibility of representation and testimony, especially if we move away from the sphere of individual psychological responses to reflect on more general cultural dynamics that regulate social representations and their circulation. In fact it is not only witness testimony that speaks of trauma, but also all texts that recount it, stage, document or rewrite it. This includes films, images, works of art, television series, documentaries, strip cartoons, and in short all the media that from the Holocaust onwards have made the many traumas of our time a privileged object of representation and that in this way have also worked as translation devices through different communities. The witness function of space Among the texts that speak to us about trauma there are also the places of trauma. One of the interpretive hypotheses that guides this research is that trauma sites have a specific witness function, precisely in their conserving material traces of the event. The places are in a certain sense “natural” witnesses, or perhaps better “unwitting witnesses”, to that which has occurred there. Places of prosthetic memory, we might say, to use a category that has now become very fashionable in memory studies and alludes to the role

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that some media, especially photography and cinema, can play not in transmitting memories, but in bringing them to new life through an empathic participation that transforms the modalities of reception (Landsberg 2004). In Chapter 2 I shall return to this notion, not devoid of some ambiguities. For now, I shall limit myself to observing that something similar also frequently happens in places of memory, where visitors are invited more and more often to join in an empathic participation strongly marked by a multimodal sensory involvement that to some extent tends to make them take on the role of witness, or even simulate a position as victim. We shall see in the analysis of some cases how this transformation of the visitor’s actorial role characterizes some sites in a most particular way, and we shall discuss some implications that are not always linear. Is it really possible to make visitors witnesses to what they have not seen in a direct form? Can people experience a trauma vicariously, even those who were not present and are perhaps very distant from the victims in terms of education, culture and background? And moreover: is the witness’s position one of empathic participation or identification? Is it right for empathy to be transformed into identification? If it exists, what is the aesthetic, but also ethical, threshold that should not be crossed? Is there a “right distance” with regard to the account of the trauma? We shall come back to these questions, but for the time being we shall observe that with these considerations we are moving away from the sphere of the single individualities involved in the trauma in order to turn to a more general and cultural dimension of trauma.

From individual to cultural trauma The traumatized society Thinking that the sites function, in some way, as witnesses to the event that occurred in that place takes us very far from the reflections on the witness discussed previously. By doing so, we have inadvertently implemented an

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important shift that requires some consideration: we have moved from the responses and reactions of the individual subject to the more general level of possible representations and introduced a trauma that might be termed “collective”. Semiotically, this is a different aspectualization of the actor: we are no longer focused on an individual, at the centre of the narrative, but on an extended group, down to the indistinct totality of the collectivity. But is such an extension justified? Can we really talk, in non-metaphorical terms, of “collective trauma”, presupposing a homogeneous, completely undifferentiated and internally indistinguishable collectivity? With regard to this point much criticism has been aimed at the notion of collective trauma, Kansteiner (2004) and Kansteiner and Weilnböck (2008), for example, object to the historical and moral inaccuracy that risks putting victims, perpetrators and witnesses to traumatic events on the same level. For these reasons it is perhaps preferable to think in terms of a traumatized society, an expression that presupposes an internally stratified and mobile whole made up of several subjects, groups and collective actors. A traumatized society is a social body in which trauma is widespread, but not necessarily in homogeneous forms and not in the same way in all its components, and this heterogeneity can also help us to understand how different and even contrasting memories can endure alongside one another. But the question we must ask ourselves is another: what happens in the passage from the individual to the society? Can we apply the same analytic and interpretive models conceived for the individual to an entire community, or do we need qualitatively different conceptualizations? Positions diverge with regard to this difficult question and substantially take two opposite directions. On the one hand some propose a linear extension of the individual model to the entire collectivity. For example, in a famous work on the effects of a devastating natural calamity,31 Kai Erikson, one of the first authors to thematize the difference between individual and collective trauma, proposes a definition of collective trauma that has clearly been taken from the individual model of psychoanalytic origin. As individual trauma is an excessive tear in the psychological shell of the individual 31

This was a flood with very dramatic effects on a small community in the Appalachians (Erikson 1976).

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that overwhelms his defences so violently as to make normal defence mechanisms impossible, so is collective trauma “a blow to the basic tissues of social life that damages the bonds attaching people together and impairs the prevailing sense of communality” (Erikson 1991: 460). In this way collective trauma is a shock that attacks communities, in a way that is not very different to what happens to the individual. “We no longer exist as a connected pair or as linked cells in a larger communal body” (Erikson 1976:154). This is the most widespread position in trauma studies: the theory of trauma that we have considered so far, developed in critical-literary studies with a strong postmodern influence, is substantially indebted to an approach of a psychoanalytic type, which projects the model of individual psychological trauma onto the collective plane. But there is a contrasting tradition, prevalent in sociological circles, which opposes modelling society on the individual psyche and tends instead to invert the order of factors. Starting from the founding idea in Maurice Halbwachs’ notebooks on memory (1925, 1950), general schemata that give form and structure to the memories of individuals, it was rather social models that supplied the interpretive keys to individual behaviours. Constructing the trauma It is in this tradition that we should interpret the contribution, a provocative one but very relevant to our ends, made by Jeffrey Alexander (2003) and his suggestion with regard to cultural trauma. For Alexander, trauma is not an event but a social construct, more precisely a “socially mediated attribution” that may not be correlated to the temporality of the traumatic event and may even take place in the absence of any event: First and foremost, I maintain that events do not, in and of themselves, create collective trauma. Events are not inherently traumatic. Trauma is a socially mediated attribution. The attribution may be made in real time, as an event unfolds; it may also be made before the event occurs, as an adumbration, or after the event has concluded, as a post hoc reconstruction. Sometimes, in fact, events that are deeply traumatizing may not actually have occurred at all; such imagined events, however, can be as traumatizing as events that have actually occurred. (Alexander 2003: 91)

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Alexander’s radically constructivist standpoint cleanly separates the events from the meaning that they acquire for a social group: a traumatic event is not enough to determine a cultural trauma, because this depends entirely on the attribution of meaning to that event. It is the “spiral of signification” that determines the status of “trauma” accorded to some phenomenon, be it true or even merely imaginary. It can also happen that at the origin of the cultural construct of a trauma there is no specific event, given that the phenomena are not perceived as traumatic “not because of their actual harmfulness or their objective abruptness, but because these phenomena are believed to have abruptly, and harmfully, affected collective identity […] It is the meanings that provide the sense of shockingness and fear, not the events in themselves” (Alexander 2003: 92). It is evident how an approach of this kind, with its emphasis on beliefs rather than the ontological reality of the phenomena, is very interesting for a semiotic interpretation of social phenomena, which has always taken more interest in the ways in which socio-cultural processes of signification are constructed rather than the factual determination of events. Semiotics does not deal with establishing facts, but with the meaning that these facts have taken on for some people and therefore it always works starting from that distinction between the event and the meaning of the event that characterizes a constructivist approach. Yet one question necessarily arises at this point: what is the exact nature of this constructivism? Alexander’s theory oscillates between a radical constructivism, according to which reality does not exist while all that does exist are interpretations and moderated constructivism, which focalizes the aspects of semiotic mediation that culture exerts upon reality. It is this last constructivism that is generally agreed on in semiotics, and it is the kind that I identify with, in conformity with the theoretical assumptions of a cultural semiotics whose vocation is both structural and interpretive. What is shared by the two approaches is the critical debate regarding all positions that naturalize phenomena, in this case the concept of trauma itself. This starts with a precise anti-naturalistic option – “trauma is not something naturally existing; it is something constructed by society” (ibid. 86) – in which Alexander develops his critique of naturalistic theories, which all acritically assume the objective existence of an event as the direct cause of the perceived trauma. These theories, including Cathy

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Caruth’s psychoanalytically based one, are fundamentally what Alexander calls “laymen theories”, which we can also define as “common sense theories”, insofar as they are based on the common sense assumption that a trauma is the “natural” consequence of the event that causes it. Certainly common sense often strikes us as very reasonable and “natural”, and one can be surprised, or even annoyed, when coming across the statement that “events are not intrinsically traumatic”, on thinking of the terrible traumas of our times and their countless victims. But the statement should be interpreted by contextualizing it in a discourse that is not centred on the victim and their individual and psychological response to the trauma suffered, but on trauma as it is socially perceived and on the semiotic mediation that it involves, even though the distinction is not always so clear in Alexander’s work, perhaps because of the inevitable polemical necessities of a controversial position. It is hard to maintain that the individual victim “constructs” the trauma, rather than being subjected to extreme violence in the great many exterminations and mass crimes that still characterize our time, even though it is still true that the meaning of an event (but not the event) will always be, for the individual, too, the result of semiotic mediation.32 But the margins of this mediation can certainly be, in these extreme cases, really very slim. To put it in other terms, while it is true that also for the individual there is never an absolute determinism between the event and the meaning of the event, in the case of extreme traumatic events the causal relationship seems to take on a role that it is hard to avoid. However, if we move from the individual to the social level, the aspect of semiotic construction becomes preponderant: for an event to exist in

32

This is the basic lesson of the semiotic point of view, which comes to us both from the philosophical theory of Charles Sanders Peirce and from structuralism: meaning always comes to us through semiotic mediation, and not in a “natural” and direct way. On the other hand, as we have seen, even in the Freudian elaboration of trauma there was no deterministic naturalism, and the importance of an imaginary component connected with unconscious fantasies was clearly recognized. The meaning we attribute to things and experience is always a phenomenon mediated by representations, be they conscious or unconscious.

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a social and cultural form first and foremost it must be recognized, interpreted and categorized as such. In other words, it must be semiotically mediated. There are countless historical examples of collective traumas that have not been recognized, or have been only many years after the historical events that determined them. We need just think of Spain, where the process of elaboration and social and collective recognition of the trauma was so lengthy and controversial that it led to the need for an appropriate law on the historical memory decades after the civil war and Francoism.33 Nonrecognition on a cultural and collective level certainly does not entail forgetting single individuals but renders the legitimization of their memories problematic, and perhaps also the very possibility of establishing themselves as recognizable narratives. According to Halbwachs, individual memories always require a frame of reference that is socially shared; whether or not we accept this theory of its radical nature, the case of Spain shows that important gaps between individual and social processes of memorization and forgetfulness are certainly possible. When individual and public memories diverge dramatically, it is possible to create a strong semiotic instability in the system of collective memory, because individual memories are not “aligned” and included in a culturally shared form of the attribution of meaning. If the trauma is not recognized and culturally “valorized”, the victims will be unable to set their own experience in a common frame of interpretation and “sayability”. From this standpoint, the experience of trauma is no longer the starting point but rather the terminative result of a process that reconstructs the meaning of events a posteriori, attributes a role to the persecutors and gives recognition to the victims, permitting the different narratives to find a reciprocal adjustment. Sites of memory, just like museums, monuments, holy places, rituals and commemorations, contribute to the recognisability and sayability of the trauma, participating in the consolidation of a new collective identity as specific procedures of what Alexander has called the “routinization of trauma”.

33

Cf. Violi 2015.

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From cultural trauma to the traumatic heritage: The value of trauma The very heated debate that developed in Spain with regard to the Ley de la Memoria Histórica shows how around historical trauma crucial duels are in play for cultural and political hegemony. As well as being a socially constructed category, trauma is also a place where values are contended for with the aim of possessing them: paradoxically, trauma itself can become an object of value, something to be preserved and controlled, strange as that may seem. The introduction of the concept the value of trauma suggests we should go further than the idea of cultural trauma towards a new analytical category, that of traumatic heritage. Traumatic heritage is the outcome of a process not only of cultural reconstruction of the meaning of a given event, but also of the attribution of a value to that event. Semiotically speaking, on the other hand, meaning is always connected to value, in a twofold way: as a differential value, that is to say a distinctive element within a network of relations between other elements, and as a phenomenological value, that is to say the investment of value in a given object. When we talk about the attribution of value to an object we obviously do not mean that that value is necessarily positive: in semiotics the notion of value has a more neutral meaning. In our case it means that even traumatic events can be valorized as relevant and meaningful for a given culture, because they mark important moments in its history, or because they form central elements of the national identity, or also, at times, because they permit an ideological and partial interpretation of the past. Memorials and sites play a central role in this construction of trauma as an inheritance insofar as they are places where a value is fixed in space: the decision to erect a memorial, to open a museum or to memorialize a site are equally important passages in that course of the trauma that will come to its final outcome to construct the event as the traumatic heritage of a collectivity. It may perhaps seem bizarre to think of trauma in terms of “heritage”, but I hope that analysis of our case studies will show convincingly

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how the expression is not at all out of place. Not only because traumatic memories often constitute real shared repertoires of narratives on which the identity of communities is founded, but also because equally often these memories are manipulated and used for various ideological and political ends. The traumatic heritage is something around which complex duels are often in play in attempts to control and possess memories, duels whose favoured field of action are trauma sites themselves. It would be simplistic to assume that these places are established purely to conserve and transmit the memory or to commemorate the victims. The value, or values, conveyed can be manifold and differentiated and are not only the most obvious and explicitly stated ones. Today, there is much insistence on the social meaning that memorials acquire in relation to the recognition of the victims’ suffering and, at least, symbolic compensation for them, as well as the question of the blame and responsibilities of the persecutors, according to what has been defined “a new international emphasis on morality” (Barkan 2000; Lim 2010). On the same wavelength, Williams points out how memorials are often “promoted as an effective apparatus for producing a range of desirable social responses – from allowing victims to mourn, to fogiving perpetrators, to keeping criminals acts at the forefront of public consciousness, to aiding the cultural redevelopment of an afflicted people, to imparting to all of us values that might make us better human being” (Williams 2007: 22), although, as the author recognizes, there is “a lack of critical writing that establishes how, or even whether – they are effective in this regard” (ibid.). Such a moralizing interpretation nonetheless tends to conceal a more complex reality, in which very often the places of memory serve differing purposes and convey values that differ from those optimistically suggested by Williams: sites can serve to construct a new national identity, to end long drawn out conflicts, to attribute historical responsibilities, to substitute for more arduous processes of pacification, or “simply” to rewrite history. And sometimes all these things together. Understanding the meaning that a given trauma has in a culture involves taking into consideration how that trauma is used in that given society, to attain what ends, to convey what values, and finally what position it holds in the entire system of values of that culture.

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Not all traumas have the same value invested in them, not all are commemorated in the same way by special days, or remembered in museums and memorials. When a trauma is not recognized and valorized, its story is marginalized, entrusted perhaps to the memories of witnesses and survivors, but not recomposed in a common heritage of suffering, within a shared narrative. This is what happened, for example, in the case of African slavery in the United States, a trauma that has been repressed and forgotten, if we think that to this day there is still not a national museum dedicated to it. “Insofar as such memorializations are not created, it reflects the fact the traumatic suffering has either not been persuasively narrated or has not been generalized beyond the immediately affected population” (Alexander 2003: 250). We could say that the experience has not been semioticized in a collective form, and therefore it has not become history, narrative, or culture. In other words, it has not become the shared heritage of that community. The valorization of trauma is not always immediate. It sometimes happens that decades go by before a place is memorialized, as happened with the Nanjing memorial (Chapter 4) erected in its present form in 2007, in memory of the slaughter perpetrated by the invading Japanese army in 1937. Purely ideological reasons during the Maoist period prevented any self-representation of the Chinese people as victims; only after many decades did a changed political situation and new strategies for expansion and cultural, but also economic, hegemony, suggested that it would be opportune to recover the memory of that trauma and the construction of it as a great epic and choral narrative in the history of the Chinese people. The case of Nanjing is a good illustration of the dynamics of that “trauma process” that for Alexander marks the distance between an event and its representation and, I would add, its construction as an object of value. But talking about the distance between event and representation merely means confirming the semiotically mediated nature of trauma: the concept of distance reminds us of the idea of that C space we have already mentioned in discussing Freud’s position on trauma. The C space is precisely the distance separating cause and effect, establishing a function of semiotic interpretation that nullifies any deterministic and naturalistic relation between phenomena.

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The shift from trauma to the traumatic heritage unfolds on various levels and can involve various “arenas”, to use Alexander’s term, from the institutional one to the political and aesthetic ones, but also the communicational and in certain cases even commercial ones, with the tourist industry that often develops around these places. Moreover, it involves different subjects that often take on an active role in the construction and transmission of traumatic memories. Borrowing Max Weber’s term, Alexander calls these figures “bearer groups”, that is to say those able to “produce meaning” in the public sphere. This is the theme of “Agency”, a notion delineating a subjectivity that acts in a direct and responsible manner, often claiming its active role. Together with more traditional figures, such as states, national and local governments, we find new social actors more and more often: associations of survivors or of relatives of victims, ONGs and various representatives of civil society. Each of these actors can give a voice to different values, making themselves bearers of contrasting positions on how it may be more suitable to keep the historical memory of the trauma, as we shall see on analysing the thorny debate that has developed on the utilization of the ESMA, the huge military complex in Buenos Aires that became a place of torture and imprisonment during the Argentinean military dictatorship and is now a memorial site.

The many memories of trauma A long debate In the course of the reflections made so far we have seen how the memory of trauma is always a contested place where different values struggle for hegemony, the object of progressive re-semanticization that rewrites its history, tracing its confines and stratifying its meaning. So it always appears more problematic to speak of one traumatic memory; we are rather in

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the presence of a plurality of different memories, often in tension and in conflict with one another, and to which the sites give a voice each time. But what are these memories exactly? And, above all, whose memories are they? Are they the more or less direct memories of the victims or are they the reconstructed and culturally re-elaborated memories of an entire community? To some extent we find here the same dualism that we saw in the discussion on trauma between the victim’s or the witness’s individual experiential dimension, and society’s general and cultural one. The collective memory, shared by a community, is certainly something qualitatively different from the summation of individual memories and testimony, but what exactly a collective memory actually is and even if such a conceptual category is truly possible remain open questions. The issue has been widely discussed in memory studies, and many various classifications have been suggested: distinctions have been made, as we have already seen, between collective, communicative, cultural and historical memory, and so on, concepts not always clearly defined, and maybe not even definable.34 Critical positions vary widely: some, such as Susan Sontag (2003) and Reinhard Koselleck (2004), are very critical regarding any extension of the notion of memory beyond individual neurophysiological capacities and dispute the very existence of a collective memory;35 others insist on a clear separation between the individual level, situated in the body, and the collective level, connected with the functioning of different kinds of media (Radstone 2005); others again that the distinction between individual and social components should not be understood in an absolute sense (Olick, Vinitzky-Seroussi and Levi 2011); finally, there are those, such as Michael Rothberg (2009), who propose the concept of a multidirectional memory, in which individual and collective elements are dynamically linked and not necessarily in competition with each other.

34 For a discussion on this point, see, among others, Radstone and Schwarz 2010, Erll 2011 and Arnold-de Simine 2013. 35 This is how Susan Sontag has put it, for example: “Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as collective memory […] All memory is individual, unreproducible — it dies with each person. What is called collective memory is not a remembering but a stipulating” (Sontag 2003: ­­76).

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I shall not go deeper into these problem areas, but shall limit myself to indicating some levels that come into play in the specific case of trauma sites, distinguishing between three different levels, even though naturally interconnected, given that memory is always by its nature systemic: embodied memory, public memory and cultural memory. Embodied memories and public memories There is no doubt that trauma sites refer, in the first place, to the memory of the victims and the survivors, a memory embodied in the experience of suffering endured in those places. Even though this appears, at first sight, to be the most cogent and relevant memory for sites intended first and foremost to commemorate and pass on that affliction it must be said that sites are not always made for the survivors and sometimes not even with their agreement. On analysing the museum dedicated to the Cambodian genocide, we shall see an interesting case in which the survivors and their families have been explicitly excluded as “bearer groups” of the meaning of that place, deprived not only of all power to make decisions but also, literally, of a name and a voice. Sites, insofar as they are places that institutionalize the memory of trauma, are certainly the keepers of a public memory, which is not the same as individual memory. The concept of public memory has been developed in sociological circles in particular,36 with explicit reference to the concept of the public sphere suggested by Habermas (1962). The public memory would be precisely the memory of the public sphere, which coincides neither with the space of state institutions, strictly speaking, or with those of private circles, but represents an intermediate place, “a [meeting] place of private individuals and critics, or of the pressures that they exert on the state. In other words, it is the image of the past publicly discussed” ( Jedlowski 2007: XIV).

36

See in particular: Jedlowski 2002, Rampazi and Tota 2007 and Phillips 2004.

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While in this definition public memory does not seem to coincide with the institutions, we can still wonder if the role that the state authority plays in determining forms is actually so marginal. According to De Luna, for example, public memory is based on “a ‘pact’ in which we agree on what to hold back and what to let go in the events of our past” and the “family tree” of a nation is constructed (De Luna 2011: 13). But a pact calls for actantial figures, in particular an addresser who establishes the values in play and how they should be conveyed. In the case of public memory, the actor playing the role of addresser is the state, which establishes, in a more or less direct way, the contents of public memory, from school curricula to bank holidays, from public commemorations to archives, from political rituals to place names, down to – in certain cases – legislation regarding memory, as has happened in the cases of the controversial laws against negationism. In any case, whether it is seen as publicly discussed or the result of a state pact instead, this is the memory we might call “accredited”, and as such routinized in official celebrations as well as in all the spaces dedicated to conveying its supra-individual nature: places of memory, monuments, museums. It is on this basis that the criteria of plausibility and relevance for the transmission of a certain image of trauma are defined; it is here, in other words, that what shall be defined as the traumatic heritage and how it will be memorialized is decided. But how does this public discussion of memories that can be highly different and contrasting come about and who are the subjects responsible? In Habermas’ rationalistic view, the public sphere is a place of debate, but in reality it more often appears as a place of conflict and the exclusion of some social groups: in the eighteenth century these included women and the lower classes, and nowadays migrants or other marginal groups ( Jedlowski 2007). Things are no different in the case of public memory, also a place of exclusion and conflict. The public memory is that which succeeds in imposing itself on the other, excluding alternative or contrasting memories, and setting itself up as dominant and hegemonic. And this inevitably partial and conflictual character does not change even if it is interpreted as the result of a “pact” sanctioned by the state.

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The many cultural memories Public memory, insofar as it is an institutionalized memory, can be very different from the victims’ memories, but also from the cultural memory, a notion that is perhaps overworked, but seems very difficult to do without. Apparently the main difficulty with this concept lies in a certain ineliminable vagueness, in the impossibility of arriving at a precise definition of it: cultural memory can only be circumscribed by successive approximations, an ongoing form subjected to constant negotiations and rewritings of the boundaries. This trait, however, more than a limitation is in reality a structural characteristic of the concept itself and it comes directly from its plural and diffuse nature, which is not institutionalized in a single instance but on the contrary distributed among various social actors. Cultural memory is generic inasmuch as we continue to refer to a cultural memory in the singular, whereas in every collectivity there are always many diverse memories that overlap and oppose one another and whose degree of consistency and cohesion can vary greatly in accordance with the dimensions of the community of reference and its more or less accentuated cultural and social uniformity. The plural nature of cultural memory is clearer if we think of the enunciatory structure implicit in it and the difference between it and public memory: while public memory can be traced to an abstract unitary actant of enunciation (the state or the public sphere), cultural memory instead appears to be the result of the infinite textual enunciations of single actors, be they individual or collective, which cannot be traced back to a single source. Whereas public memory gives rise to a more or less univocal version of the past, the officially accredited one, it appears impossible to reduce the multiplicity of the many cultural memories to the form of one, and only one, memory, just as it is hard to make any unitary definition of culture. When we talk of cultural memory in the singular we are generally referring to an abstraction, no differently than what happens with concepts in a certain sense analogous to those of the semiosphere (Lotman 1985) and the median encyclopaedia (Eco 2007). In particular this last concept shares with the notion of cultural memory the idea of a “median” knowledge,

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which does not correspond to any definite reality; it is precisely these characteristics that make both notions indispensable and non-formalizable at the same time, because no one can fix the exact boundaries of a “median” knowledge or memory. Aleida Assmann (2004) has proposed a distinction in some ways similar to this one, suggesting that we distinguish between: a) the memories of individuals shared with their closest circle; b) collectively organized public commemorations (political memory); c) more general representations of memory that acquire different meanings in various cultural arenas. This last level evidently corresponds to the more generic and manifold notion of cultural memory, with all its various non-univocal articulations, while what Assmann calls “political memory” is the most institutionalized level of what I have defined as public memory. As for individual memory, here Assmann reproduces the previously discussed idea of a communicative memory, whereas in my proposal the meaning of a memory that is above all corporeal is more accentuated. Dynamic interactions The three levels of memory we have identified here, the embodied memories of victims, the widespread cultural memory of a society, and public memory as an institutionalized result of the “trauma process” that tends to self-represent itself in museum forms, are dimensions that continually interweave with and refer to one another, and can sometimes find themselves in an unstable equilibrium, which does not manage to take on a definitive form. This, for example, is the already cited case of Argentina, and in particular of the debate that has grown up around the utilization of ESMA, the Escuela Superior de Mecánica de la Armada (Chapter 6), which constitutes a very interesting example of the coexistence of memorial instances, and diverse social addressers, each one the bearer of a different idea of trauma and the memory of trauma. In that case none of the various competing memories has really become “public memory” in the sense defined above, in other words an institutionalized and hegemonic

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memory, a sole, centralized addresser; instead we have preferred to permit the coexistence, one beside the other, of models of memory and subjects of enunciation that are different, not easily integrable and responsible for partly alternative narratives. But also in the cases in which the sites convey a more definite memory fixed in its public form, there continues to exist a circularity and reciprocal influence of the various levels of memory, always dynamically interconnected and in unstable equilibrium. Sites hold embodied memories of suffering and testimony, transformed into public memory that in its turn affects the most widespread and less institutionalized forms of cultural memory that – in a circular manner – they rewrite, thereby altering and redefining the memories of individuals, in a continuous process of reciprocal translations among levels, which also involve diverse time lags, as we shall shortly be seeing. Trauma sites, I was saying, are not necessarily made for victims or survivors, or at least not exclusively. Such sites are aimed at a future public, at the generations to come, and have played no direct part in the traumatic events; they are aimed, in other words, at what has been called the post-memory of trauma (Hirsch 1997, 2012). This notion could be understood not only in relation to the time lag between victims and direct witnesses on the one hand and successive generations on the other, but also in terms of the passage and migration of the trauma in contexts other than the ones in which the event took place, giving rise to forms of “consumption” of the trauma at a distance, both in time and space. The analyses of the sites that appear in this book will reveal many cases of such shifts, superimpositions and dynamic reinterpretations between direct memories and reuses of memory as well as between individual recollections and shared, public memories. It is precisely these analyses that will confirm the problematic nature of distinctions like the one proposed by Assmann (1992), discussed at the beginning of this chapter, between communicative memory and cultural memory, in other words between the biographical memories of individuals and textual stabilizations not mediated by corporeal practices. More and more often, as we shall see, sites transmit traumatic memory precisely through the visitor’s corporeal and sensory involvement,

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stimulated directly in forms that are far more “communicative” than “cultural”, to use Jan Assmann’s terms. On the other hand, and in a complementary manner, the memory of current traumas is also transmitted through more and more widespread “remote” practices made possible by the massive use of new technologies, such as the previously mentioned sharing of photos on Flickr. In this context it is hard to make a clear separation between memories and post-memories, individual and historical memories; it is more productive to ask ourselves about the memory system constructed starting from specific places such as trauma sites, in order to redraw the map of intertextual and intermedial contaminations, re-mediations, and migrations. Remembering that the level of individual experience, that of the cultural construction of the traumatic event and its transformation into heritage are not linearly ordered, but dynamically interwoven levels, knots, to pick up the metaphorical image suggested at the beginning of this chapter, which construct the trauma as the real point of intersection between the many different perspectives and dimensions of meaning.

The stages of trauma The traumatic caesura What is the relation between trauma and temporality? Is there only one stage of trauma, a stage stuck in its obsessive repetition, or is the traumatic knot interwoven with different multiple temporal levels, according to the subjective viewpoint and perspectives, the diverse focalizations, and the different memories of those who reflect upon the matter? In other words, is there a plurality of the “stages of trauma” and in the event of this plurality how can it be traced in the sites, too? We have seen that in contemporary thinking trauma is mostly thought of as the irruption of an event that tears asunder the continuity of experience, making any evolution towards the future impossible and

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condemning the victim to repeat the past compulsively. A moment of rupture and discontinuity, and even when to some extent it is elaborated, trauma marks a break in linear historical temporality, an insuperable caesura. According to this perspective the trauma phase is a “frozen” one, fixed in an atemporality devoid of development. According to Caruth (1996), for example, trauma consists exclusively in the structure of its experience; assimilated successively on its occurrence by afterwardsness, it is fixed in repetitive structures, compulsive possessions that can only be re-actualized. At first sight, many trauma sites seem to substantiate this interpretation. When you visit the little village of Oradour-sur-Glane, in Limousine, kept exactly as it was after the Nazis burned it, you have the literal impression that “time has stood still”: the images give us a snapshot of the moment of the tragedy; everything has remained as it was then, the burned shop signs, the destroyed houses and the abandoned cars (Figures 1.1 and 1.2).

Figure 1.1:  A view of Oradour-sur-Glane.

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Figure 1.2:  Oradour-sur-Glane, detail.

But a more attentive interpretation reveals that things are not exactly like this, and that the phases of trauma that a site plays out are a far more

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complex matter, where diverse time lines, different durations and asynchronic processes are interwoven. In the first place this is because memory is not linear and progressive. At first sight you might think that the passing of time causes memory to fade and that the recollection of a given event, very strong at first, steadily gives way to forgetfulness as time gradually goes by. From this standpoint, time would be a kind of “natural” antagonist to memory. But things are not like that at all, or at least they are not always like that, especially in relation to great collective and traumatic events. For example, it frequently happens that after a war, a dictatorship or a great natural catastrophe, a collectivity wishes to project itself into the future and chooses to look ahead, repressing its painful past. In these cases, the call of memory can be perceived as a burden to be got rid of, more than a value to be kept alive. Sometimes it takes decades before the traumatic memory is recovered, re-interpreted, and resignified, as happened to some extent even in the case of the Holocaust. In these cases, time does not act as a hindrance to memory, but, paradoxically, it becomes the agent that makes it possible by guaranteeing a safe distance from that which, in its immediate occurrence, is too painful and intolerable to be accepted. The course of memory is unpredictable and does not depend on simple temporal progression: an unstable and changeable process, it ceaselessly reconstructs the past, resemanticizing it and giving it new and different meanings. In the second case because sites and memorials “narrativize” trauma starting from a selection of what to show and how to do so, choosing therefore a perspective, a point of view and an aspectual dimension that can notably vary the temporality of the space. Each of these choices constitutes a different narrative of a given trauma, which superimposes itself on the other pre-existing ones and modifies the overall meaning. Like all witnesses, sites also tell a story that is added to the event rather than constituting a transparent documentation of it. In the third place because the time of the trauma fixed forever in the past constantly constrasts with the present time of the visitors, a present that is naturally always in movement, and can involve different assessments, judgements and emotional reactions.

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Finally, because when we talk of temporality we must take into account not only the time of the trauma staged by the site, but also real time as it passes. The patina of time Let us start with this last point, returning for a moment to the example of Oradour. The ruins of the small village testify to the catastrophic event that took place there and the destruction inflicted by the Nazis, but keeping that testimony intact requires painstaking and constant effort to maintain the ruins, because even ruins, like everything else, are subject to the toll of passing time. Real time leaves its mark in the form of patina, rust, minor landslips, almost imperceptible traces that transform and modify space and things. We might think of two distinct enunciations, if we wish to consider time, too, as a possible subject of enunciation, an option that nonetheless has problematic aspects.37 Here there are two destructive agents at work, with very different natures: time and its gradual, involuntary erosion on the one hand, and the historical perpetrators of the destruction on the other. The two forms of destruction have completely different narrative configurations and temporal expressions, especially on the level of aspectuality: on the one hand the constant and almost imperceptible becoming of time, and on the other a punctual catastrophic event that refers to the frozen time of the trauma. In the first case we are in the presence of a process of deterioration of the spatial object, which translated into a pre-eminence of typical aspectual

37

The crucial point in this case is whether it is correct to consider an involuntary and impersonal agent such as time an effective subject of enunciation. On this point positions in contemporary semiotics diverge and for some researchers the concept of enunciation should be limited solely to intentional agents, or even the linguistic system alone, as stated by Manetti (2008). Personally I hold that time may be considered a subject of enunciation only within a discursive configuration that constructs it like an actor equipped with a narrative and thematic role, but not in its form of generic occurrence. For the concept of patina cf. Fontanille (2004).

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markers such as graduality and, above all, durativity. In the second case, the graft is determined by a punctual act of destruction that destroys the Value Object in its figurative unity (Mazzucchelli 2010: 30). According to Mazzucchelli, the two aspectual forms of time are accompanied by different thematic roles: the Anti-Subject, Time, is set up as a simple Opponent, while the actorialized human Anti-Subject of the Nazis has a precise Narrative Programme. I would add that the different narrative configurations involved in the two cases provide for and activate very different passional and tensional systems: anger, hatred and the desire for justice, or revenge, in the one case, and melancholy for the disappearance of all things, even memories, on the other. What should be emphasized is how time frozen by the trauma staged by the many sites is not a quasi-metaphysical apriority, but rather the result of a subsequent construction, of a painstaking work of maintenance and restoration that in its turn can be interpreted in narrative terms, like a constant struggle against the action of the powerful opponent of human things that is time. The asynchronies of memory Another datum that is interesting to ponder is the time lag between the time of the traumatic event and the decision to institutionalize its memory in a memorial. There are sites opened a few months after the end of a dictatorship or a regime, as happened in Cambodia, others that wait for years before a definition decision is made. These asynchronies between event and memorization are not always due to the time lags attributable to social constructions of meaning, according to Alexander’s theory of the socially mediated attribution of the traumatic event. Other variables can play a determinant role, for example particular political conditions that do not necessarily correspond to effective processes of assumption shared by the past. In other cases, a trauma can already be socially accepted and culturally shared, but an agreement on the forms of its public memorialization may be lacking, as has often happened in Latin America. Here we come across another stratification of asynchronic times structured on three different

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levels: the time of the event, that of the institutionalization of the official memory and that of the cultural elaboration of that past. On the temporal level, too, cultural and public memories may not coincide. But it is not only on the level of the relation with real time that sites exhibit asynchronic and discordant forms of temporality. If we look at memorials and sites as texts, we can also find in these semiotic objects the traces of an enunciation that manifests itself on many levels as well as the choice to keep the site in the “right” state of conservation. From the selection of what to exhibit and how to exhibit it, to the route planned for visitors, and how they are to be involved, places of memory construct a particular narrative of trauma that also includes decisions concerning its temporalization. Some sites focus on trauma as a punctual and concluded moment in the past, through an obsessive conservation of detail, as we have seen for Oradour but also how it was to be for the Tuol Sleng museum in Cambodia. Other sites instead seem to project themselves towards the future, transforming what have been places of imprisonment and torture into public parks or social centres, as has often happened in Chile or Argentina. The aspectual dimension is also transformed: where a perspectival view of the past is given, the aspect is the terminative one of the trauma that has already happened, where there is an opening towards a future projection it is the inchoative dimension of the beginning that is focalized on.38 Faced with all these different temporalities and non-synchronic processes, the notion of chronotope, literally “time-space”, can come in handy. This notion was taken up by Mikhail Bakhtin to indicate the relation between the temporal and spatial coordinates that give form to a literary text. Bakhtin wished to highlight the interdependence of space and time within the novel, but the concept could also be useful in relation to trauma sites These places express within themselves chronotopal levels and axes, others are more closed and homogeneous, others again more 38

Strictly speaking, inchoativity is an aspectual marker found formally only in those semiotic systems, as is the case with some languages, which have a specific morphological element that semantically indicates the start of a process. I use the term here in a more general and less technical sense in line with what is now a widespread custom in semiotics, to indicate focalization on the initial phase of a process.

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dilated, deforming the boundaries of the temporality of the event itself to push it back into the past, re-actualize it in the present, or to project it into the future. We must not forget that memory does not affect only the relation between the present and the past, but always involves the dimension of the future; every act of restoration, every decision on how to conserve a trauma site, interweaves the past/present axis with that of the past/future. In order to develop a full understanding of the dynamics of memory, both of individuals and societies, we must take account of the network linking all these different temporalities: the future that we imagine or desire influences the way in which we remember, interpret and reconstruct the past, and vice-versa the forms of memory contribute to the construction of our future. And all the more so when it is a matter of a tragic and difficult past, whose memory is always a function of its future uses, be they cultural, political or strategic. Today all scholars agree with the idea that the temporality of memory is not unidirectional:39 far from being a linear progression that moves from the past towards the future, it consists instead of progressive reconstruction, anticipation and prefiguration, short circuits between the past, present and future. While the reconstructive aspect of memory regarding the past is by now largely taken for granted, perhaps not all the consequences have been drawn from the role that the future perspective plays in memory processes, and this also holds for places of memory. Sites are places dedicated to traumatic memories that have overwhelmed entire societies; the way in which such memories will be preserved and transmitted can play an important role for the future of those same societies and this is why choices in this area are always guided by an implicit option on the future people want to prefigure. Sites can facilitate and promote the processes of reconciliation and democratic growth, transforming the violence and past conflict into a future of peaceful coexistence, or on the contrary to supply ideological and biased interpretations of past events. Choices in this field are never

39

For these themes, see Gutman, Brown and Sodaro 2010.

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innocent and always involve an option on the adumbrated future: often it is the future that determines our past, rather than the other way around. Finally, sites are made to be seen and visited. This is the time of the ongoing enunciation of the practices of use of sites, a time that opens to the temporality of the present. All museums include “instructions for use”, namely the modalities for visiting them, but, apart from the routes provided for and inscribed within the sites, places of memory can open themselves to new uses, new forms of memorialization, from pedagogical practices to social uses, from artistic performances to music and theatre festivals. These modalities of re-utilization bring us to a fundamental question, perhaps the most important question implicit in my entire research: is there a possibility of re-actualizing the traumatic past in different forms with respect to its compulsive repetition? How to succeed in inventing new modes of memory that shun rhetoric and at the same time avoid denying the past? Is it possible to remember without musealizing? These are the questions that will accompany us throughout this work and to which we shall perhaps find a partial answer only at the end of our research. George Orwell once said that he who controls the present controls the past. We might add that by controlling the past we begin to control the future, too. Sites, museums, memorials and places of memory appear to confirm this hypothesis: the past that sites tell us about obeys a logic rooted in the present but look towards the future, various kinds of identitarian politics that inform the retrospective view of the trauma in consideration of interests to be constituted. In constructing the forms of their own legibility, sites make the past “become real”, and they do that precisely in the ways chosen for their memorialization; places that we naively believe to be a reflection of reality instead become the matrix of its meaning. But can the past really be wholly rewritten, or does it push and reemerge as repressed, over and above and despite all rewritings of it? Is it only the present that gives form to the past, according to a constructivist view of memory, or is this rather the result of a mutual interaction of the past on the present and the present on the past? This is the question we come up against when we reflect on traumatic temporality, a question that refers to a final knot in the trauma, the complex interweaving of the uses, and abuses, that the present makes of the past as “social capital” and the

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traumatic heritage, and the pressure that the past continues to exert on the present, in the forms of the post-traumatic effects that extend to future generations. The past trauma is at the same time the result of our perspective view of it, and our re-readings and interpretations, but it is also laden with its internal necessity, a cogency that eludes all re-writing to come back to question us with its disturbing presence, from generation to generation.

Chapter 2

Spatializing trauma: From the trace to suffering as spectacle

Places of memory Space and values While memory appears at first sight as a phenomenon that concerns temporality above all, if we take a closer look it reveals a constitutive and nonrandom relation with spatiality: spaces not only have a memory of the past embedded within them, but memory reveals itself in essentially topological and spatial forms. In this way space and memory appear interconnected in accordance with a twofold reciprocal implication. Space keeps track of the past: even in nature the succession of the eras is written in the geological stratification of the land and allows a re-reading of the past starting from the forms of today’s manifestation. Moving on to that “lived space” discussed by Ricoeur (2000), the anthropological space par excellence, human landscapes reveal palimpsests of successive rewritings that hold within themselves the memory of events, individuals and histories. As Schlögel has observed, “history does not happen only in time but in space as well” (Schlögel 2003); from the everyday event such as the indentation left on a pillow to the ruins of palaces that bear witness to ancient splendours, space figurativizes temporality. On the other hand, space itself can become the matrix that gives form to memory: spatial localization is one of the principal devices that regulate our faculty of remembering. According to the legend of Simonides of Ceos,1 1

According to the Greek myth, Simonides was the only survivor of a fire that destroyed his house (according to other versions it was the house of one of his guests) where a

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mnemotechnics – techniques for aiding and supporting memorization – are founded on the spatialization of memory2 and were developed precisely from a spatial configuration. Thus, while all space can be seen in terms of memory, there are however some specific spaces that in our culture, and starting from a given historical moment that roughly coincides with the French Revolution and the rise of the bourgeoisie, have become places where the collective memory is “fixed”, central elements in the transmission of the cultural memory and at the same time forms in which a culture represents itself,3 passes itself on, and often celebrates itself. These are places of memory understood in the true sense,4 physical spaces specifically intended to conserve and hand down the past or to commemorate particular events such as monuments, memorials, shrines, trauma sites, museums and memorial parks, denominations that have multiplied in recent decades, just as the places they refer to. We might think of these particular semiotic “texts” as memorial devices, mediators of the collective memory whose plane of expression is organized spatially. The history of these places, the reasons for their emergence and the forms of their transformation represent in themselves a fascinating chapter in the cultural history of our times, but a discussion of such things lies beyond the scope of this book. Moreover, not all these places have something to do with trauma: the birth of the museums, art collections or Wunderkammern that

2 3 4

dinner was given. In order to identify the bodies Simonides mentally put them back in the places they had been sitting in, thus spatializing his memory. Mnemotechnical methods derive from this story. Within the vast bibliography on mnemotechnics, I refer here to the classic texts by Frances Yates (1966) and Rossi (1960). For the semiotic concept of self-representation, understood as a culture’s capacity to acquire “meta-semiotic awareness”, cf. Lotman 1985 and 2006. Starting from the famous work by Pierre Nora (1984) the term “places of memory” is, in fact, often used in a far broader and more metaphorical sense, to stand not only for physical spaces but any element, from a particularly meaningful object to a song, which, in a given culture and at a certain historical moment, has become a place with a very strong symbolic charge, an element of recognition for the national identity. We might define places of memory, understood in this broader sense, as cultural units (Eco 1975), such as a song, an object, or various types of symbols. I use the term in a more literal sense, referring exclusively to physical places.

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came before them certainly were not connected with the conservation of particularly traumatic memories. There is no doubt, however, that in the previous heterogeneous list trauma plays a significant role: the history of monuments, memorials and memorial museums is inextricably interwoven with the history of traumatic events, at least from the end of the eighteenth century.5 As I said earlier, the analytical perspective I have adopted looks at places of memory not so much as history but as semiotics. From this standpoint we have already seen how monuments and sites represent in the first place the inscription of a value in space and its conservation and transmission in time. The crucial problem posed at this point, the real issue at stake in every work on space, is that of defining the values in play: is memory and its elaboration the only value signified and conveyed by these particular places? Do the various trauma sites scattered all over the world bear witness to and tell us about this alone? Or together with commemorating the past do they fulfil other perhaps less evident but no less significant functions? I have already mentioned in Chapter 1 that commemoration and memory are not the only values associated with places of memory, and sometimes not even the most important. The sites we shall examine will show how, over and above the most obvious commemorative function, other values and other purposes can be brought into play: memorials are not always constructed to remember, or solely to remember. Often, memory serves another purpose: to construct a national identity, to emerge from an unresolved conflict, to attribute responsibilities and blame, or to take the place of more complex processes of pacification. For this reason, it appears unsatisfactory to limit ourselves to interpreting monuments and memorials exclusively as instances of the commemorative genre that according to some would be one of the forms taken by the contemporary obsession with memory.6 Certainly they are also celebratory places, to use the expression employed by Ricoeur (2000) who sees them are places able to guarantee the foundation of a collective memory inasmuch as they allow individual consciences to meld with one another. But often they are also other things, and in order to come to a complete understanding of the value system implicit to every one of them it will be 5 6

For a historical analysis, see Koselleck 2003. On this point cf. Wagner Pacific 1996 and Jedlowski 1997.

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necessary to reconstruct the narratives they implement, the actorial roles they attribute, and the forms of their figurativization. A typological proposal With the growing interest in the study of monuments, trauma sites and museums, various classificatory typologies have been put forward. For example, it has been proposed to differentiate memorials and museums on the basis of their diverse communicative strategies: the former would communicate their meaning in visual form, while the latter would require more textually oriented explicative strategies, given that they reconstruct history in scientific and not commemorative form (Sherman 1995). Alternatively, some have suggested typologies based on what semiotically we might consider the figurative articulation of the various buildings (Young 1993); or on the basis of their different functions. Williams (2007: 8), for example, distinguishes between: monuments, sculptures with memorial purposes; museums, institutes whose purpose is the acquisition, conservation and exhibition of objects of historical, scientific, or artistic value; and memorial museums, a particular kind of museum dedicated to the commemoration of collective traumatic events, or mass suffering. Finally, trauma sites would be physical locations with a commemorative function but without specific constructions in loco. Such classifications appear problematic for various reasons. First of all, in reality the boundaries of one typology and the other are ever more blurred and overlapping, making any clear distinction arbitrary to a certain extent. But there is a more constitutive reason for dissatisfaction with regard to this, and similar, typologies, all based exclusively on morphological elements independently of their meaning and the semiotic devices that produce it. A monument and a museum, even if morphologically distant, can be far more assimilable than two structures belonging to the same morphological typology if – in a given context – they perform a similar function, convey common values and are inserted within a series of analogous commemorative practices. In other words, this holds if the monument and the museum occupy similar positions in the system of overall memory of that given traumatic event. It is signification that guides every possible typological hypothesis, not morphological resemblance or other categories related to the plane of expression.

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The abstract distinction between museum, monument and memorial is thus far less important in comparison with other parameters that refer to more specific semiotic mechanisms of signification. Among these the relation established between the event and the trace of the event will be central to my analysis, a relation on the basis of which a specific semiotic modality of signification based on indexicality will be established. On this basis, as said in Chapter 1, I have localized a particular subclass of places of memory, the trauma sites that, independently of the form they assume – museums, memorials, parks, artistic installations – all derive from the transformation of places that were originally the scene of traumas, imprisonment, massacres and mass crimes.7 Such sites are therefore so many traces of the traumatic event that produced them and signify it through a direct indexical reference: spatial contiguity with the event constitutes them as particular forms of indices that aim at the past and re-actualize it in its presence. The specificity of such a form of representation involves a difference in terms of semiotic functioning with respect to other types of places of memory because it activates particular effects of meaning connected with the indexicality of the trace and perhaps also requires, as some scholars maintain, a museal approach different from that required by all other memorials (Farmer 1999).

It happened right here This must be the place We have said that sites, memorials and monuments in general are so many forms of the fixation of value in space; so the proposed distinction between trauma sites and other spatial forms of memorialization might appear

7

A distinction in some ways similar is also found in Pethes and Ruchatz (2001) under the heading Monuments, even though in that work the notion of indexicality and the specific function of the trace is not developed.

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useless, if not incongruous, given that all these places, in their specific forms, spatially express a value. Various reasons, however, persuade us to keep that distinction up. First of all, from the more technical standpoint of the enunciative dynamics at the base of the two categories of places, there is an important difference between places that have been conceived and planned from the start as museums, and others that were originally intended for another function and are resemanticized in memorial form only at a later stage, thereby activating a new process of signification. Nonetheless it seems to me that there is a more cogent reason, both phenomenological and semantic in nature, to suggest a gap between trauma sites and all other sites that are similar but not linked indexically to the space of the trauma. There seems to be a strong and to some extent mysterious relation between death and the specific place where it occurs, something that seems capable of giving that space a surplus of meaning forever, with a particular evocative and symbolic power. People return to that site, it becomes a place of pilgrimage and devotion, it is marked in order to distinguish it from everywhere else, as frequently happens on roads where fatal crashes have occurred and where people still leave flowers or small votive objects. This strong evocative capacity is shown to be even more potent in cases of massacres or mass extermination; no matter how efficient and emotionally involving certain recent museums can be, such as the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington or the Daniel Libeskind Jewish Museum in Berlin, all structures with high emotional impact that engender an intense involvement on the part of the spectator, when compared to places such as Auschwitz they strike us to some extent as being less “powerful”, and less “real”. Auschwitz is the place, one of the places, where it all happened, and trauma lingers there in all its power. The causal link with the event gives all trauma sites an otherwise inexplicable aura: a visit to Oradour-sur-Glane, to return to an example referred to in Chapter 1, is a spectral experience of great emotional impact; visitors who roam among those ruins and those burnt walls, reading the signs blackened by fire and deciphering the traces of a small village once full of life and now inhabited only by ghosts, cannot fail to imagine the horror and the violent interruption of the life of an entire community, and to feel themselves to some degree a part of it. Oradour documents with great

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efficacy the power implicit in the indexical nature of these sites: they are the places where the unrepresentable has already happened. Spatial continuity with events is an integral part of the meaning of sites, in fact it is the very reason for their existence and the reason that prompts us to visit them, even when we know that they will not tell us anything more about the trauma that has occurred. Trauma sites are almost never visited in order to know, but to feel, for the experience more than for knowledge. It will be necessary to turn to the articulation of, rather than the opposition between, knowing and feeling, a characteristic perhaps of all contemporary museums of memory but one that takes on particular and specific forms in trauma sites. In the same way, the structuring of their temporality is specific: the temporal gap between the time of the visitor and that of the trauma, always necessarily different, seems to annul itself in these places, which re-actualize that past and return it to us presentified, thus short circuiting event and experience. If this happens, it is because trauma sites are perceived as places of authenticity, as authentic traces of the past. But authenticity is a delicate question, and we shall have to go further into it, starting from a semiotics of the trace. For a semiotics of the trace What does it mean exactly that something is a trace of something else? Umberto Eco has discussed the nature of these particular types of signs in his A Theory of Semiotics (1975), within a typological suggestion that, let us remember, is not a classification of signs, but of modes of production, that is to say the practices that govern sign production. Eco separates imprints, together with symptoms and clues, from all the other types of signs and puts them in a separate class, characterized by the particular kind of semiotic work necessary for their constitution: recognition. Recognition occurs when a given object or event, produced by nature or human action, (intentionally or unintentionally), and existing in a world of facts as a fact among facts, comes to be viewed by the addressee as the expression of a given content, either through a pre-existing and coded correlation, or through the positing of a possible correlation by its addressee. (Eco 1976: 221)

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The correlation established by the sign function relates a certain expression (the imprint as pure materiality) to a content, which is none other than the cause that produced it. Thanks to the causal nature of this correlation, the imprint preserves within itself a sort of embodied memory of the agent that caused it and to which it refers in accordance with an indexical modality; in its present materiality it testifies to the past existence of its own cause. By extending these considerations to our trauma sites, we might say that in them the past reveals itself to us not as a simple reconstruction or re-evocation, as usually happens in all museums and memorials, but as something far more cogent because it is causally connected with what we see; inasmuch as they are essential components of the traumatic world that produced them, trauma sites function as indices of that event and thus testify through time. A salient aspect of imprints is their being signs by recognition: this means that they become signs only when they are recognized as such by someone. In the absence of such an attribution, an imprint does not exist as a semiotic entity, it is only “one thing” among others, “a fact in a world of facts”, to use Eco’s words, devoid of any meaning. An imprint left on the sand, if not recognized as such, is nothing, it is merely something that the first wave will wash away leaving no memory, leaving no trace. “Imprints are not signs but rather elements to be integrated as part of a semiotic function” (ibid.). At this point we must recognize that “imprint” is an ambiguous term that can mean two different things: on the one hand it means imprint-object, devoid of semiotic qualities: on the other, instead, it means imprint-sign, associated with a cause and integrated in a sign function. I therefore propose to separate the two notions by distinguishing between imprints and traces;8

8

The distinction is implicit in Eco (1975) but not clearly defined and can generate some confusion. On the one hand, Eco recognizes the non-semiotic nature of the imprint (“Imprints are not signs but objects”), therefore considering the imprint as an imprint-object, but on the other hand in many passages, as well as in the table of modes of production, he uses the term “imprint” to refer to the imprint-sign, which I call a trace. (“When it is interpreted as an imprint, a trace …” ibid. 290). But over and above the terminological definition, my suggestion is substantially in line with Eco’s analysis.

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imprints are the material entities that precede recognition; traces are recognized imprints. Imprints are “things” – to be precise they are the material basis that will supply the substance of the expression to the sign function that recognition will establish – whereas traces are semiotic entities. The work of recognition, which is always an interpretive practice, performs a sort of “miraculous” conversion of the world of things to the world of signs: what was first pure materiality without content is transformed into sign. But what kind of sign is a trace? In reality a trace is much more than a sign, if by sign we mean a simple unit of content, because when we “recognize” an imprint as a trace, we activate an extremely complex interpretive picture, a genuine narrative complete with actor, narrative programmes, aims and values: who produced that trace? Why? When? To what end? What was he doing? In what situation did he find himself, what emotions did he feel, was he in a mad rush or calm and serene? Every trace tells us a complicated story, and so it is always a trace-text, at least potentially.9 As Eco writes: “a trace does not give rise to the simple signification of a unit of content (a cat, an enemy soldier, a horse), as with a discourse (‘a horse passed by here, three days ago, going in that direction’). Therefore the expression is no longer a sign but rather a text” (ibid. 222). The story that the complex texts that are traces tells us is none other, on closer inspection, than the story of their very production. If traces do not coincide with imprints but are complex texts deriving from an act of recognition, this means that traces do not refer naturally to their own meaning. In point of fact, how do we come to a trace? What establishes the relation between the object-imprint (Expression) and its cause (Content)? The trace is the result of an interpretive practice whose causes, as Eco points out, are “inferred by abduction”, therefore always with a certain margin of uncertainty given that abductions can also be

9

From this standpoint we can draw a parallelism with the notion of sememe as a virtual text (Eco 1979, but also Greimas 1966 and Violi 1997): every word holds within itself an entire narrative in condensed form, it constitutes a kind of schema or matrix whose semantic potential can be activated every time it is integrated in a text.

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spurious.10 The causal nexus to which the trace alludes is the outcome of a circumstantial process that is always uncertain and never guaranteed, which, like all circumstantial processes,11 opens up between event and sign a space of possibility that is at the same time a space of semiosis but also the space of a possible untruth. To put it in other terms, traces, like all signs, can lie. Even traces can lie: The paradoxes of authenticity Traces can lie, or better, they can be used to lie. Either by making us believe something false, that is to say to believe that there is a causal link between a sign and an event even when such a connection does not exist, or by suggesting a story different from the one that actually happened, as in the example suggested by Eco of a man who walks backwards to deceive people regarding the direction he is walking in. Traces, therefore, can be manipulated, falsified, and rewritten. Let us take a look at an example of this. On 2 August 1980, a bomb went off in Bologna railway station, killing eighty-five people and injuring 200 others as well as entirely destroying an entire wing of the building. Among the various possible options for reconstruction, it was decided to make an identical restoration, and the station was rebuilt exactly as it had been before. Except for one detail. In order to commemorate the carnage, they kept the crater where the bomb had originally been placed (Figure 2.1) topped by a plaque bearing the names and the age of all the victims. The crater, still visible in the waiting room, is a trace, in the sense previously defined, which causally refers to the bomb.

10

11

We might say in these cases that “recognize” is something more complex than tracing a determined token back to its type category. Abduction consists precisely of suggesting a possible general category (type) that explains the single occurrence we find before us, but this category is actually only hypothetical. For a further discussion of the concept of the circumstantial paradigm and its relations with semiotic theory, see Eco and Sebeok 1983.

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Figure 2.1:  The bomb crater.

Alongside the crater, there is a great breach in the wall, closed off by a glass screen (Figure 2.2) which alludes figuratively to the explosion.

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Figure 2.2:  The breach in the wall.

Naturally, the rent in the wall is not authentic, but an a posteriori reconstruction: the entire left wing of the station where the bomb went off had

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been completely destroyed and all that remained of that wall was dust and debris. The breach was a commemorative choice created during reconstruction, when it was decided to keep the crater, partly modified in any case, and to flank it with a symbolic scar in the adjacent wall that alluded to the explosion. Here we show side by side an authentic trace (the crater) and a false trace constructed after the fact (the breach). From a strictly philological standpoint, only the crater is genuinely indexical in nature, but many distracted travellers do not know that, or do not notice it, and consider both elements to be authentic remains, even though they often know, that all that part of the station had been destroyed.12 But the fault does not lie with the distracted traveller alone. There is an interesting semiotic reason for this facility for confusing real traces with false ones. As we have seen, traces are not isolated signs but complex texts. In a text the meaning of every single element is interconnected with the other elements and integrated within a textual structure that governs their overall functioning. In other words, a text can be thought of a holistic system with its own overall meaning, in which the meaning of the individual components is governed by the whole and is determined by the relation between the various parts. A trauma site or a monument can also be seen from this standpoint as an integrated text, in which every element is connected to the others and derives its meaning from them. And this is precisely what happens in our case: crater and breach enter into a relation of reciprocal implication in which there occurs a transfer of semantic properties from one element to another, so as to constitute a system of unitary meaning. In particular, the crater transfers its indexical character to the breach, thereby “assigning” to the latter a veridictive semantic component. Even if spurious on the level of the philological reconstruction of the truth, the result assumes an authentic nature on the level of the overall meaning of the place. 12

A little test done with my students confirmed this widespread conviction, even though the same students then showed they were aware of the effective dimensions of the destruction due to the explosion. The contradiction between the two opinions did not seem to give them any problems, proof of how often we live happily with contradictory beliefs.

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Something similar happened with the station clock, which was put back in its original position after the reconstruction, with the hands stuck at 10.25, the moment of the explosion, in an operation we might define as “postproduction”. The analogy with the cinema is not fortuitous, here, too, we have a sort of editing that stages a memorial reconstruction in which all the elements enter into a systemic relationship with one another. The case of Bologna station shows very well how often trauma sites appear as hybrid places, where authentic traces and traces that have been reconstructed, reinterpreted or even falsified are inextricably connected. We already saw this, moreover, in the case of Oradour: even where no element of explicit rewriting intervenes but on the contrary it is decided to opt for the absolute and almost obsessive conservation of the place “as it was”, it is necessary to carry out such painstaking maintenance and constant restoration as to legitimize the suspicion that the site is no longer the original one. The authenticity of places is called into question on the level of the work of conservation itself, and obliges us to ask ourselves: are these places really “the same places”, are they truly “authentic”? Here we are looking at a paradox that seems to run through all trauma sites, the paradox of authenticity evoked by Aleida Assmann (1999) that lurks in the very foundations of these places: the act that attempts to preserve their authenticity inevitably involves the loss of it. For Assmann it is above all the functional transformation into a museum that is responsible for this paradox, because what is conserved is the physical materiality of the places, not their meaning. We might say that what is conserved is transformed precisely because it is conserved. Radicalizing this position, we might come to the conclusion that it is impossible to conserve trauma sites. For example, this is the position maintained by Ruth Klüger, one of the most attentive witnesses of the Holocaust. According to Klüger (1992) places of imprisonment, torture and extermination cannot be conserved because it is impossible to recreate13 a direct and immediate relation with the reality of the trauma that 13

The impossibility claimed by Klüger is that of the witness and survivor who looks at her own experience as something unlikely to prove accessible to those who have not shared it. But we must observe that the point of view of someone who has been

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occurred there; any attempt in this direction can only be illusory: once they are musealized, places of trauma will cease to be such and will lose their meaning. In other words, they will lose their “authenticity”. Let us return here to the question of the authenticity of the trace we started from. We have seen that trauma sites can only appear as hybrid places of contamination between indexical anchorage and successive rewritings. An important theoretical consequence follows from this: their meaning is not naturally set within the spatial configuration, but is the result of a complex process, at times not a linear one, of attribution and meaning. The places do not provide any direct and natural testimony to the past but must be constructed as such, in point of fact sites that testify to the traumatic event. But with the failure of the guarantee of a natural indexical connection between place and event, what happens to the idea of authenticity on which the particular “aura” emanated by the sites seemed to be based? Must we give up on this notion, together with the idea of any direct connection with historical events? The effects of authenticity: From ontology to semiotics The concept of authenticity can still play an important role in defining the meaning of our sites, but on the condition of reformulating it by freeing it clearly from any naturalizing mortgage with an ontological basis. The substantialist notion of authenticity will have to be replaced with that of the effects of authenticity, effects of meaning established by the dual semiosic interned in a camp is highly particular and difficult to generalize, given that sites are not conserved and maintained only for survivors, but in the first place for future generations, as essential components in the process of transmission of memory. Here we touch on an important point that concerns the decisional processes regarding the conservation and musealization of sites: who has more right to establish the future of these places and the forms of their memorialization? Are survivors the only subjects authorized to have the last word or is civil society in its entirety obliged to tackle this issue? In more semiotic terms, who is the Addresser and on what values does his/her authority rest? We shall return to these points in Chapter 6 on discussing the debate held in Argentina regarding the utilization of the ESMA.

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process of production on the one hand and interpretation on the other. Reformulation implies a shift from the level of ontology to that of semiotics, from being to meaning, or perhaps better, from being to believing. Actually, it is a matter of moving from events to shared beliefs concerning the events, which are none other than the meaning we attribute to them: what interests us here is not “the nature of things” but the meaning they have for us. In this way authenticity becomes the outcome of an interpretive construction, not its point of departure; the indexical anchorage of places becomes a property attributed to the place, rather than a property of the place. What we have defined as the “aura” of the sites ceases to be a function of physical, geographical or morphological characteristics considered in themselves, but comes in the first place from the fact that we know, or believe we know, that there, in that place, something terrible happened, something that elsewhere can perhaps be represented or evoked, but in the place of its happening recurs with a different power, and unfolds reactualized in the present. This is, moreover, the lesson that comes to us from all semiotic reflection, from Eco (1990 and 1997) to Prieto (1991), which for a long time has wondered about the problematics of the authentic and the fake. Without going too deeply into that debate,14 it will suffice here to remember that the conclusions, albeit in the diversity of approaches, lead us in the same direction: authenticity is the result of a cultural attribution to the object, constructed through bargaining and negotiation (Eco 1997), or manifested by the discourses that “accompany” it (Prieto 1991) and attest to its tradition. To interpret authenticity from this standpoint, as the outcome of a process of attribution of sense, means thinking of it as the point where two complementary strategies meet and converge: enunciational strategies of the object as authentic and interpretive strategies of the sharing of such an attribution. The effects of authenticity thus lend themselves to being questioned from a dual viewpoint: on the one hand as a rhetoric of authenticity within the site itself; and on the other as an attribution of beliefs on the part of the

14

For a more detailed discussion, see Mazzucchelli 2010, Chapter 2.

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visitor. In the first place, in fact, the museum constructs effects of authenticity through a series of different enunciational strategies that range from expositional choices – for example, the personal effects that belonged to the victims assumed as proof of authenticity – down to the route planned for the visit, often constructed by following a passional crescendo intended to emphasize the effect of authenticity. Constructed and built into the text-site, the effects of authenticity activate on the other hand specific interpretive strategies and mobilize the visitors’ beliefs, ensuring that the place is perceived as authentic. This attribution of meaning affects in its turn the socio-semiotic dimension of the practices of use, from tourist visits to commemorative rituals. It is because people believe in the authenticity of these places that they become the subject of visits and other specific memorial practices: belief in the authenticity of the trace, true or presumed as it may be, lies at the basis of the witness value of trauma sites we mentioned in Chapter 1. This explains why, in Chile, for example, totally anonymous sites are opened to the public, and visited, even though they do not contain any trace of past events. In Chile, as in Argentina, during the military dictatorships that dominated those countries for long years, the regime often used as places of imprisonment and torture anonymous buildings, apartments, garages and detached houses on the outskirts of cities that possessed no distinctive features, and were indistinguishable from ordinary dwellings. Not only this, but most of these places, after the end of the dictatorship, went back to being used for civilized purposes and all traces of the horrors perpetrated therein were removed. Nonetheless, with the consolidation of democracy in those countries and the consequent rediscovery of the memorial value of the sites, these places have been transformed into museums and memorials, and today they form part of special memory tours, marked on tour guides and regularly visited. Since they are indistinguishable from any other normal apartment or detached house, what does distinguish them, and makes them destinations for pilgrimages and visits, is what we know regarding their connection with past traumatic events. It is the belief that a similar connection once existed that makes these places different from any other museum of memory and constitutes their particular evocative power. In a certain sense these sites also demonstrate how the distinction

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between material and non-material aspects of the memorial heritage (both the tangible and intangible heritage), today very much in vogue, is rather problematic. Every place of memory is at once a material and mental space, a landscape made of “things” and of the values embedded within them. In most of the sites I have analysed, starting from a first causal link with the event, the place has then been reconstructed, modified, altered and even partly delocalized, but still produces an effect of indexical authenticity that connects it with the traumatic event. It is as if the first nexus between space and the event, even if it is subsequently altered in forms that are sometimes macroscopic, produced a transference of veridictive meaning to the entire site, authenticating it, so to speak, no differently from what happened in the case of the breach in the wall in Bologna railway station. In some extreme cases there may be no trace of the original correspondence with reality: in the Nanjing site, for example (Chapter 4), the indexical connection is very weak, and has largely been constructed a posteriori, yet it plays an extremely important role in the reconstructive strategy of that place. This separation should not surprise us. As we have seen, the trace exists, semiotically, only because we hold it to be a trace, that is to say only because we believe that it is such on the basis of an interpretive hypothesis that might also be erroneous. It is possible to believe that traces are true even when they are not. Discussing the effects of authenticity shifts the problem from the plane of being to that of belief, revealing its inherently constructed nature: that a certain site is “really” authentic matters less than the fact it is believed to be such, in other words semiotically constructed as authentic. In this regard it is not very pertinent to wonder to what extent sites effectively maintain their original structure, and how much instead they have been modified, transformed and tampered with. While these questions are relevant from a historical, archaeological and even legal point of view, they become less crucial in a semiotic context in which what interests us above all is the socially constructed and shared meaning that the places take on, no less “real” and cogent albeit on a more symbolic level. The effects of meaning are real, too, no less real than reality itself. It is worth stressing how the semiotic perspective is, from this standpoint, similar to that of memory researchers, who, unlike historians, make

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the focus of their analyses not so much the precise reconstruction of events as the meaningful relations that are established between memory and identity, social background and ideology. As Silke Arnold-de Simine writes: “In memory research, it is the processes by which individuals, communities and societies manufacture emotionally invested narratives of the past that are investigated and analysed” (2013: 19). My research is focused on the space between events and the value they come to assume in a culture, a space that echoes the distance between the event and its meaning as discussed in Chapter 1, on analysing Jeffrey Alexander’s theory of cultural trauma: since trauma from that standpoint does not consist in an event, but in a collective reconstruction of its meaning, so the authenticity of a site is an a posteriori attribution, the reconstruction of a spatial contiguity, even a presumed one. Once we have defined the effects of authenticity as the result of an attribution of meaning, the suggested notion of indexicality once more reveals all its operative usefulness. It will no longer allude to a necessary causal connection between event and place, but to a belief that such a connection has existed, in its cultural construction, to some degree independently of all factual verification of its actual constitution. The attribution of indexicality to a trauma site, and the effect of authenticity that derives from it, becomes a part of the meaning of the place (Meyrowitz 1985), and conditions the positioning of visitors who not only see something of that terrible past, but are also led to imagine what cannot be seen. Imagination is a central element of the visiting practices of these sites, often highly evocative and underlined by the curators’ enunciational strategies. The emotional intensity and the pathemic effects characteristic of visits to these sites, which we shall deal with in § 6, depend crucially on the evocative power that the indexical traces activate in the imagination of visitors. By virtue of the value of authenticity we attribute to them, traces function both as visible signs that document the past and as powerful activators of imaginary forms of the reconstruction of that past. But how are such traces preserved, transformed and rewritten? In view of what ends and to produce what specific effects of meaning? And what is ethically, as well as aesthetically, proper to make visible and show? Because conserving a

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trauma site involves constraints and responsibilities that are different to other kinds of museums. And from here it would be convenient to start again, to understand what these places actually are and the nature of their relation with the more general museum-form.

Museums as mediators of memory Museums, new museums and trauma sites It is possible to trace the institution of museums and their role in the constitution of the identitarian politics of the modern nation-state back to the Enlightenment: in that period private collecting was transformed into a public project for a pedagogical form of cultural transmission. At the time of its creation, the museum’s function was not only to organize, conserve and hand down the body of knowledge and the artistic and cultural heritage of the nascent ruling bourgeoisie, it also played a deeper role that affected the processes of identification of citizens with their heritage. From the viewpoint of a semiotics of culture, we can think of museums as devices for stabilization, recognition and cultural identification. In the first place they fix a series of values in time by contributing not only to their knowledge and dissemination, but also to the way in which they are shared within the culture. In the second place they activate mechanisms of collective identification and recognition by contributing to the stabilization of the “imagined communities” described by Benedict Anderson (2006). We can think of the museum-form as “an apparatus of the modern nationstate” (Arnold-de Simine 2013: 7) that was consolidated throughout the nineteenth century.15

15

For a closer look at the development of museums, see Bennet 1995 and HooperGrenhill 2000.

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A device for cultural hegemony, the museum was also the object of ruthless criticism at the end of the last century (Bennet 1995, Macdonald and Fyfe 1996) – especially in the sphere of feminist and post-colonial thinking – as an ideological instrument of control of the dominant narratives to the detriment of marginalized alternative voices. Despite these criticisms, from the end of the Second World War onwards we have witnessed a real boom in museums and so-called new museums.16 It has been calculated that ninety percent of all museums in the world were opened after 1945, and more than three quarters of museums in England alone were established from 1970 onwards (Fyfe 2011). Naturally, this proliferation does not concern only museums of memory, even though more and more museums throughout Europe are dedicated to the two world wars and, of course, the Holocaust. New museums are a heterogeneous category, which includes many different museal forms, from the most traditional museums dedicated to art, but revisited in innovative forms, to city museums, which more and more often saturate our urban spaces with memory, to thematic collections dedicated to the most various subjects, from immigration to colonialism to Mediterranean culture, often proposed as a sort of memorial compensation for previous policies of exclusion and discrimination. Or to commemorate what has previously been swept away by development and globalization, because often “the idea of a museum conceals a loss, exorcizes an absence” (De Luna 2011: 101). The peasant world vanishes and museums rise to commemorate that culture, great abandoned factories are transformed into museums to pass on the memory of a bygone epoch. But the new museum also seems to look to the future, foreshadowing new forms of cultural consumption and new definitions of that which from time to time is defined as “aesthetic”. According to Pezzini “A new museum is necessarily different to traditional

16

The recent bibliography on museums is vast, among others we mention here: Cubitt 2007; Hooper-Grenhill 2000; Maleuvre 1999; and Message 2006. For the new museums, see: Marstine 2006; Message 2006; Arnold-de Simine and Andermann 2012; Vergo 1989; and from a semiotic standpoint Pezzini 2011. For more specific material on museums of traumatic memory, see, among others, the most recent Bassanelli and Postiglione 2013; and Arnold-de Simine 2013.

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museums, it brings together different expectations of contemporary culture: the search for new centralities for the rebirth of urban centres as well as the outskirts, the demand for representative spaces for a mass public, and the propulsive valuation of the market, which sees in it a niche with great prospects” (Pezzini 2011: 3). The new museum unifies various functions – pedagogical, artistic, spectacular and commercial; more and more often its space includes libraries and archives, shopping centres and eateries, offices and show venues, a genuinely modern, polyfunctional public space. Within the more general category of the new museums, those dedicated to traumatic memory have both elements of continuity and diversity. On the one hand they share a series of communicative strategies that I shall discuss in greater detail in the forthcoming sections, and on the other they have specific particularities. What is a trauma site exactly? Compared with a more traditional museum, these sites are harder to define and have hybrid characteristics: trauma sites are neither authentic museums nor cemeteries or places where the dead are worshipped, nor even monuments, but all these things at once and perhaps even something more. First of all, however, they are places that were once the scene of massacres and extermination. The result of this is a disquieting overlap between what the place once was and what it has become: visitors find themselves in a space whose definition is uncertain, suspended between the sight of a prison and a museum visit. In reality, a trauma site is both things, it is together a prison and a museum, an ambiguous space in tension between two worlds that refer to opposed semantic and passional systems but are here short circuited one over the other: prison, a place of impotence, constriction and non-freedom by definition, characterized on the passional level in a highly dysphoric way; and the museum, a space where we go to acquire knowledge, normally a euphoric place of learning and entertainment. The quasi-paradoxical nature of this superimposition leads to a reformulation of the problem of how to represent trauma, a problem that we have already seen lies at the core of trauma theory and its connections with memory.

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Between authenticity and realism On this point trauma sites differ substantially from all other museums of memory. Strictly speaking they represent nothing: given that traumatic events have happened in that place, or in any case so it is assumed, they show rather directly the material traces of those events. Here we have a shift from the plane of representation to that of re-presentation,17 a consequence of the indexical nature of these places and their causal relation with trauma. This effect of re-presentation of trauma can vary significantly from one site to another, according to the strategies of conservation that we shall be discussing soon. As anticipated in Chapter 1, we can distinguish between sites oriented more towards a “mimetic” polarity, which accentuate the effect of re-presentation through a quasi-maniacal conservation of the original detail, and “anti-mimetic” sites that attenuate the effect of presence. In general terms, we can say that the more a site faithfully maintains the causal connection with the past, conserving the original remains and emphasizing their authenticity, the greater the effect of re-presentation and mimetic character. Here we touch on a very delicate theoretical point, the source of possible misunderstandings, which has to do with the vexed question of realism in the representation of trauma.18 At first sight, it might seem that trauma sites, given their indexical and hence re-presentational nature, are more realistic than normal museums of memory that “simply” represent the trauma. But the problem of realism in representation does not coincide with that of authenticity. It is possible to have museums of memory that do 17

18

The distinction between representation and re-presentation is also found in Derrida (1982), Discussing the concept of representation in the philosophical tradition, Derrida maintains that: “Vorstellung does not seem to involve directly the meaning conveyed by the re in re-praesentatio. Vorstellung simply seems to mean, as Heidegger stresses, to situate, to place in front of oneself, a kind of theme or thesis. But this meaning or value of the being-in-front-of is already active in ‘present’. Praesentatio means the fact of presenting and re-praesentatio that of making present, a reference to the power-of-bringing-back-to-presence” (Derrida 1982: 307). For a discussion on the representation of trauma and the definition of “traumatic realism”, see Rothberg 2000.

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not stand in original trauma sites and yet adopt strategies of representation strongly aimed at producing effects of reality; one example may stand for all: the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC is a museum where the entire emphasis is on a hyper-realistic strategy of representation, with a great accumulation of figurative elements, objects, implements, clothing and shoes. The particular sense effect of trauma sites is not a function of their possibly greater or lesser degree of “realism”, but of their re-presentation rather than representation of the scene of the trauma, linking the past to the present through the permanence in time of material elements. In other words, it depends on the supposed authenticity of the trace, and not on the verisimilitude of the representation. The fact that such a trace can be manipulated, as we have discussed, and that authenticity is to be understood as a constructed effect of authenticity, and not a natural property of the place, does not change the terms of the question. We can certainly continue to talk about effect of reality in both cases, but bearing in mind that they are based on different devices, and also presuppose a different positioning on the part of visitors. In the case of trauma sites, the effect does not depend in the first place on that which is put on display, but on the knowledge that the visitor has of the nature of the site. This knowledge leads to specific modalities of interpretation, reading and utilization; from this standpoint indexicality represents a particular interpretive function that establishes a semiotic connection between the place, the visitors’ knowledge, and their positioning within this system. Conserving and transforming: Restorations and rewritings Causal contiguity with the event, at the base of the effect of the presentification of sites, can therefore be stated in various ways: highlighted and emphasized in some cases, alluded to more indirectly in others. We might think of scales of indexicality, just as in semiotics we talk about scales of iconism, which range from a maximum of integral exhibition of the traces to a maximum of neutralization. We have sites that conserve quasi-obsessively all the remaining elements of the original site, others that attenuate them,

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constructing a distance through procedures of abstraction and allusion. But the discourse on conservation inevitably becomes more complex because in order to “conserve” you need to restore in some way and restoration is never an innocent operation but always involves choices that are interpretive, aesthetic and all in all political, too, both on the level of memory and that of values. There are many different ways of understanding restoration, and each one reflects cultural attitudes, historical periods and also different national styles.19 To simplify, we can distinguish between three principal forms that, in various declinations, also run through our sites. •





Identical restoration, or stylistic reconstruction à l’identique, originating in nineteenth-century France, which aims at the recovery of places by integrating, or even completely reconstructing, the parts that have decayed or have been destroyed. Critical, or philological, restoration, which developed above all in Italy with Cesare Brandi, aims at a historically and philologically oriented reinterpretation of the building. The purpose here is the conservation of what has remained without restoring the original, but on the contrary leaving all the traces of successive interventions in clear sight and well readable. Creative restoration, a hybrid label that alludes to the possibility of innovative interventions of various kinds grafted on to remaining, or lost, architectural forms, interpreting them in a variety of ways.

Nonetheless it is not so easy to make an accurate map of this typology of restoration work on trauma sites and the correspondences are not always clear. In reality, to a large extent sites appear as places of a particular restoration, which I would define as opaque conservation, a modality in ambiguous equilibrium between restoration and conservation that nonetheless does not express clearly the option adopted and above all tends to conceal restoration work. I am referring in particular to those sites that appear as 19

For a semiotically oriented discussion on the problematics of restoration I refer to Mazzucchelli 2010, Chapter 2.

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places maintained exclusively as they were: this occasionally quasi-obsessive conservation – at Tuol Sleng in Cambodia you can still see the victims’ bloodstains on the floor – is exhibited as “natural”, that is to say devoid of any successive intervention even if only maintenance work. The site has remained, at least apparently, exactly as it was at the time of the traumatic events and everything contributes to intensifying this effect; this is that rhetoric of authenticity we discussed previously, a rhetoric that aims at a restitution of the original without any mediation. Sites like Tuol Sleng manifest themselves as “time machines” that take us back to the moment of the horror and its frozen temporality. In reality, as we have already seen on discussing the case of Oradoursur-Glane at the end of Chapter 1, keeping a place exactly “as it was” requires of necessity an intervention that is already restoration work in itself, inasmuch as it involves interpretive choices about what to maintain, how, and in what state. The peculiarity of many sites is precisely that of concealing these operations behind an apparent, self-evident naturalness that seems to help the place elude the passage of time. While the value in play here seems to be that of the conservation of the past, it nonetheless appears in forms very different to what happens in the case of conservative and critical restoration, à la Brandi, in which every intervention is highlighted and made clearly recognizable. Nor, on the other hand, is the operation similar to identical restoration because reconstruction does not pretend to be authentic, whereas sites such as Tuol Sleng base their own sense effect on emphasizing their unchanged authenticity. In other cases, such as Nanjing (Chapter 4), they have reconstructed entire areas as if they were original excavations. The fact of this reconstruction (or even invention) is then denied in order to present an “authenticity” whose purpose is to corroborate the truth of the trauma that occurred there. The case of Nanjing, which as we shall see is in reality a huge theme park, clearly shows the difficulty of defining creative restoration as applied to trauma sites. Sometimes creative restoration encroaches on reconstruction ex novo and the original element, the trace, is reduced to a few stones. It is nevertheless interesting that even in these cases the entire explicative and paratextual apparatus of the site rests very greatly on the “authenticity” of the place, on spatial continuity with the trauma that has occurred, more

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than on aspects of innovation, proof of the strong symbolic and witness value of the trace. In other, less numerous, cases, creative restoration instead produces an original work, as is the case with the Risiera San Sabba, in Italy, which I shall be discussing later or, in an even more sensational manner, in the Museo della Memoria di Ustica (Chapter 7) which takes creative intervention to its extreme limit by transforming a museum into an art installation. But innovation and transformation do not always mean artistic creativity: more and more frequently museums and sites are turning trauma into spectacles almost worthy of Disney, transforming the memory of places into a sort of funfair of horrors. The definition of “creative restoration” used to refer to all these cases seems barely adequate, because it does not take into account outcomes that are very different to one another. There is no doubt that many choices regarding restoration also depend on the original state of the site. Not all trauma sites have been conserved, in their physical materiality, in the condition they were in when they were used as places of imprisonment and death. Many Nazi extermination camps have been destroyed and subsequently reconstructed à l’identique even without stating this. In other cases, all that remains are eloquent ruins, as in Oradour, where it was chosen to transform the ruin itself into a monument. In other cases in which the original places of imprisonment were subjected to demolition, or even solely the obliteration of the traumatic traces, the decision to monumentalize a site has given rise to a debate of great interest for our reflections. In the corpus I analysed, this happened, especially in Chile and Argentina, after the end of the ferocious dictatorships that dominated those countries for a long time in the 1970s. As we shall see, in these debates we can find all the possible options we have identified, from reconstruction à l’identique, to conservation, to creative intervention, and each of these different choices often involves different practical uses and memorial functions; so it will be particularly interesting to see which social actors sponsor which choices on the level of restoration and conservation. Often, at least in those countries, the surviving victims are those people who demand the total conservation of such places with greater insistence, sometimes setting themselves up as the sole instance which can legitimately decide on the forms in which memory can be transmitted. This holds in

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particular for those terrible spaces that seem still to hold within them the memory of suffering, such as places where torture and violence have occurred, spaces that acquire, for the victims, an almost sacred character that seems to resist any re-semanticization and transformation. Nevertheless, behind these positions there lies an illusion, namely that it is possible to conserve without manipulating, rewriting and even obliterating the traces. In reality, all forms of restoration, even the most conservative, are always a transformation that involves interpretation and translation. As Mazzucchelli observes: An intervention of restoration (or of reconstruction, or of complete restoration) never coincides with an innocent practice of conservation of a generic past, but is characterized rather as a process of selection (to the extent that it decides what must be restored) and, all in all, of translation and invention (with regard to how and why to restore). (Mazzucchelli 2010: 48)

Inasmuch as they are interpretations of the past, different policies of restoration always involve different policies of memory and diverse ways of imagining the relation with the temporality of the trauma. The obsessive maintenance of the space halts memory at the moment of the trauma and obliges us to go back to that frozen past; innovative transformation, instead, can delineate new scenarios and open itself to diverse temporalities. The modalities of restoration also fall within the communicative strategies that characterize the forms of representation with which every site chooses to reconstruct its own past.

The museum as structure and communicative form For a semiotics of museums While trauma sites retain traces of their having been places of imprisonment and extermination, in the present they are first and foremost museal places, planned to provide for practices of exposition on the one hand, and

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those of visiting on the other. The analysis of these particular museums must therefore link the considerations made so far on the relation space – trauma – memory, to the semiotic and communicative organization that characterizes them insofar as they are museal places. In recent years, semiotics has taken a great interest in museums, analysing the forms of their signification as well as the transformation that these institutions have gone through in recent decades.20 There is no space here to go through all these contributions, which nonetheless constitute the essential background to my proposal, so I shall restrict myself to discussing the most important methodological aspects, giving particular consideration to the specific differences that trauma sites show compared to more traditional museums. A departure point shared by many scholars is the definition of the museum as a heterotopic place, that is to say an other space, a space of discontinuity with respect to the habitual environment, to return to the notion of heterotopia proposed by Michel Foucault (1967).21 In reality, Foucault was not thinking about museums when he elaborated this notion, but rather of particular spaces “of containment” we might say, such as prisons, mental hospitals, hospitals, barracks and schools, institutions specifically designated to discipline and regulate behaviour, neutralizing or inverting the order of the organized relations of other spaces. Perhaps a more appropriate term for a description of a museum is, as Pezzini (2011) suggests, Lotman’s notion of the semiosphere, which was introduced by the Russian semiologist precisely through an explicit reference to the metaphor of the museum: Imagine a room in a museum, where exhibits from different eras are laid out in different windows, with texts in known and unknown languages, and instructions for deciphering them, together with explanatory texts for the exhibitions created by guides who map the necessary routes and rules of behaviour for visitors. If we place into that room still more visitors, with their own semiotic worlds, then we

20 The most complex and organic contributions are certainly Hammad 2006, Zunzunegui 2003, and Pezzini 2011, but see also Calabrese 2006, Eco 2001, 2009, Pezzini and Cervelli 2006, Fabbri 1996, Apothéloz, Bähler and Schulz 1996, and Damish 2000. 21 See Marotta 2010 and Ciorra and Tchou 2006.

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The excerpt is a good illustration of what appears as the first and fundamental structural characteristic of museums, namely their heterogeneity on the plane of expression: a museum is made up of many diverse elements, belonging to different semiotic systems. First of all, there is the architecture that contains and delimits it, then the works on display, but also all the texts that illustrate them, the routes provided for visits and finally, a crucial point to which we shall have to return, the visitors who occupy it and move through it. To put it in other terms, the museum is a syncretic text,22 resulting from the combination of many languages of manifestation, and so it will be necessary to construct a syncretic semiotics that, as we have already mentioned in Chapter, lies at the base of all analyses of space that always involve considering “things and persons” together. As in every syncretic text, the diverse elements on the plane of expression contribute to the construction of an overall meaning on the plane of content; that is to say there is no parallelism between the heterogeneity of the expression and that of the content: all the diverse expressive elements are integrated in the various levels of the museal organization with the aim of communicating a unitary meaning. Hence the analysis cannot start from the single material components, but from a hypothesis on the overall meaning that the museum intends to convey, on its content, starting from which it will then be possible to understand better the contribution of the individual substances of expression and the way in which diverse languages contribute to realizing the discourse of the museum. Already on this first level there emerges an important difference between a traditional museum, dedicated to exhibiting artefacts and works of art, and a trauma site. Often, in the analysis of museums, a distinction is made between container and content, where the container is the

22 In semiotic terms a text is defined as syncretic when it is composed of different semiotic systems: for example, a movie, where there are images, words and music.

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architectonic space and the content the collection of work or objects on display, to which are added the display layout, or the viewing proposal.23 For Hammad (2006) the three orders that characterize the museal discourse as a whole – architecture, objects and display layout – are reciprocally embedded in such a way that the objects are set within the device of the layout, which is in its turn set within the architecture of the museum. In a traditional museum the objects, and the way they are displayed, are more important than the architectural container, to which normally very little attention is paid. As Manar Hammad observes: “If he is not an architect, the visitor to a museum seldom takes any interest in the building that houses it. The arrangement of the places eludes him, because his interest is focussed on the objects on display” (Hammad 2006: 216). In the case of trauma sites this relationship is radically inverted: the container becomes the content, because it is the architectonic space of the site that constitutes the reason for the visit in the first place.24 The objects on show are often, albeit not always, secondary, sometimes decidedly absent. But even where they play an important role, they are not the reason why people visit trauma sites. The real reason is the site itself, which before containing a collection of objects contained the tragic stories of human beings. And it is these stories that a site tells above all else. In trauma sites what is in play is not the exposition of works of art, nor – in the main – even the objects and images that testify to the trauma (even though sometimes we find objects and images on display), but rather the staging of the trauma that occurred there. Trauma sites are in the first place genuine spatial accounts of memory. More than any other museum, the sites are set out within a strong narrative structure

23

This differentiation is found both in Zunzunegui (2003) who talks about architectonic space, collection of objects and viewing proposals, and in Hammad (2006) who talks about objects, layout and architecture. 24 From this particular viewpoint we could establish an interesting parallelism between trauma sites and the new museums that seem characterized above all by the importance of the architecture that becomes the real protagonist of the museum discourse. For a reflection on this point, see Pezzini 2011.

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and it from here that our analysis must start: what story do these particular spaces tell us? How do they tell it? According to what narrative programmes? And again: who is telling the story and to whom? What visitors are foreseen and imagined, how are they consulted and according to what modalities are they constructed? The analytical categories of textual semiotics give us the tools with which to give more precise answers to these questions: while museums, as we have already said, can be read as texts here, too, we can trace a narrative structure and an internal organization set out on various levels as well as a communicational and manipulative configuration with respect to their users. Enunciation and enunciate Even in the case of a museum, the first thing is to distinguish between a plane of the enunciate and a plane of enunciation. The enunciate discourse corresponds to the message that a museum wishes to convey: the story that is told there, with its actors, its temporal sequences, its aspectual forms, and the values put in play. Enunciation, instead, refers to the way in which the message is presented to visitors, and hence to the modality of the visit itself. In its own way, the enunciation tells a story and can be analysed in its turn as a narrative form; the story told on this level, however, is not that of the trauma staged, but that of its vision through the visit. While in traditional museums the value in play seems to be above all the acquisition of new knowledge and increased awareness, in trauma sites what is in play above all is the plane of feeling and the activation of pathemic and passional involvement. Enunciation can thus be seen as the story of the path taken by the visitor, of his transformations and his value acquisitions. The Nanjing museum, as we shall see in Chapter 4, is an exemplary case of how museal enunciation utilizes the plane of the enunciate to construct its own highly ideological and manipulative discourse, intended to convey values that go beyond the story recounted of a historical massacre, to construct a new identitarian image of the Chinese nation. To fully understand the overall meaning of a trauma site it is therefore necessary to

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analyse the system of values put in play not only by its enunciate but also by its enunciation. To do this we should remember that preserving and transmitting memory may not be the only value in play, and sometimes not even the most important one, even though sites are apparently made for that particular purpose. Enunciation also has its temporality, which includes rhythms, pauses, moments of intensity and passional climax, together with others that are more didactically oriented. As Floch (1996) observes, in the museal route there are sequences of relaxation and sequences of concentration, according to an alternation of surprise and tension, for example, when faced with the unexpected discovery of a work of art. The concatenation of such tension and relaxation creates a particular rhythm, in Floch’s view a genuine “breathing” that characterizes the “personality” and originality of every museum. That of the enunciator is an abstract actantial role, which can be played each time by a variegated series of concrete actors who function as so many delegated enunciators, from the architects who designed the building, to museum curators, down to those who set up exhibitions. The enunciator is often, albeit not always, made to coincide with the addresser25 which we might see as responsible for the constitutive and foundational decision to transform a place of trauma into a site and open it as a museum. As such, the addresser is the abstract instance that defines the values to transmit and the consequent programme of action. The figure of the addresser is very important for the purposes of our analysis: its role can vary greatly and its diversity reveals itself to be extremely significant for an understanding of the socio-political dynamics that underlie the decision to establish a trauma site, as well as the different valorizations and the relations between the plurality of social actors interested in

25

The two figures become indistinguishable, in semiotic terms they enter into syncretism, when the addresser determines the expositive forms of the site, something that happens often, even though not necessarily in all cases: in our corpus, for example, the Museo per la Memoria di Ustica shows a clear separation between an addresser, partly public and partly private, which delegates a specific enunciator, the artist Christian Boltanski, to realize the site.

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post-conflict situations. In the more traditional war memorials and museums, the addresser is generally the state or a figure of public authority and often this is the case in trauma sites, too: in our corpus both the Nanjing museum and that of Tuol Sleng were initiated from the top, by the wish of the rulers and the state authority. But alongside this model more and more often a form of alternative addresser is developing, which sees in society, in the NGOs concerned with human rights and above all in those new figures represented by the survivors’ and relatives’ associations, the social actors delegated to look after conservation. The cases of Chile and Argentina are exemplary from this viewpoint: the decision to open a site, and above all on how to restore it and to what end, has often taken many years, with heated debates that have involved the entire citizenry, making comparisons between different and sometimes contrasting ideas on the collective memory, the elaboration of trauma and the emergence from conflict. It is no accident, perhaps, that among all the sites I have examined, those that force us into an “authoritarian” and univocal reading of the past are precisely those where there is a public addresser that coincides with the governing authorities, whereas when we are in the presence of more diffuse addressers that do not coincide with institutional power, the forms of transmission of memory multiply and become more of a problem. Museal communication The addresser evokes the presence of its complementary pole, the addressee, the other actant on the axis of communication. When we talk of communication in semiotics we adopt a different and broader perspective with respect to the traditional idea of communication as a pure passage of information between two neutral instances of emission and reception. We can think of communication as an action that instead of realizing itself through things realizes itself through human beings, creating intersubjective and social relationships between individuals with diverse competences. Communicative phenomena are seen, following the anthropological inspiration of Claude Lévi-Strauss and Marcel Mauss, as structures of exchange, polemical or contractual, aimed at modifying the dispositions and competences of the

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subject. This shift involves a different attention to the values that impinge upon the signification of messages on the one hand, and on the other to the intersubjective dynamics of manipulation that every communicative act involves and whose stakes are the modal transformation of the subjects. To act on human beings means, in point of fact, to manipulate them, to make them do something, in terms of other actions or of the modification of their attitudes, knowledge and passional states. On this basis, the basic communication programme of a museal institute in general can be described as a “making-see” with the aim of “making-know” on the museum’s part, and a “want-to-see” and a “wantto-know” on the part of visitors. The pragmatic programme of the visitor is both cognitive (the acquisition of knowledge) and aesthetic (the enjoyment of a work of art). Zunzunegui (2003): describes the visitor’s modal route as the passage from an initial position of not-knowing to a final one of knowing through the transformation of wanting-to-know into being-able-to-know according to a transformative sequence of the following type: Not-knowing → Wanting-to-know → Being-able-to-know → Knowing

This interpretive picture does not appear to be wholly applicable to trauma sites, which have characteristics partly different from traditional museums where people go to see, know and admire works of art that they wish to know more about and enjoy aesthetically. In trauma sites the visitor’s route does not start from a position of not-knowing but from a previous competence already underway on the level of knowledge: we go to visit sites such as Auschwitz because we already know what that place had been, we already know what happened there and we want to see where it happened, and possibly how it happened. This holds all the more so for smaller sites, which sometimes require a complex course of research, a real quest, which we undertake because, and only if, we already know something about those places, as happens with many minor sites in Chile and Argentina. What we try to acquire through the visit is not so much a cognitive competence, an increase on the level of knowledge, which sites seldom offer, but a different order of value, which informs the sphere of feeling, of emotion rather

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than of cognition. On the other hand, it is above all on this level that the persuasive action of the site as addresser-enunciator makes itself felt: the enunciational strategies most pursued in almost all trauma sites tend to intensify the pathemic effect through a series of devices for sensory involvement and direct participation on the part of visitors, aimed at re-actualizing the event by strengthening the symbolic efficacy of the place. We shall come back to this topic later, for now it suffices to observe that, for the sites, on the level of visitor motivations, together with the want-to-see, a central role is also played by duty, a must-see, and also a musttestify that transforms the visit into a kind of pilgrimage. As we shall see in the analysis of the Tuol Sleng museum, empirical research of a socioethnographic sort has shown that for the great majority of tourists the visit is perceived as an act of testimony, social and political duty to participate in the face of a genocidal tragedy, and not so much as the acquisition of information and knowledge. Trauma sites also reinforce this signification through a policy we might define as that of the opening and liberalization of the threshold that separates the interior/exterior: entry to these places is almost always free, there are really very few trauma sites that require payment for a visit. The decision is important, because it implicitly defines the practice of the visit by setting it within different categories: in Great Britain, for example, where museum entry is free, the visit becomes an “educational” practice and not one of “entertainment”, albeit the cultural sort, as is the case when the payment of a ticket is required. There is an analogous difference in the case of churches and other places of worship, in which the visitor must often define his or her status: if they are believers who wish to follow a religious service they are not expected to make any offering, but if they are tourists who wish to admire the building they must pay on entry. While on the one hand beingable-to-enter freely may appear like a gift on the part of an addresser, be it state or private, on the other it reinforces the idea that the visit to a site is an act charged with a moral and a pedagogical value: these places are free because visiting them is a duty and a form of learning, in accordance with the maxim “you have to know the past if you don’t want to repeat it”. Finally, it should be remembered that the cognitive programme of trauma sites concerns not only the acquisition of competence regarding past events,

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but also a competence aimed at acquiring a savoir faire regarding the use of museal space. Naturally, this holds for all museums, which always involve a set of instructions for how visits should be made, which behaviours are legitimate, and which unsuitable or even forbidden. In this way visitors are made competent with respect to the particular act that is a museum visit. In trauma sites, however, it acquires a particular dimension, given the quasisacred character that the relation with a place of death comes to take on. From this point of view, a site is closer to a cemetery than a museum, and the regulation of behaviour in it seems more cogent: “aberrant”, unforeseen uses can acquire a genuinely sacrilegious nature. An interesting example in this sense comes to us from Argentina. In September 2013 in Buenos Aires, at the ESMA, the military school that was a centre of imprisonment and torture during the dictatorship, a functionary of the Association for Civil Rights and some representatives of HIJOS, the association of the children of the desaparacidos, organized a public barbecue, which Argentineans call an asado. This event aroused a huge debate and discussions in the press, also because the term asado had been used by the military to refer to the tortures inflicted on prisoners with the use of electric shocks. The debate was very heated between those who saw the barbecue as intolerable and to some extent sacrilegious, and those – especially among the young people of the HIJOS association – who defended it.26 The debate is interesting for various reasons. In the first place it shows us how competence regarding savoir faire in relation to behaviours that are permitted or forbidden in a trauma site is complex and refers to an unstable universe of values occasionally subject to negotiation and bargaining. Obviously, this is not merely a question of “etiquette” and good manners: behind the debate on behaviour we can read between the lines different options on crucial themes such as the relation with memory, the elaboration of the trauma, the relation with the spaces and, all in all, the various possible ways of maintaining and transmitting memory. For the survivors and the victims’ associations the act is sacrilegious because the past cannot be revisited and must be kept unchanged;

26 For a discussion of this case, see Sosa 2013.

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for young people instead a form of transformative re-appropriation is a healthy thing. Consequently, there is also a difference in the relation established with the space of the trauma and its conservation: a “sacred” space, delimited and unchangeable in its fixity and faithfulness to the past for the former, to be re-invented and re-socialized in the present even in playful and paradoxical forms for the latter. The stakes in play are in reality very complex, because it is a matter of tackling the tricky issue of the possible re-use of trauma sites, in the presence of new generations less and less directly involved in the traumas of the past and more interested in the future than the conservation of what has been. So which public, or publics, should the sites cater for? The concept of the Model Visitor and its limitations All museums, and trauma sites are no exception, are made for the public. Or rather, for the publics plural, because there is no single category unitarily understood as visitors and this heterogeneity constitutes an element that we must look into, especially in the case of trauma sites. The semiotic category that lends itself best to the analysis of this level appears to be that of the Model Visitor, borrowed from the notion of the Model Reader elaborated by Eco (1979), which broadens and enhances the more textually restrictive concept of the enunciator. As the Model Reader is an interpretive strategy written into the text, so the Model Visitor can be considered as an interpretive strategy provided for and prefigured by the museum itself. Every museum has within itself a determined route, a way to be seen and passed through, a set of instructions for use. A museum displays works and objects, but it also tells us how to see them, in what order and, perhaps most importantly of all in the case of trauma sites, which passional attitudes, emotions and sentiments visitors should feel. Over and above these analogies, however, the notion of the Model Visitor does not coincide completely with that of the Model Reader. The act of reading is something wholly external to the text and entirely irrelevant to its constitution, whereas the act of visiting occurs inside the building and makes the visitor a constitutive part of it. In other words, while the Model Reader can

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remain an abstract strategy clearly separable from the empirical reader, in the case of a museum the strategy of use brings the real user directly into play, given the syncretic nature of its plane of expression, which, as we have seen, is made of “things and persons” together. From this viewpoint the model visitor is not merely an abstract strategy that realizes itself in a theoretically non pertinent outside-text, but becomes a part of the museum itself, a genuine expressive substance on a level with the exhibition space and the works on display. Not only this, but visitors can in general move freely through the exhibition space, without necessarily following the prescribed route. From this point of view the potential non linearity embedded within the way visitors construct their route inevitably contrasts with the linearity of the written text and its reader. The freedom of movement inside a museum introduces a tension between the implicit directives of the enunciator, as they are encoded in the exhibition route or recorded in the headphones, and the various degrees of “obedience” or resistance to them that visitors may offer.27 In short, the “reader” of a museum is not only a cognitive subject but a pragmatic one, too (Hammad 2006), who must move through the rooms and the spaces of the museum, and on this route, moreover, she does not see only the works on show, she also sees the other visitors. An ineliminable presence in the space, a body among other bodies, the visitor in her concrete materiality not only can fail to follow the expositive strategies of the museum, but can even interfere with them, as happens when an exhibition space calculated to cater for a certain number of people becomes too crowded, preventing the realization of the programme planned for the visit. In these cases, other viewing strategies are necessary, the bodies must move, find another rhythm, agree amongst themselves in novel ways, in accordance with the “regimes of adjustment” analysed by Landowski (2004, 2005). The Model Visitor goes beyond the strategic dimension of a purely cognitive subject, becoming a subject situated and involved in the action, a subject with a body, sometimes cumbersome, run through by emotions and experiences that

27

I thank Tamar Katriel for this observation.

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can interfere with the abstractly determined strategies of use and instead require adjustment and negotiation. The hybrid nature of the notion of the Model Visitor is particularly evident when we tackle the plural and heterogeneous dimension of the publics, to which I referred previously. The public of a museum cannot be considered a unitary and undifferentiated whole, a homogeneous collective actor, but is composed of a multiplicity of individuals, each with potentially diverse and non-homogeneous competences and expectations, which can be realized in highly differentiated visiting routes. From this standpoint, there exists an asymmetry on the axis of museal communication. Trauma sites are in some respects different to traditional museums, because some particular categories of visitors acquire a specific importance and their pertinence starts right from the specific nature of the sites: the victims, their relatives, their persecutors, the new generation, tourists and so on, subgroups of specific collective actors within the undifferentiated mass of the general “public”. It is not the same thing to visit a site as a tourist or as a survivor and such differences are sometimes handled by the site itself. In the new Jewish Museum in Warsaw, which strictly speaking is not a trauma site but thematically shares its object, there are two differentiated typologies of guided tours, respectively for Jews and non-Jews, proof of how the curators responsible for the museum enunciation are more and more aware of the many figures of model visitors, equipped with differentiated cultural knowledge, expectations, sensibilities and affects. The notion of the Model Visitor thus interpreted enables us to take account of the variability of publics on the basis of differing cognitive competence and passional systems, therefore using semiotic categories without falling back on sociological or psychological characterizations pertinent to other epistemological paradigms of research. Describing the space between texts and practices To grasp the meaning of those particular places that are trauma sites I started by observing them and making detailed descriptions, “thick descriptions” to use the term employed by Clifford Geertz (1973), who in

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his turn derived the expression from Gilbert Ryle, following a methodology of analysis that unites ethnography and socio-semiotic research. For Geertz, thick descriptions are the true object of ethnographic analysis because they make it possible to highlight the hierarchy of meaningful structures that also examines apparently meaningless behaviours such as the contraction of an eyelid. In the light of these hierarchies, the same gesture will reveal diverse relations of sense permitting us to distinguish between a tic, an ironic wink, a simulated wink, etc. Geertz’s ethnographic analysis is mostly focused on social behaviours; regarding these particular semiotic objects, semiotics uses the term “practices”, and in recent years has suggested various models and theoretical suggestions for their analysis.28 Certainly, sites, museums and memorials acquire their meaning also thanks to the practices that go on within them; broadly speaking, these are interpretive practices ranging from commemorative celebrations to guided tours. The modalities of use of these places can give rise to a varied typology of actions: pilgrimage rituals, civic ceremonies, pedagogical initiations, artistic performances and so on, or even simply being the object of a new form of mass tourism that sees in trauma sites its favourite destination, the so called “dark tourism”.29 It would be reductive, however, to think of the relation between practices and space by limiting oneself to the analysis of the modalities of use in a given place; of equal importance for understanding the significant relations that organize the meaning of a place are the actions that lead to the selection, establishment, and opening of a site. Here it is a question of re-reading as a semiotic phenomenon the story that produced that determined site: why was that site opened and not another? When? By whom? For which public? With what intentions and purposes? With what effects? We shall see in our analysis that some sites are opened only a very few months after the events, others after a decade; some are aimed primarily at journalists and the international public, others have an entirely local dimension. All these elements must be accepted for the purposes of the analysis because they are constitutive of the meaning that a site comes to 28 Cf. Fontanille 2008; Landowski 2004, 2005; and Violi 2012b. 29 For dark tourism, see Lennon and Foley 2000.

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develop in relation to a certain community and at a given moment in history; it is not a matter of irrelevant extra-textual data, but of components indispensable for understanding not only the relation between space and event, but also specific aspects of its narrative structure, from the actantial and thematic roles in play to the narrative programmes, the different figures of possible addressers, and the aspectual dimension. Semiotically re-reading the diachronic processes that lead to the construction of a place of memory means seeing how those processes have been inscribed in the system of meaningful relations that a given site exhibits and have therefore become components of its meaning; these processes are not external to the object, but are part of its signification. It is a matter of rethinking the semiotic problem of the immanence of meaning that, in the case of a place, cannot be located only in its morphological configuration, but is constituted starting from the set of practices of which the physical place represents the point of convergence, practices that are at once interpretive and productive. Just as the social and individual modalities of the use of the space cannot be overlooked, so should we examine the productive and decisional practices that constructed the object in that form, because through them it will be possible to reconstruct the axiology, and consequently the ideology, of that given site.30 For this reason, and not only for the necessity to contextualize the analysis of the sites, I shall often refer to the processes that have led to their constitution as well as to the ways in which the processes have become a system, determining the signification of the space. In the approach I have been delineating it becomes somewhat unimportant to wonder if we are talking about practices or texts: the distinction no longer appears pertinent and is revealed as a false opposition. What we are looking at is rather a complex object made up of practices and texts that

30

I use the concepts of axiology and ideology in their semiotic sense. For Greimas, axiology is the system of values underlying a given text and ideology is the programme of action that realizes it. For Eco, ideology corresponds to a partial reading of a text, which narcotizes some dimensions to emphasize others in an exclusive and absolutizing manner. Even though the two readings are not contradictory in reality, my use here is closer to Eco’s meaning.

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are intermingled and that both yield meaning, a concatenation of forms that can be interpreted as actions, in their processual aspects, or as systems, in their dimension of textual stabilization. The text-museum is both the result of the operations of selection and production that have determined its structure, and the matrix of uses and actions that re-semanticize it dynamically. And this without forgetting that the practices of re-semanticization of a space appear today as something far more widespread and complex than simple visits in loco: more and more important, in a scenario that tends towards globalization, they have become the phenomena of media circulation and the re-mediation of images and places. To give only a few examples, just think of the diffusion of photographic images on sites such as Flickr, Pinterest and Instagram, images that once would have been defined as amateur but have now changed sign: their quantitative extension participates in the qualitatively new construction of an iconosphere shared on a global level. We know places we have never seen almost “as if ” we had already been there, the myth of the direct experience of reality fades in its infinite mediatic repetitions. In this way everyone can become not only consumers of images, but also producers of a new and original remediation from below. In the new scenario of broadened practices of consumption, tourism, the other great element that influences processes of the globalization of memory, is also transformed and extended. It can no longer be restricted to the sole specific practice of the visit in loco, but must be considered in its entire mediatized dimension, through online forums, specialist blogs and Internet pages. In this regard it is interesting, and in its own way instructive, to read the comments on places of trauma in the various tourism and travel sites, such as Tripadvisor, for example, recently analysed by Andrea Minuz in his blog.31 Here we can find comments on the excellent visit to Auschwitz offered by a certain hotel, or five-star scores for this extermination camp because, as one post says: “In its quality as a museum of horrors I can only give it the maximum points”. Similarly, the popular

31

January 2014. I thank Giulia Nardelli for bringing it to my attention.

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smartphone game Pokémon Go has been banned from Auschwitz and from the Hiroshima Peace Park. These are but a few examples of the extent to which new media, social networks and digital games can interplay with historical places of memory, affecting their understanding and possibly altering their meaning in new and unforeseen ways. Given the acceleration the changes of new technologies, it is quite impossible to even attempt a provisional overview of the field; what is certain is that the interactions between memory, space and new media will be a privileged domain in the future for the study of memory sites. While such comments might raise a smile, they should also persuade us to think about how the signification of these places of traumatic memory changes when they enter the globalized arena of media discourse and open themselves to unpredictable readings and interpretations. What is the meaning of memorial practices in the age of global memoryscapes? (Phillips, Reyes 2011). What are the intersections between memory and globalizing drives, also in consideration of the opposed counter thrusts towards phenomena of re-localization? The globalization of memory is a very recent thing: until a few decades ago the public memory was essentially founded on the idea of the nationstate. According to James Young (1993), even the memory of the Holocaust was not born as a global memory, but has specific characteristics, which differ in the various European nations according to the various national identities that construct it in their own way. Globalization has introduced into this scenario an unheard of acceleration in the speed of information flow and in the movement of things and persons that, while they have not erased national cultures and their local memories, have caused them to be rethought and transformed. To use the words of Arjun Appadurai (1993), this is a “shift in cultural gravity”, a movement that from the imagined communities described by Benedict Anderson, communities still nationally based, opens towards “imagined worlds”, global scenarios with open boundaries. The “global memoryscape” is a complex landscape in which “memories and memory practices move, come into contact, are contested by, and contest other forms of remembrance; older ways of conceptualizing the past – largely framed in terms of national and local perspectives. These memories are unsettled by the dynamic movements of globalization

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and new memories and new practices of remembrance emerge” (Phillips and Reyes 2011: 14).

Evoking absence: What remains Objects, remains, bodies Trauma sites are physical spaces – prisons, camps, places used as centres of imprisonment – that exhibit primarily themselves, and in many cases nothing more: unlike all other traditional museums, trauma sites are not created to display artefacts. Often, however, in these places we find various exhibits, personal effects that belonged to the victims, clothing, shoes and implements, instruments of torture or weapons, images, photographs, documents, letters, diaries and in extreme cases even human remains. How are the “furnishings” for such places chosen? What objects, what images, what exhibits is it useful, suitable, and ethically acceptable to put on show? In general, everything that is exhibited in a site increases its “figurative density” and can contribute to increasing its gradient of realism.32 Even though the effect of reality does not necessarily coincide with the efficacy of a site (there are trauma sites that precisely in their naked essentiality are extraordinarily powerful), there is no doubt that the objects displayed can play an important role in determining pathemic intensity. But first of all what is the value that these objects carry? They are certainly not informed with an artistic value or any aesthetic excellence, and not even a particular “rarity”: mostly they are everyday objects, linked to the extremely restricted life of imprisonment. And since almost everything was taken away from prisoners, such objects are almost always extremely “poor” and simple, to a certain extent objects chosen by the persecutors

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On figurativity and its relations to realism, see Bertrand 2000.

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themselves, given that they represent what the jailers decided to leave the prisoners hence saving them from destruction. For objects, too, no differently from what happens to the site itself, value consists mainly of authenticity: a trace of past events, these remains constitute undeniable material evidence of it. Hence their nature as testimony: objects, like sites, testify to the past, documenting it and substantiating it. This is why it is essential for them to be authentic, and this holds also in the case of those museums that are not trauma sites, indeed perhaps above all in these cases. Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington are two celebrated examples of museums that arose in places far from those of the Holocaust, which make a great show of documentary material and objects from the death camps. Here the authenticity of the objects ought to serve the dual function of irrefutable proof of the events and a vehicle for expressing the indescribable, and hence it is an element of strong pathemic activation. Many visitors report that the huge pile of shoes at the entrance to the Washington Memorial represented the most intense experience of the entire visit,33 even though there have been disputes regarding their effective authenticity. All museums operate a transformation of the objects displayed, and modify their original nature to transform them into “representatives of a culture, of a history, of a city. The objects in the museum are no longer looked at only for themselves, but have also become bearers of a meaning that is added to their original meaning” (Hammad 2006: 204]. In the case of trauma sites, the process of re-signification follows a particular path, different from the ends of aesthetic valorization proper to museums in general. In the case of objects belonging to the victims, we might say that the semantic value of use proper to the object is transformed into a sign of itself: the things on show are, as such, removed from the sphere of use and yet they are displayed precisely because they refer to the function they once had in the particular context represented by the concentration-camp universe that the site tells us about. The value of use is thus re-semanticized in an expositional value, a notion that Benjamin in

33

See the museum site.

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his essay on the work of art (1936) coupled with that of the aura. While in the case of the work of art “exposibility” changes the cultural value of the work, in our case it is characterized as a symbolic value that does not annul the first level of signification, but overlaps it in a sort of semantic and valorial tension. The clothes, the shoes and the implements belonging to the victims are at once things and signs of themselves, everyday objects and symbolic objects, individual singularities and representatives of the category of belonging, object-occurrence and object-type. We shall see, on analysing the Museo della Memoria di Ustica, how Christian Boltanski’s installation exploits this dual nature of objects to produce a particular sense effect, and at the same time an effect of alienation, by constructing lists of objects as generic instances of a category, and of maximum presence, because the objects hold within themselves the extremely powerful memory of the single individuality that has possessed, used and touched them. An essential metonymic relation links the things to the persons, or rather to their memory, and the object becomes the go-between for re-actualizing what no longer exists, to make an absence present. There is another aspect, paradoxical to some extent, in the objects of use belonging to prisoners, “poor” objects as already observed. These are always personal objects regarding a private sphere of existence, often even intimate, such as implements for personal cleanliness or undergarments, objects therefore destined to be relegated to the sphere of private invisibility. Their museal exposition inverts the relation between public and private that characterized their original function, relocating them within a public sphere par excellence, that of the museum, and detaching them from the regime of non-visibility connected with their use. These are private objects that have become public precisely because they are private: it is this drift in meaning that lies at the base of the evocative capacity of the poor objects we usually find on display in trauma sites. The transformation is an effect of their relocation, a procedure that the sites share with more traditional museums and with all “expositional” institutions, from art galleries to chain stores. The value of exposition seems to insinuate a third term into the Marxist opposition between value of use and exchange value, which cannot be reduced to the first two (Agamben 2005).

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At the same time these personal objects remind us of the common nature that connects trauma sites and prisons but also, to some extent, prisons and museums, the first being places for the control and disciplining of deviant behaviours, the second being places that regulate the collective systems of aesthetic and cultural valorization. In accordance with a perspective inspired by Foucault, in origin prisons and museums “were not formed as historical opposites per se, but as negative and positive instruments of governmental power” (Williams 2007: 90). The objects that we encounter most frequently in trauma sites mostly fall into two main categories: the personal effects of those who have been imprisoned in that place and, albeit more rarely, instruments of torture and death: weapons, knives and all the possible objects used to inflict physical suffering in those places. Weapons, in their generic nature, are perhaps the least meaningful objects, because they are highly interchangeable. The sole reason for their exposition in a certain site is, yet again, their effective causal connection with actions carried out in that place, in other words their authenticity, sometimes underlined in the illustrative material: “prisoners were executed with this pistol”. More disquieting are the instruments of torture, which would perhaps deserve separate consideration. Why display such objects, which inevitably transform a site into something very close to a museum of horrors, or one of the many torture Museums that are spreading in many places? Certainly the exposition of these instruments contributes to increasing the shock effect of the site, intensifying its “horrorific” dimension; their presence, aimed at arousing strong emotions in visitors, can be read as an ulterior element of a far broader strategy of the spectacularization of trauma, something I shall come back to very soon. Among the personal objects that sites display, some, more typically connected with Holocaust sites, have become “trauma icons”, as Arnold-de Simine (2013) has defined them. In our extended cultural memory, sealed railway wagons, suitcases, shoes and striped uniforms have now become so many visual icons of the trauma of the Holocaust, stereotyped figurative elements that activate a default narrative scenario used by now in very many museums and memorials worldwide, with sense effects that can be variously interpreted. There are some who see as a positive datum the constitution of a “multidirectional memory” (Rothberg 2009) that

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also starting from these visual icons recognizes in the narrative of the Holocaust the archetypical paradigm and the matrix for the generation of other traumatic stories modelled on that particular historical trauma. Other authors warn against the possible risks of this extension of the Nazi genocide that, from a historical episode, becomes a “universal trope for historical trauma”, as emphasized by Andreas Huyssen. “In the transnational movement of memory discourses, the Holocaust loses its quality as index of the specific historical event and begins to function as metaphor for other traumatic histories and memories. The Holocaust as a universal trope is a prerequisite for its decentring and its use as a powerful prism through which we may look at other instances of genocide” (Huyssen 2003: 14). Also in the cases examined in this book we shall find similar “extended” uses of the Holocaust. The Nanjing Memorial explicitly uses the term “Holocaust”, even though it refers to tragic events that happened before the beginning of the Second World War. The Holocaust as a universal key to the understanding of all traumatic events is therefore reassessed, and in no negligible fashion, through its figurativization and recourse to highly symbolic “icons”. Among these, a particular role is played by clothing, especially shoes. The particular emotional power of these objects lies without any doubt in the closeness that they evoke with the body of those who wore them: the dual nature of objects that are singular and generic at the same time, which I have already mentioned, here becomes a rhetorical device that works simultaneously on both the metonymic and metaphorical level. On the one hand, in fact, the metonymic contiguity of the human body makes them an integral part of it, a memory of the body that has become a thing, a second skin that still bears the imprint of the singular individual who wore them. On the other hand, in particular shoes are often widely used in other contexts, too, and with reference to other, different, traumas. In Budapest the monument erected in 2005 by Can Togay and the sculptor Gyula Pauer consists of a long row of iron shoes placed on the banks of the Danube; in 2012 the massacre of Srebrenica was commemorated with the exposition of 8,372 pairs of shoes, the same as the number of the dead; in the USA the American Friends Service Committee commemorated the dead in Iraq by showing in

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the public spaces of various American cities an expanse of army boots for the soldiers and shoes for the Iraqi civilian victims, an event documented by the American photographer Robert Adams (Figure 2.3); recently in many Italian city squares the protest against femicide took the form of a display of red women’s shoes, and the list of examples could go on.34 The metaphorical capacity of symbolization is based on metonymical contiguity and this is why the authenticity of exhibits is both essential and at the same time all but unbearable.

Figure 2.3:  Commemoration of the dead in Iraq.

The threshold on which the authentic becomes really intolerable is constituted by human remains – hair, teeth, bones, skulls – whose exhibition appears unacceptable, at least in our culture. This specification is necessary, because in other geographic regions this taboo is far less binding. We shall see in particular that in the two sites I analysed in China and Cambodia, numerous human skeletons, bones and skulls are on display. In Tuol Sleng 34 For a discussion on this point, see also Arnold-de Simine 2013.

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you could see until 2002 a map of Cambodia made of human skulls that delineated a macabre kind of puzzle. The decision to replace this map with a photographic copy of it was highly controversial because the museum authorities held it to be an important source of attraction for tourists. In this case I choose not to speculate regarding the reasons for these cultural differences, or to attempt interpretations that would be bound to run the inevitable risk of “orientalism”. Let us restrict ourselves to remembering that geographical difference is not the only variable that affects our reactions; temporal distance also plays an important role, it suffices to think of the indifference with which we visit paleo-Christian catacombs and look at the numerous human remains they contain. The mountains of skeletons accumulated there seem to have lost their signifying power: too far distant in time, but also all of them too much the same, they can no longer remind us of the tragic nature of individual death. A similar effect of de-semanticization is probably linked to a constitutive ambiguity of human remains. On the one hand they are that which is most specific to the individual being: through them, with DNA analysis, we can trace identity with absolute certainty, so they are literally the individual person, or what remains of him/her. On the other hand, they are indistinguishable from one another in their anonymous resemblance. For this reason, perhaps, at times it is the details of an object, a deformed shoe, a rusty hair grip, a pair of broken spectacles, that move us more and communicate to us the sense of a unique and irremediable loss. Finally, the presence of human remains, even where they are only evoked metonymically, always reminds us that trauma sites were places of death: this is the source of their sacral nature, sacred places not too different from a church or a cemetery in which the objects on display acquire the character of genuine relics. Images from the past Among the objects frequently found on show in sites and museums of memory there are also photographs, whose role is often pre-eminent. The photographic documentation of wars and other traumatic events began

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to spread between the mid-nineteenth century and the early twentieth: the first photographs probably date from the Crimean War of 1855, a few years after that came those of the American Civil War and the battle of Gettysburg. Photos as testimony and proof of the horror that happened became central starting from the First World War, and were also used for political condemnation.35 Starting from the Second World War and the first shots of survivors of the Nazi extermination camps, through Vietnam, down to 9/11, what we know of the great tragedies of our time is bound up inextricably with photographic representation, often through what have now become “exemplary” images well known to everyone. The Republican militiaman immortalized by Robert Capa as he falls back clutching his rifle, the photo of the US marines raising the American flag at Iwo Jima, the naked Vietnamese girl running from the napalm bombs, and the photos of Abu Ghraib or the Twin Towers, are so many highly standardized imagesicons, deposited in our global visual memory. This visual memory constitutes a kind of shared figurative encyclopaedia, an enormous archive of images that a given culture recognizes as an integral part of its own cultural memory. It is, however, a dynamic archive in perennial movement that recreates and enriches itself constantly. In this sense the visual memory is above all a matrix for successive re-semanticizations in the form of translations, transmedia reconfigurations and migrations, from art circles to that of consumption. Images unique and detailed in their genesis, but transformed over time into “visual types”, they are continually reproduced, cited and imitated. While today the relation between trauma and the photographic image strikes us as ever closer,36 what interests us most here is not a generalized reflection on photos of trauma, but exclusively the use of the photographic image within the museal space. The signification of all images is always a function of the perspective; the communicative space (Odin 2011) within which they are set orients their 35 36

In 1925, Ernst Friedrich, a young anarchist, published a photo book called Krieg dem Kriege! Guerre à la Guerre, War against War, made up solely of photographic images to show the horrors of war and to criticize militaristic rhetoric. See Martini 2012. See, among others, Baer 2002, Zelizer 1998 and Brothers 1997.

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meaning and the interpretive path, modifying their syntagmatic articulation and narrative role. This seems to hold even more for photographs, which often undergo a radical transformation of their original signification; think of certain innocent family photos taken before the Holocaust and destined for the private family memory, which go on to become historical documents, tragic testimony to the lives lost and as such shown to the public in museums. The relation between museal space and photography appears like that of a dual veridictive implication: on the one hand the image attests to the veracity of the event it represents, on the other hand it is the museum that positions itself as the authenticating source of the photo’s truth value. In this way the photo becomes a document, separating itself from the specific occasion in which it was taken: the photos we find in a museum were not always and not necessarily taken to be exhibited, more often they followed other logics, were included in different narratives, and sprang from wholly different occasions. The gap between the taking of the photo and its being seen can appear to be a radical decontextualization of the image not only in space but also in time, fixing one moment among all others and separating it from the sequence of events that precede and follow it. In this regard we can hypothesize (Williams 2007) a connection between the aesthetic of the visual shock procured by the images and trauma theory, at least as it was formulated by Cathy Caruth (1996 a, b) and how we have already discussed it in Chapter 1. Traumatic memory would have much in common with the snapshot that fixes forever one moment among all others, isolating it from the linear flow of time: both reflect the caesura that trauma brings about in the flow of life; both, in their fixity, show themselves to be incapable of recomposing events, elaborating them and giving them a meaning. And we can also wonder if photography helps our effective empathic understanding of what the traumatic experience could have meant for an individual who might not have even perceived it as such at the time of the event. And that is not all. The persons shown in these photos are often wholly unaware, when the shots were taken, of the future destiny of their image. This raises a delicate ethical problem that concerns the viewing of all photos that reproduce atrocities: to what point do we have the right to exhibit an image without the agreement of those portrayed in it and who are almost

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never, in the case of trauma photos, still alive to give their consent? And again: why do we show, or look at, these images? What can they tell us that we do not know already? Is their function that of increasing our knowledge, of arousing emotion and horror, or of testifying to the truth? Perhaps all of these things together and others again.37 The photos on show in trauma sites are very often close-ups of the victims’ faces. The thousands of enigmatic faces that stare at us from the walls of the Tuol Sleng museum in Cambodia, just like the faces of the young desaparecidos hanging on the walls of the ESMA in Buenos Aires, but also in the lecture theatres of many Argentinean universities, often have unforgettable power. The face, as we know, is the most immediate and unique feature of our identity and the close-up is evident proof of this. For this kind of portrait Gilles Deleuze talked of the affection-image, maintaining that “the face is in itself the close-up, the close-up is in itself only the face and both are the affect, the affection-image” (Deleuze 1983: 110). This particular characteristic of the human face abstracts it, “tears” it to use Deleuze’s term, from the spatio-temporal coordinates proper to any photographic image, absolutizing it. Normally, a photograph isolates the object portrayed from other elements of the context that remain off screen; the shot, the essential mark of photographic enunciation and its subjective imprint, cuts out a figure by delimiting the boundaries of vision. In the case of faces in close-up this operation of cutting out would seem to be suspended; the face is not “isolated” from the shot because it already appears to us from the start as isolated and complete in itself, not a partial object, separated or detached from a set of which it would form part, but a total object, which Deleuze defines as an Entity. The close-up, the close-up of the face, has nothing to do with a partial object. […] The close-up does not tear its object from a set of which it would form part, of which it would be a part; but on the contrary it abstracts it from all spatio-temporal coordinates, that is to say it elevates it to the state of Entity. (Deleuze 1983: 118)

37

On this point, see Sontag 2003.

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The off screen would thus coincide with the space of the observer (Martini 2012), creating a particular short circuit with the spatio-temporal coordinates of the view: the person viewing finds himself sharing the same “here and now” of the image in a disquieting “mirror effect”. The close-up portrait is no longer only a document of the past (what has been), but establishes a direct and current relation with the observer and his gaze, reactivating in every moment its own enunciation. The face staring at us addresses us personally, it brings us into play as spectators, establishing a dialogical space between the I and the you. But there is more. That face evokes in the same moment the enunciator of that image, creating a sort of enunciational solidarity between the photographer and the observer: both their gazes alight, are alighting, on that same face. Because a photographed face is not only a face, it is a face someone has looked at though a camera, a face that someone has wanted to portray and reproduce. These photos oblige us, as analysts, to ask ourselves about their stories and motivations: who took those pictures and to what end? The identity of the photographer becomes in these cases a central element for understanding the meaning of the single photo and the signification it comes to acquire when displayed in a museum. There are basically two typologies in trauma sites: on the one hand the photos taken by the jailers inside the place of imprisonment, usually when the victims entered it, and on the other hand the photos prior to imprisonment, taken by friends or relatives or in some cases also by professional photographers, but without any bearing on the experience of imprisonment, documents from a previous, carefree time in life. In Tuol Sleng the 17,000 prisoners who entered the infamous torture and detention centre known as S-21, and died there, were all photographed on their entry by the same photographer, the then adolescent Khmer Rouge Nhem Ein. The photography represented the first act of a process of degradation and persecution that inevitably ended in death, and it was almost impossible for victims not to know what was waiting for them in the notorious centre S-21. The prisoners were photographed frontally, as in police mug shots, looking straight into the camera and the eyes of the photographer-jailer. Now the visitor who looks at the photo finds herself in exactly the same

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position of the photographer who took the photo, she duplicates his gaze, and it is to her that the victim now turns, in a silent and enigmatic appeal. The thematic roles of the jailer and the observer-witness here seem to ambiguously overlap and refer to one another. At the same time these close-ups, these police-like bookings that ought to guarantee maximum individual recognisability, blend into one another, the specificity of the single face gets lost in the generality of the category of the nameless “victim”. Perhaps this is why these and similar photos, once placed in trauma sites, acquire an ambiguous, destabilizing status. We who visit those places do not know the identity of the victims, and the image that more than any other should testify to their singularity refers us instead to an anonymous, undifferentiated indeterminacy. The case is different in those countries, such as Chile or Argentina, dominated by ferocious dictatorships that have obliterated all traces of the victims and their fate. Above all in Argentina, the figure of the desaparecido testifies to a regime of invisibility and secrecy established by the military dictatorship in that country (Violi 2014).38 There are no remaining visual traces of the 30,000 young men and women who disappeared in those years, if not for the images taken prior to their capture, photos on ID cards but also photos taken in moments of fun and amusement. It was these faces, young and smiling, which were shown in banners and carried during protest marches by the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo in their decades-long struggle against the military, these are the faces that gaze at us today from the walls of the ESMA and the many other places that commemorate the terrible past of that country. Wholly unlike the photos in Tuol Sleng, their original context, bureaucratic or domestic as it may have been, does not evoke the dramatic nature of their end; the past time they restore to us is not a traumatic time, only our current awareness of their fate makes it such. The photos we see were all private ones, intended for an intimate sphere, friends and family, which only the distortion of the 38

In reality in Argentina in some places of imprisonment and torture the prisoners were photographed at the moment of their entry, no differently to what we have seen happened in Tuol Sleng. But few of these images have come down to us. For this, see Brodsky 2005.

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historical trauma obliged to become public, charging them with a value of political condemnation. Finally, but perhaps in the first place, these are all photos of the dead. They are photos that tell us of an anterior future, as Roland Barthes observed, because they say at the same time “that this person is about to die and is already dead”. In these photos, the punctum, the detail that seizes us and strikes us, is death, in the future for those portrayed but already in the past for the viewer. The punctum is: he is going to die. I read at the same time: this will be and this has been; I observe with horror an anterior future of which death is the stake. By giving me the absolute past of the pose (aorist), the photograph tells me death in the future. What pricks me is the discovery of this equivalence. […] I shudder […] over a catastrophe which has already occurred. (Barthes 1980: 150)

The spectacularization of suffering The performative museum Trauma sites are highly pathemized places. Not only do they hold a trace and memory of the terrible events that occurred in them, they are also genuine devices for arousing emotion in visitors, involving them even physically in a path that often represents a kind of “total experience”, an immersion in a world of horror from which they emerge shaken and transformed.39 Some have talked, in this regard, about “experiential” museums (Landsberg 2004; Hein 2006), where the experience referred to is multi-sensorial and involves all the senses: sight, hearing, smell and proprioceptivity. Naturally, places of memory are not the only museums today to emphasize these dimensions; the characteristic is shared to a large extent by many of the so-called new museums we have already talked about, genuine performative

39

For horrorism, see Cavarero 2007.

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spaces40 aimed at transforming the visitor especially on the emotional and sensory level through a series of devices ranging from the reconstruction of settings in the form of theatre scenes, to the use of personal testimony and stories of the lives of individuals once relegated to marginality, to the multiplication of multimedia and interactive technologies. The entire physical space becomes an attraction in itself and the main reason for the visit, a totally “Disneyfied” space where the visitor is modalized in forms that are new compared to what used to happen in a traditional museum: more than a make-know, what is in play here is a make-feel and a makebelieve and, also, to some extent a make-do through the accentuation of an interactive dimension. While this holds, to some degree, for very many new museums, it is certainly particularly meaningful for trauma sites that by virtue of their indexical nature tend, as we have said, towards direct and mimetic modes of presentation, re-enacting the trauma through various kinds of reality effects. Visitors are stimulated in all kinds of ways to empathize with the sufferings of the victims, perhaps in the “conviction that mere knowledge about the past does not suffice to prevent the perpetuation of violent and traumatic histories” (Arnold-de Simine 2013: 1). It would therefore be a pedagogical instance, a kind of “shock pedagogy” of horror, which guides expositive choices aimed especially at the visitors’ intense emotional involvement, in light of a message centred on “never again”, nunca mas, nie wieder … Of course, such a concern is not extraneous to the expositive strategies of places of traumatic memory, but I do not believe we should underestimate the tendency to spectacularization that is characterizing our times more and more, together with the widespread overlapping of reality and fiction. Contemporary museums, and trauma sites are no exception in this, have become places of media spectacle, museum-goods as De Luna has defined them, a visit to which “does not serve so much to increase the knowledge of history as to offer an experience” (De Luna 2011: 101). One might 40 For the performative aspect of museums, see Taylor 2003. For a reflection on museums as performative areas, with particular reference to Israeli museums, see Katriel 1997.

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think of the exaggerated research for a genuine effect of wonder: visitors must above all be surprised and amazed by the originality of the mise-en-scène, by the innovations of new technologies, by the realistic reproduction of the places and settings of the past. Cells and sealed wagons are reproduced, three-dimensional interactive effects set up; even the places of memory sometimes seem to be looking above all for wonder, which more than a true emotion is a diffuse and fuzzy receptive state, more sensible perhaps of the imperatives of tourism, especially the dark sort, than a memorial ethic. Secondary traumas and vicarious witnesses Visiting some trauma sites can be a most intense and upsetting experience. Places such as Auschwitz, the village of Oradour or the Cambodian genocide museum in Phnom Penh cannot leave you indifferent; visiting them is an experience that is traumatic in itself, a genuine secondary trauma, to use the notion introduced in 1996 by Geoffrey Hartman and subsequently developed by other trauma scholars.41 The idea of secondary trauma is generally attributed to the effects of the media, and the cinema in particular, on spectators. According to Hartman, the media have turned all of us into involuntary bystanders of atrocities, reported graphically and hourly. From this media-reportage of traumatic events, from this fluent relentless transmission of violent images a “secondary trauma” could arise, this time affecting the spectators (Hartman, 1996:152). But what is the visitor’s position in this second traumatic scenario? How to define his role? Is it that of witness, albeit an interested one, or is he ambiguously assigned the role of vicarious victim? The shift from one to the other is naturally a function of the route constructed for the visitor by the site itself, hence ultimately by the enunciational choices made by the enunciator. Let us consider first of all the possible role of witness. In Chapter 1 we have already discussed the concept of the secondary witness, developed

41 See, for example, Joshua Hirsch 2004, Kaplan 2005 and Walker 2005.

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above all by Dominick LaCapra (2001) in relation to the work of the historian who becomes, so to speak, a witness to witnesses, in his collecting and listening to the accounts of victims and survivors. A strongly pathemized role, because such listening cannot remain neutral but involves the historian in an empathic unsettlement that also represents, for LaCapra, a precise ethical duty. Can we extend the notion of secondary witness also to those who visit a trauma site? As we have already stressed, the sites certainly have a witness function thanks to their indexical nature and in this sense visitors also participate in and re-actualize this role: the secondary trauma of the visit could be, from this standpoint, that of a vicarious witness to the past, and the very act of visiting a trauma site would be configured as an act of testimony. Some empirical research seems to confirm this hypothesis. Almost all the foreign visitors interviewed after a tour around the Tuol Sleng genocide museum use these exact same terms and refer to the experience of the visit as a due act of testimony (Hughes 2008), a symbolic gesture of solidarity towards the victims of the genocide. Nevertheless, a certain caution would seem indispensable in extending a notion such as that of secondary witness beyond certain limits. In point of fact we run the risk, already identified by LaCapra, of acritically unifying qualitatively different experiences and ending up by sacralizing all forms of vicarious testimony. Clearly there are profound differences between the work of the historian, and of all those who work professionally with trauma victims, and the people who almost by chance happen to visit a trauma site. The former are part of a complex work of elaboration that implies involvement and a moral responsibility that it would be difficult to extend to museum visitors. Moreover, as already pointed out, that of the “visitor” is an abstract category that corresponds in reality to very different positionings: being a tourist on a visit is not the same thing as being a survivor, a relative of the victims, or an ex-jailer. The thematic roles of victim, torturer and spectator would seem perhaps to be an overly simple typology with which to take account of the various possible positionings and the emotions that a site can activate. The witness is, or should be, above all empathic, but what exactly do we mean by empathic in these cases?

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The abuses of empathy In recent years the role of empathy in relation to traumatic memory has often been emphasized: LaCapra talks of empathic unsettlement, Marianne Hirsch (1997) talks of empathy in relation to second-generation post-memory, and Alison Landsberg (2004) puts it at the centre of her elaboration of prosthetic memory. As for trauma sites, empathy is generally considered to be the most important pathemic effect, the emotion par excellence that people should feel in such places. Despite the use, and perhaps the abuse, of the concept, it is rare to find it defined in a detailed, precise manner and, in fact, it often overlaps the notion of identification – a mix-up that we also come across in a terminological sense. After consulting some dictionaries, both paper and online, I have found, among others, the following definitions:42 Empathy: the capacity to understand the state of mind and the emotional situation of another person, immediately and prevalently without recourse to verbal communication. More in particular, the term indicates those phenomena of intimate participation and understanding through which aesthetic comprehension would be attained. (Treccani.it)43 The capacity to put oneself in the situation of another person or, more precisely, to understand immediately the psychological processes of the other. (Treccani.it)44 The psychological process whereby a person identifies with another by sympathizing with their emotional situations. (Grandidizionari.it)45 A phenomenon whereby a person creates with another individual a sort of affective communication following a process of identification. (Il Nuovo Zingarelli, 1983)

We note first of all how in many of the preceding definitions empathy is likened to “identification” and “understanding”, two attitudes that, in psychoanalysis at least, are distinguished with precision. We shall have

42 Translator’s note: for reasons of convenience these definitions are my translation of entries taken from an Italian dictionary. 43 . 44 . 45 .

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occasion to come back to this distinction, which will also prove useful to us for distinguishing different museal strategies regarding the involvement of spectators. To stay with the semantic analysis of the term, we can find the co-presence of two distinct semantic components: a cognitive sema (to understand) and a pathemic attitude (to sympathize with emotional situations, intimate participation, affective communication). “To understand” and “to feel” therefore seem to be the two traits that define empathy and that should both be present in order to produce an attitude of this kind. Now, for all the reasons we have discussed so far, memory sites tend in the main to work on the emotions; in other words they tend to make-feel rather than make-know and favour the pathemic and experiential dimension. More than a real emotion with defined boundaries, empathy appears in these definitions to be an extensive and diffuse state, a generic pathemic attitude with regard to a given object (the emotional situations or psychological processes of others), characterized by a durative aspectuality. But it is not clear if this is really the emotional dimension most frequently evoked by trauma sites. If we take a closer look the most important passional activations seem to be other than this, more intense and violent, from shock to horror to indignation, and even almost verging on voyeurism, all very different emotions both regarding their intensity and the degree to which they appertain to their aspectual and tensional profile, punctual rather than durative, intensive rather than diffuse. Empathy is often evoked in connection with another notion that is now very popular, and to which we have already referred in Chapter 1, that of prosthetic memory (Landsberg 2004, 2014), a term coined to describe the memory of events that have not been directly lived through but rather experienced through the mediation of a means of mass communication, for example, cinema or television. In this way it is possible to have a traumatic memory without having the experience of the event of which that trauma consisted, but only its representation in the media or in photographs. From this point of view museums can activate prosthetic memories and constitute themselves as modalities of the acquisition of mediated experience. The power of prosthetic memory lies, in Landsberg’s view, precisely in its capacity to arouse empathy and, through this, to develop a political and social awareness regarding the past and its traumas. The notion of

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prosthetic memory, albeit the subject of much criticism,46 certainly has the merit for having drawn attention to the role that the phenomena of mediation and re-mediation play today in the formation of a diffuse memory, especially through the various technological and media devices available to us. Nevertheless, it poses a basic problem, inasmuch as it tends to collapse event, experience and representation without distinguishing the various levels of pertinence. Then, as for the question of passional and emotional activation, which we are now dealing with, it seems rather problematic to assume, as Landsberg does, that the prosthetic memory can arouse a diffuse empathy capable of progressive political transformations, independently of the specific nature of the various publics or, in our case, of the visitors to a trauma site. This position is certainly flawed by excessive optimism and a certain amount of naivety as well as assuming the notion of empathy as a self-evident concept without qualifying it any further. Apart from the valuation that can be given on the theoretical bases of the concept of prosthetic memory, it is nonetheless certain that the expositive strategies of trauma sites implicitly adopt a similar idea of empathy: they tend to re-present the past by offering visitors a highly emotional and absorbing experience, rather than information aimed at acquiring an improved knowledge of the events. But empathy can become something very ambiguous when the visitor is no longer in the position of a witness but is constructed through identification with the victim. From the empathic witness to identification with the victim Very often, during visits to trauma sites, visitors are invited to “experience” directly what the victims may have suffered, to enter one of the cells where prisoners were kept bound, or to squat benumbed for a few minutes in one of the awful tunnels used by jailers as in the Tuol Sleng Museum in Cambodia. The experience aroused in this way is something qualitatively different from emotional involvement and even the possible empathic

46 See, for example, Radstone 2008.

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experience that secondary trauma can trigger, for example, by looking at the countless photos of the victims, or their poor everyday personal effects. Visitors are no longer in the position of secondary witnesses, but in that of the vicarious victim and it is with the victim that they are asked to identify, even before empathizing. Devices of this kind are more and more frequent in museums of memory, well beyond the stimuli of guided tours. The museum itself prepares a identificatory route for its visitors who are called upon to experience personally in their haptic and bodily sensations “something like” what the victims may have perceived. In the House of Terror (Terrorhàza Múzeum) in Budapest, when visitors go down to the basement of the building, where one supposes the prisoners’ cells were, they find themselves immersed in complete darkness, it is very cold and damp, you can hear the sound of metal doors banging, rats squeaking, and even a smell of mildew and sewage. Many museums of memory have recourse to these devices: Arnold-de Simine (2013: 85) mentions the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester where, in the interactive section, visitors are invited to recognize a series of odours that range from “stagnant water” to “dirty feet” down to “human remains”. In Catania, in the Museo dello Sbarco, dedicated to the Allied landings in Sicily in the summer of 1943,47 there is a reproduction of an air raid shelter where visitors are explicitly called upon to “feel personally the strong emotions” of those days through a total experience that involves all the senses: you hear sirens and exploding bombs, the shelter fills with smoke, its walls sway and debris falls thus reproducing the reality-effect of a genuine air raid. Through the set of all these devices visitors should experience something similar to the sensory and perceptive effects felt by those who suffered the original trauma. Lights, sounds, noises, smells, temperature, all represent so many elements of bodily, sensory and proprioceptive 47 Neither the Museo dello Sbarco in Catania nor the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester are strictly speaking trauma sites, but simple museums. I use them here as illustrative of expositive strategies that are widespread both in trauma sites and museums. In the sections that follow I shall refer freely to both trauma sites and museums.

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involvement that go beyond empathy; the entire body is stimulated in such a way as to experience in the flesh something that resembles the original experience of the past. This is genuine sensory and corporeal identification with the victims.48 One might think that the attempt to reproduce in the spectator the experience of the victims can only give rise to highly debatable results on the aesthetic level, and certainly a museum like the Terrorhàza in Budapest, with its pronounced “Disney effect” strengthens this suspicion. But it is not always like this. There are also cases of extreme, refined sophistication of undoubted aesthetic efficacy, such as the Risiera San Sabba, in Trieste. The original risiera [rice mill] was used during the Second World War as a prison and finally, after 1944, as a Nazi extermination camp, effectively the only such camp in Italy, which the Nazis burned at the end of the war to obliterate all proof of the extermination. In 1965 it was declared a national monument; restored on the basis of the design by the architect Romano Boico it was opened as a museum on 24 April 1975. The restoration project modified the original structure, constructing two high walls in reinforced concrete both at the entrance to the camp and in the internal courtyard (Figure 2.4).

48 This repetition of the trauma is not extraneous to other forms and means of representation: we are thinking, in particular, of the cinema and films such as Saving Private Ryan by Steven Spielberg (1998), the first half hour of which reproduces with particular special effects the terrible experience of the Normandy landings, conveying it to the spectators who relive the horror of that slaughter. But also in the discourse on information about historical events it is possible to trace similar forms of subjectification and bodily and emotional involvement, as has been shown by Lorusso (2013) in relation to the media commemorations of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Over and above the specific differences of the medium, there are undoubtedly some points in common with certain museums of memory in the attempt to produce analogous mechanisms of sensory identification.

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Figure 2.4:  The Risiera di San Sabba.

The walls modify the original space and perform various semantic functions. First of all, they delimit in a clearer way two portions of opposed space: the space of the real camp from the surrounding urban space, which

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is thus separated in accordance with a triple opposition of external/internal, open/closed, us/them. But the re-semanticization that interests us most with regard to the problem we are discussing is without doubt the one effected by the two high walls at the entrance, which form a narrow corridor through which visitors must pass in order to reach the real museum on the far side of the entrance. The aim of this “pathemic restoration” is obviously that of making visitors feel both emotionally and physically a strong sense of oppression and claustrophobic enclosure capable of evoking the feelings and sensations that the prisoners might have experienced on their entry into the camp. Despite the fact that the effect has been realized in a sophisticated form and attains an undoubted aesthetic value, even the Risiera di San Sabba brings into play a device of “surrogate victimization”, suggesting an identification on the part of the visitor with the victim. Now, it is precisely the notion of identification that poses some problematic questions. Often confused in everyday language with empathy, identification, in its most precise psychoanalytic meaning, in reality refers to different mechanisms: whereas empathic involvement is based on a separation from the object, which continues to be perceived as different and distinct, in identification the other is assimilated, thus annulling its otherness. In the dynamics of identification there is an “appropriation” of the other, one “becomes” the other to a certain extent, according to an unconscious process whereby “the subject assimilates an aspect, property, or attribute of the other and is transformed, wholly or partially, after the model the other provides” (Laplanche and Pontalis 1967: 205). Naturally, this is not exactly what happens to the visitors of our museums: those who visit San Sabba, or the Terrorhàza in Budapest are well aware that they are not victims and that nothing terrible is going to happen to them. Before long they will find themselves outside those oppressive places and will have a coffee in the nearest bar. More than a genuine identification in the strict sense this is an “as if ”, a simulated reality that will last only the time of the visit. But in any case it is something qualitatively different from the strategies aimed solely at arousing compassion and empathic participation, and the difference consists in the different positioning of the model visitor who in the one case is configured as a witness to the trauma, and in the other is stimulated to place herself, even if only temporarily,

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in the role of victim and to experience something similar to what the real victims of the trauma might have felt. Naturally, both positions can involve a certain charge of empathic sharing, but in the second case the empathy is transformed, through corporeal identification, into an ambiguous form of surrogate victimization. Metaphoric experiences and “hunger for history” Finally, there is a third enunciational strategy that is worth mentioning, different to both the devices we have just analysed. In the Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem49 there is a small separate mausoleum, the Children’s Holocaust Memorial, dedicated to the one and a half million Jewish children killed by the Nazis. The Children’s Memorial consists of a single, completely dark room, with the exception of a series of flickering lights that are multiplied to infinity by a play of reflecting mirrors that visitors cannot see. Access to the Memorial is through a narrow corridor carved out of two rock faces, and you find yourself on a narrow, slightly sloping ramp that appears as if suspended in the void amid a totally dark setting. In the room, whose dimensions are impossible to guess, you can glimpse arranged at various heights only the lights reflected by the countless invisible mirrors that create a labyrinth effect. The result is a very strong and surprising sense of spatial disorientation, a loss of every habitual reference point that may help to orient yourself in space: there is no longer any certain perception of the depth of space, of the dimensions of the surroundings, and even of your bodily attachment to the ground. You cannot understand if you are in an enormous place or a tiny one, if the lights are near or far away, if you are alone or surrounded by a crowd; the result is not pathemic, but directly corporeal, and even produces a slight sense of loss of balance. The disorientation that people feel on trying to cross the room, immersed in an experience that is at once, aesthesic, aesthetic and pathemic, evokes a far more radical sense of loss. In the absolute silence of the dark room a voice 49 Naturally, Yad Vashem is not a trauma site. See note 43. For Yad Vashem cf. Zevi 2011.

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recites, one by one, the names, age and origins of the million and a half Jewish children who died in the Holocaust. The impression aroused by this place is unforgettable. The combined effect of the lack of spatial depth and the slope of the ramp in which you find no mainstay produces a peculiar feeling on the proprioceptive level, a kind of corporeal bewilderment that springs from both the loss of the sense of orientation and that of balance. In this device for corporeal involvement, there is no element of possible identification: what visitors experience has nothing to do with what those children, or their parents, might have felt, a horror that remains so unspeakable that no attempt is made to evoke it. It is rather a metaphorical type of shift that acts directly on the body, as if visitors experienced in the flesh a lack of sense and directionality that alludes only implicitly, albeit with a powerful effect, to the total senselessness of exterminating children. In various trauma sites we can identify strategies that, albeit in the diversity of realization, work on devices of metaphorical transposition of meaning. Among the analyses present in this volume the case of Ustica constitutes an interesting and sophisticated example of a dual rhetorical device. Another example, which I have not analysed, is the Treblinka site, of which almost nothing remained after the war. The memorial, constructed in the 1960s to a design by Franciszek Duszenko and Adam Haupt, is made up of 17,000 broken granite steles, the number of those who died in that place, each one different from the other. The dead, of whom nothing remains, not even a grave, are metaphorically evoked in their individual singularity by the thousands of different stone shapes. Naturally, the typology I have proposed today is not intended to be a rigid classification, but only to indicate the possible lines of tendency, sometimes overlapping one another, other times more clearly delineated. The interest of the proposal, more than in an intention to classify, lies in the highlighting of diverse devices of signification, which involve different positionings for visitors. There seems, however, to be a common thread that runs through all these diverse modalities, the tendency to emphasize the “experiential”, pathemic and all in all spectacularizing, aspects. In this the sites reflect more general mechanisms, traceable in many other fields and sectors of our culture. Places of trauma and museums of memory are becoming more

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and more like theme parks, places of “attraction” that utilize technological and multimedia devices, scene reconstructions and interactive features. It is hard to evaluate a phenomenon so complex and so interwoven with the tastes of the time, and to establish whether this growing attraction for past pain will bring new awareness and a stronger determination not to repeat the horrors committed, or whether it will dilute those same horrors in generalized and substantially passive consumption. Certainly the tendency to accentuate the pathemic component and to construct an emotional visitor rather than an informed one is decidedly widespread: trauma places are very often places of “experience” rather than knowledge and can leave the visitor with a certain “hunger for history”, a desire to know and understand better the reasons and the causes of the individual stories represented, as well as “feeling” the horror of them. But there is more. In point of fact we may wonder whether it is really possible to share through our own senses the traumatic experience of the past, or whether so much pathemic excess will not end up by anaesthetizing us to the pain of others, as Susan Sontag predicted. The excessive insistence on spectacular aspects, the constant emotional stimulation, the tendency to produce – no matter what – an effect of “wonder” might prove to be counterproductive and lead to a kind of neutralization, if not downright rejection. In this case we would have a result opposite to the one that “shock pedagogy” seems to aim for. The problem is a general one and does not concern trauma sites and museums alone, but all the problems connected with the “spectacle of suffering”, especially in media representations.50 Hartman has already put us on our guard over the possible negative effects unleashed by the media: “A massive realism which has no regard for representational restraint, and in which depth of illusion is not balanced by depth of reflection, not only desensitizes but produces the opposite of what is intended: an unreality effect that fatally undermines realism’s claim to depict reality” (Hartman 1996:157). Media studies have developed the theme of “compassion fatigue” (Moeller 1999) analysing the possible saturation that information can

50 For this, see Boltanski 1992 and Sontag 2003.

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produce with the excess of images of tragedies and stories of suffering, often decontextualized. Compassion fatigue is an expression that derives from trauma studies to indicate a pathological condition of the progressive diminution of compassion, often together with the upsurge of symptoms similar to those of the victims, a syndrome that strikes especially those who work for a long time in direct contact with traumas. In these cases, we talk about “secondary victimization” and “vicarious traumatization” (Figley 1982) and “secondary traumatic stress”. While in a technical sense this pathology may appear out of place in our case, nonetheless a kind of “negative saturation” is a real risk for places of trauma, a saturation whose outcome could be a “de-passionalized” and distanced state, opposite to the emotional activation and the involvement that exposure to horror should arouse. It is hard to assess in general terms the effects and consequences of the strategies described above; probably only a careful analysis of the practices of use and consumption of each of these specific places could give us an answer, or at least an indication of the trend. My hypothesis is that intense sensory involvement is successful especially if limited and able to put itself in a differential relation with other more cognitively oriented dimensions. In conclusion, it is a question of constructing a system articulated internally on the tensive level, with graduality between moments of tension and relaxation, in which the cognitive discourse of information finds its own rhythmic alternation with the pathemic one. At Yad Vashem, for example, the Children’s Memorial is conceived and realized in strong discontinuity with the other settings, as also stressed by its designer, Moshe Safdie, who described his idea as follows: I was given access to the archives and spent days viewing remnants of lost lives. I began to appreciate the nuance of information versus contemplation, confrontation versus meditation. I realized that the visitor emerging from the history museum will already be saturated with information. The Children’s Holocaust memorial must therefore be about reflection. (Safdie 2006: 92)

The undoubtedly efficacious pathemic effect that this place has on those who visit it seems to suggest that Safdie’s choice was the right one, even though it was originally contested. It was only the reaction of a pair of survivors

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of the camps, who had lost their two-year-old son in the Holocaust, that persuaded the design committee of the power and meaningfulness of the proposal. But not all cases have the same power and capacity for meaningfulness and the correct equilibrium can be very difficult to attain. Even taking account of the fact that insistence on an intense but at the same time generic emotional involvement tends to make all traumas interchangeable; the traumatic event becomes a universal and trans-historic event, and we lose the local causes, the political reasons and the cultural stories that generated it. The mythicization of the Holocaust as a universal model is not extraneous to this phenomenon, but neither is it the sole cause. It is impossible to suggest general recipes for the most suitable and “correct” forms of transmitting the memory of a traumatic past because every place is different and tells its own story that can suggest, and require, differentiated solutions. The real bet for the future of memory will be that of succeeding in imagining new and creative forms capable of re-actualizing the past without erasing it but making it a living part of the present. In some of the trauma sites I discuss here this has already begun to happen.

Chapter 3

Re-presenting the horror: The Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide Crimes in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

The system of memory between globalization and situated memories How can we get close to a place of memory that speaks of a trauma that is very distant from us without distorting its meaning by reducing it to our cultural categories? How to avoid forcing translation, and to bring back within terms familiar to us something that cannot be appropriately investigated without an a priori suspension of our culturally acquired worldview and an understanding of different ways of making sense of reality? These are some of the questions posed to us by the first two case studies in our corpus, and in particular the Tuol Sleng Museum in Phnom Penh, dedicated to the crimes of the Cambodian genocide between 1975 and 1979 perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge regime. In this case the distance is not so much a temporal issue, at bottom the 1970s are not that far away, nor is it merely a question of geographical distance, but above all and in the first place it is a cultural distance, from which derives an inevitable difficulty of interpretation given the absence of categories that may guide and govern our interpretations. The enigmatic site of a gigantic historical tragedy, but one hard to decipher for those who have not made an in-depth study of the historical reality of Cambodia in those days, and at the same time a museal space favoured by the socalled “dark tourism” that is now transforming trauma sites into tourist destinations more and more often, Tuol Sleng appears as a particularly interesting case study for the way it is introducing wholly new globalizing dynamics and strongly local memorial practices linked to a national

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reality. The Cambodian museum can be seen as an emblematic example of those “global memoryscapes” (Phillips and Reyes 2011) that people are discussing more and more today, alluding to a web comprised of centrifugal global forces and more powerfully localist memorial dimensions. National and local memories do not disappear with the processes of globalization, but are transformed and resemanticized giving rise to the coexistence of practices of deterritorialization together with complementary practices of reterritorialization. In Tuol Sleng we find elements of local culture deriving from the Buddhist tradition, not easily decipherable at first sight and interpretable only by contextualizing them within a specific encyclopaedic framework, together with tourism practices that work in the opposite sense, weakening the localist specificity and deterritorializing its meaning. As has been observed, in fact, today’s international tourism is responsible more than anything else for the globalizing impetus that modifies and transforms the meaning of places of memory: “The movement of these tourists functions in ways that unsettle the singularity of the national monument and simultaneously reconfigure the site in a space of multi-nationally negotiated meaning” (Phillips and Reyes 2011: 15). The speed of globalization ensures that no localized memory is wholly localized anymore, nor can it be transmitted in purely local terms. The increasingly widespread phenomena of remediation through social networks and the ease with which the new technologies provide access to continuous inscriptions, accounts and visual documentation of our experience as tourists-visitors, by now constitute an essential component of this process. We might say that in these cases, which today are representative of almost all memorial processes, the specific cultural frameworks activated by the particular place are “contaminated” and interpreted within new encyclopaedic elements that may be culturally very distant from the original ones. And so we find ourselves in the presence of a memory system that stratifies around a specific event, redefining its boundaries and redrawing its overall meaning. The collective memory of an event, both within the society that was its protagonist and victim alike, and on a transcultural level, is full of signs and texts that construct and mediate that same memory, transforming it over time. It is a question, from a semiotic standpoint, of reconstructing

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the encyclopaedic network that supports and gives form to the collective memory, together with its modifications and diachronic transformations. But such a network, under the thrust of the globalization we have already mentioned, goes well beyond the culture in which a given event is situated: memories become plural and multi-directional, both because they link up entirely new stratifications of memory, and because they go beyond the single cultural or national milieu, to become transcultural and transnational (Rothberg 2009). The multi-directionality of memory can be understood as a particular form of intertextuality that involves not only explicit references in the texts, but also practices of interpretation and reading capable of activating memorial contexts that are apparently distant and not immediately connected. This diffuse intertextuality is then joined by the idea of an equally diffuse intervisuality, that is to say the construction of a stratified field of vision that appears as a system of visual interconnections between diverse objects. In the case of Tuol Sleng this occurs in various directions, above all in the great, chilling paintings of Vann Nath, one of the very few survivors, which are on show in the museum and portray the same milieu in which the visitor is moving, reduplicating the physical place through a meta-visual representation. And there is more. As we said in Chapter 1, Tuol Sleng is also the place where the Cambodian film director Rithy Panh set his 2003 documentary, S-21: the Khmer Rouge Killing Machine, which revisits the Cambodian genocide.1 But even more distant, less correlated images can also contribute to the creation of a virtual field of vision. With regard to the Cambodian genocide, just to give only one example, a film such as The Killing Fields, produced by Warner Bros (Roland Joffé, 1984), was enormously important for the knowledge and representation of that tragedy even beyond the borders of Cambodia, contributing to the construction of a widespread memory on transnational bases. Not only this, but following that successful film, 1

For an analysis of Rithy Panh’s documentary, see Demaria 2012. Recently the director has produced another extraordinary documentary on the Cambodian genocide, The Missing Picture, and an autobiographical book, translated with the title The Elimination. The set of these texts reinforces the systematic nature of memory that we have just described.

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numerous revisitations and reinterpretations were brought about by the chilling photos in the Tuol Sleng archives, through exhibitions, in particular a hugely successful exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1997, and various articles in the international press.2 The digitalization of the museum photos in more recent times, their diffusion and virtual sharing through Internet and Flickr, a memorial prosthesis that characterizes our times, as well as the creation of virtual archives3 has further contributed to the construction of a widespread collective memory, perhaps inaccurate and sketchy in some places and often based more on collections of visual images than on a precise historical knowledge of events. In this process of collective and generic memorialization, essentially visual in nature, the images that refer to remote traumas and distant worlds undergo a kind of delocalization that transforms their meaning and nature. Thus decontextualized, they tend to lose the essential bond with the historical and geopolitical context that generated them, to be perceived as “things-inthemselves”, equipped with self-evidence and self-referential efficacy. So they can even change into “aesthetic objects” shown in avant-garde exhibitions, as happened at MoMA, but they can also simply circulate on the Internet, accessible to anyone independently of any process of historical and political contextualization. In the presence of this rhizomatic construct of collective memory, which goes beyond the purview of a specific local affiliation to take on more and more the globalized forms of mediatization and the virtual, we may wonder if all these diverse manifestations of the memory of a given event, especially a highly traumatic event as is the case with Cambodia, possess the same meaning and value. Did the avant-garde exhibition at MoMA in New

2 3

For this, see Hughes 2003a. For the diffusion on Flickr of Tuol Sleng photos taken by visitors, see the contribution, not yet published, by Stéphanie Bénzaquen, “Great Picture! Digital Sharing and Trans-cultural memory of the Cambodian Genocide: Visiting Tuol Sleng Museum on Flickr”, presented at the conference “Transcultural Memory”, 4–6 February 2010, London, Centre for the Study of Cultural Memory, University of London. For the virtual archives, see the project Bophana, Center for Audiovisual Resources ().

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York have the same memorial value as the museum situated in the centre of Tuol Sleng? And again: can we trace a systemic consistency within this proliferation of diverse forms and texts, or are we faced with a multiplicity of heterogeneous configurations? While I recognize the importance of a transversal phenomenon such as that of the globalization of memory that, thanks also to mediatic sharing made possible by the new technologies, passes beyond local boundaries and becomes global, my analysis nonetheless pursues a more circumscribed and locally defined purpose, limiting itself to the analysis of the site in itself. I am convinced that these places are in themselves places of strong signification that, although they are part of a network of other textualities and other practices, possess both a wealth and an autonomy of meaning that, when suitably examined, is revealed as a matrix for subsequent extensions of meaning.

The genesis of a museum The Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide Crimes in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, is the museum transformation of the notorious S-21, the biggest centre for detention, interrogation and torture run by the secret police of Democratic Kampuchea, during the Khmer Rouge dictatorship, which lasted from 1975 to 1979.4 Estimates of the Cambodian genocide of those years are still imprecise, but they would seem to be in the region of two million dead, out of a population that numbered eight million at the time. More than a prison, S-21 was a place of interrogation and, above all, torture; it is calculated that between 15,000 and 17,000 victims passed through it (but some estimates talk of 20,000 and the exact number will never be known), mostly middleranking party members; after interrogation and torture the survivors were

4

For more on Cambodian history (from the middle of the last century), and in particular of the S-21 camp, see Chandler (1991, 1999).

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butchered outside the camp, in the notorious killing field of Choeung Ek, about 15 kilometres from Phnom Penh. Only seven people survived S-21, the last prisoners abandoned by the Khmer Rouge as they fled in January 1979, who were found, a few hours after they entered the camp, by the Vietnamese troops who occupied the city on 7 January of that year, putting an end to the Pol Pot regime. Among the seven, as well as six common prisoners, there was the star of Rithy Panh’s documentary, the previously mentioned Vann Nath, a painter who was used to make portraits of Pol Pot and who owes his survival to his artistic abilities. In early 1979 the Vietnamese, and their Cambodian anti-Khmer Rouge allies, found themselves faced with a devastated country reduced to utter poverty, without infrastructures, without hospitals, schools, state organizations of any kind, and, above all, without the necessary human resources, because the entire ruling class and the middle-ranking administrative staff in government, education and health were all victims of the genocide. Despite this emergency situation, which might have suggested other priorities, the provisional government and the Vietnamese decided to transform S-21 immediately into a museum: in March 1979, that is to say less than three months after the liberation of Phnom Penh, the first visitors were able to enter the museum, which was opened to foreign journalists and international delegations.5 We can read, in this urgency, the necessity to utilize this place immediately for propaganda purposes, a further example of the ideological and political use of memory in order to manipulate the present and an identitary construction in the future. For the Vietnamese it was obviously a question of legitimizing their armed intervention in Cambodia, which, in the light of the horrors of S-21, would not only appear justified, but also meritorious on a humanitarian level, portraying the forces of the foreign invaders as liberators and saviours from an endless horror. We might say that what was in play was a redefinition of the thematic role that affected

5

Tuol Sleng was to be definitively opened to the public in July 1980.

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the definition of the Vietnamese action within two very different roles: occupiers versus liberators. Obviously, the choice of thematic role depends strictly on the type of narrative framework into which the action is inserted and on the consequent system of valorization that is thus activated. The Vietnamese intervention is, in fact, open to diverse interpretations according to the preferred narrative: from the standpoint of the Khmer Rouge, but also from a standpoint of national sovereignty, they were invaders, because they crossed the border of a neighbouring state.6 In this sense the Khmer Rouge standpoint could also be shared by the Cambodian population whose territory was in any case invaded by a foreign people (with whom, moreover, relations had always been extremely difficult). But if the invasion is set within another narrative, the one dominated by the genocide of a people, then national sovereignty loses value in favour of a different system of valorization, where the absolute evil of the extermination of a people is opposed by the universal and supra-national necessity to put an end to it. The invader becomes the liberator, as happened in Europe in the struggle against Nazism. In the presence of absolute evil, the violation of national frontiers is not only a lesser, necessary evil; it can even become a good in itself. For the Cambodians of the People’s Republic of Kampuchea, the new government that followed the Khmer dictatorship, it was equally important to emphasize the barbarous actions of the previous regime, and to base their identity on their detachment from it. For them, too, what was in play was the activation of a complex system of values on which the definition of the thematic role depended: only by emphasizing the horrors of the genocide would it be possible to justify the alliance with the

6

Perhaps it is worth remembering that this was the standpoint adopted by the international community, from the USA to China, and even the United Nations which most surprisingly took the side of the Pol Pot regime. Naturally, the ethical basis for such a choice is highly dubious: certainly it was dictated above all by an evident strategy of geopolitical positioning in Southeast Asia, especially regarding the antiVietnamese camp. The fact remains, however, that the official justification referred precisely to the concept of the nation-state and the inviolability of its frontiers.

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old enemy which, without such a strong justification, could be seen as a betrayal. The thematic shift from invader to liberator for the Vietnamese should therefore be read in parallel with a similar transformation of role from traitor-collaborator to ally-saviour for the Cambodians. But beyond this immediate necessity, the Cambodians also looked towards the future: the Cambodia of the future had to be built on radical discontinuity with the past. What was at work here was already a precise strategy for the construction of a new identity for the new Cambodia, which involved a complex rewriting of the past, of the national identity and international legitimization.7 The international picture in particular played an important role: the outcome of Cambodia’s isolation after (and before) the Khmer Rouge, which should be read in the context of the last decade of the Cold War, was the non-recognition of the new state – the People’s Republic of Kampuchea, the PRK – on the part of the USA, China and the Association of Southeast Asian States. In the presence of such a delicate situation it was of particular strategic importance for the new government to intensify the image of genocide. Within this picture Tuol Sleng played a major role: in the decade following the end of Pol Pot’s regime official visits multiplied; guided tours for journalists, delegations and foreign guests became virtually obligatory. These visitors had an evident role as witnesses not only to the country’s tragic past, but also to the need for transversal international backing and support. Today, in a completely changed geopolitical and cultural climate, the situation appears to be very different: Cambodia is now internationally recognized and its role is entirely analogous to that of the other Southeast Asian countries. Tuol Sleng has become an important, strongly marked place for diffuse tourism, while an obligatory look at the country’s institutional image is far less so.

7

For an analysis of how the complex work on the memory of the Cambodian genocide started by the Vietnamese has influenced the development of a discourse on genocide on an international level, see Hughes 2003b.

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To preserve and transform But let us get down to the real site, to its spatial characteristics, and its meaning effects. The museum is in the centre of Phnom Penh, not far from the Mekong, within what was, before the advent of the Khmer Rouge, one of the most elegant and wealthy residential districts in the city, inhabited by the country’s middle and upper middle classes. The building, constructed in the 1960s, was originally a French high school for the education of the future ruling class that in those days saw its formative reference in French culture. The building has a certain architectural elegance, with a large garden adorned with trees and playing fields for the pupils, kept intact to this day.

Figure 3.1:  Tuol Sleng, exterior.

Successive transformations have barely altered the structure of the building: the conversion of the high school into the notorious S-21 torture centre did not modify the outer aspect of the place, which in its turn has been

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conserved intact in its subsequent re-utilization as a museum. Tuol Sleng today appears like a multi-stratified place, where horror and atrocity had established themselves inside a surprisingly normal, everyday space. There is no doubt that much of the emotional impact that Tuol Sleng has on a visitor depends on the very strong functional and “semantic” contrast, one might say, between the most remote past and the atrocious one documented in the museum: what had been a serene and tranquil place of culture, education and amusement, in an almost refined context, at least by Cambodian standards of the period, was transformed into an inferno of death, pain and suffering. The very physical configuration of the places is struck and radically altered by this: the light-filled spaces that were once classrooms full of boys and girls became large rooms where detainees were packed in and tortured, trees ceased to be such and were transformed into hooks on which victims were hanged. Here we are in the presence of a phenomenon of spatial re-semanticization, on the basis of which the meaning of a place can undergo a profound transformation, without an analogous process necessarily taking place in its structure or spatial morphology. The radical modification of the plane of content has in fact produced in any case a parallel reconfiguration of the plane of expression, which should not be confused with the pure materiality of the physical structure. Considered as a semiotic entity, hence from the standpoint of its meaning, a tree used as a gallows is no longer the same tree in whose shade one could sit down quietly to read a book.8 The perfect conservation of the spaces and the structure of the entire place, which has not been modified in almost any detail, emphasizes more forcefully the underlying categorial opposition and the semantic and valorial contrast between the two realities: the school, a place of life and pleasure; the prison, a place of death and suffering that produces a powerful pathemic effect. All is as it was: you can see the instruments of torture, the cramped cells in which the detainees had to stay curled up, the interrogation rooms. The bloodstains on the floor and on the walls have been neither washed

8

For a discussion on this point, see Violi (2009).

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away nor obliterated, but are conserved scrupulously exactly as they were when the Vietnamese troops entered S-21 in 1979. Such an obsessively conservative restoration, down to the most macabre details, involves that paradox of authenticity I mentioned in Chapter 2, according to which conservation aimed at maintaining authenticity undeniably implies a loss of authenticity (Assmann 1999). This loss derives directly from the diverse semiotic constitution of places subjected to a functional transformation; in these cases we cannot, strictly speaking, talk about “conservation”: what is conserved is the pure materiality of places, not their meaning. The paradoxical nature of the situation lies precisely in this: conservation transforms the place it would like to conserve precisely because it conserves it. While on the one hand the conversion of trauma sites into museums runs the risk of monumentalization that Ruth Klüger (1992) explicitly denounced with regard to concentration camps, on the other hand – perhaps for the very same reason – it often fails to penetrate the “secret” that seems to permeate them and refuses to be revealed. We might say that what we see is a trace that represents the past, and not the trace of the life experiences that occurred there. I think Assmann is alluding to something similar when she states that places of trauma are characterized by the impossibility of telling the story (Assmann 1999). Nonetheless it should be remembered that these observations all spring from within the perspective of the witness-survivor, as is Ruth Klüger, and as Rithy Panh was to be in the documentary on Tuol Sleng. But this is a highly particular and non-generalizable perspective: places of trauma are not conserved only for survivors. On the contrary, as we shall see in Tuol Sleng, sometimes they are almost an embarrassing presence to be neutralized and marginalized. Above all, these places have a transmission function with regard to future generations, who have not had any direct knowledge of the traumas witnessed therein, as well as a transcultural importance that has to do with diverse, remote geopolitical realities. A reflection on their forms of existence, therefore, cannot fail to encounter the theme of the transmission of memories, embedding itself within that variegated area of research now known as postmemory (Hirsch 1997). While for survivors these places are connected in a direct, indexical way with the lived experience, in the trans-generational

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dimension they become places of prosthetic memory, mediators of memory in the sense suggested by Assmann. In this movement the ideal addressees also change: the model visitor that these places posit and inscribe within themselves becomes more diversified and various and includes a broader public, which sometimes knows very little about the trauma that occurred there. Despite the importance of the reflections elaborated by the survivors of those same places, and despite the centrality of the texts they produce, it would be reductive to limit ourselves to that sole perspective and not to frame the overall meaning that places of trauma take on within a wider sphere of cultural practices and persuasive strategies. To limit ourselves to Tuol Sleng, for example, the museum, especially immediately after its opening, was conceived for and aimed above all at the international community, and not at the survivors or the Cambodian people. Thus the function of the place is more complex, and goes beyond that of “simple” commemoration. The memory of a traumatized society can also become an instrumental component of a complex strategic game of political positioning and identitary redefinition, which are reformulated precisely in the places where the trauma occurred.

Multi-dimensional images Apart from the painstakingly conserved areas of S-21, the torture rooms, the tiny individual cells and the large rooms into which the detainees were packed, what meets the visitor’s gaze in Tuol Sleng? A first, absolutely important fact is the almost total absence of written informational material. Visitors who do not already know the history of Cambodia and the period of the Khmer dictatorship very well will find no element that may help them to better understand the reasons for the genocide, reconstruct its causes or analyse responsibilities.9 The entire explanatory apparatus is 9

The observations that follow refer to my last visit to Tuol Sleng, in 2008. I have been unable to verify if there have been significant changes after that date with regard to these aspects.

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limited to a few inscriptions, almost always in the Khmer language, and some geographical maps that show the deportations of the people from the cities to rural areas as well as border crossings and attacks on Vietnam carried out by the Democratic Republic of Kampuchea. Proof, if there were any need for it, of the ideological and propagandistic character that the museum had to have in order to justify the Vietnamese invasion. The absence of a suitable explanatory apparatus makes the museum devoid of the interpretive intertext that alone can make a museum intelligible in a historical and geopolitical sense: the paper materials, guides and captions that accompany the visitor’s route are so many forms of intersemiotic translation that permit visitors to access the encyclopaedic framework necessary in order to interpret the space correctly, and provide them in this sense with the required competences for interpretation. What is lacking in Tuol Sleng is this device for semiotic and cultural mediation, in the absence of which the spectator can only have direct and immediate access, of an impressionistic and aesthesic kind, to the place and the materials displayed, an access based more on the sensory experience than the encyclopaedic one. Tuol Sleng is not a museum intended to make people know and understand, it is a museum intended to make people feel. We might say that the pathemic dimension dominates the cognitive one, in accordance with that experiential tendency I discussed at the end of Chapter 2 and that appears so generally present today in all museums of memory, and not only them. It is no accident that the scarcity of verbal explanatory material is accompanied by an extreme wealth of various kinds of iconic material as well as numerous human remains, skulls and bones, kept in large display cases. We can hypothesize that a prevalence of the figurative dimension favours and at the same time forces a less reflexive and more pathemic interpretation, strongly oriented towards passional and emotional activation, especially if we consider the type of images we find in Tuol Sleng. The last rooms are entirely occupied by the large pictures painted by Vann Nath, one of the very few survivors we mentioned previously. After the end of the dictatorship he was commissioned to make these terrifying paintings, which we will come across again in Rithy Panh’s first documentary (Figures 3.2 and 3.3).

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Figure 3.2:  Individual cell. Painting by Vann Nath.

Figure 3.3:  Communal cell. Painting by Vann Nath.

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The paintings depict, in a style we might define as that of socialist realism, the tortures inflicted upon the prisoners in Tuol Sleng: hung in the exact same rooms in which those acts of violence took place, they seem to work as meta-representational devices, duplicating on a meta-level the mise-enscène of the space with an effect of mimetic repetition. Visitors walk on the same black-and-white tiles shown in the paintings, they walk through the same rooms whose use as cells is portrayed in the paintings, they can even touch the same objects they see in the pictures, sink their hands into the same barrel, now empty but once full of boiling liquid, into which the soldiers plunged the detainees’ hands (Figure 3.4).

Figure 3.4:  Barrel torture. Painting by Vann Nath.

It has been maintained (Kabir 2014) that these paintings seriously challenge a Eurocentric view of the interpretation of traumatic representation, suggesting an alternative picture, inspired by the Buddhist tradition and based on mimicry and repetition. The presence in the paintings of realistic elements would determine “a common base between representation and reality” (Kabir 2014: 69) capable of activating a “lyrical repetition”, traceable

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to modalities of response to trauma proper to Buddhist culture. While the model of trauma inspired by Freudian theory, dominant in Western culture, sees in repetition a “melancholy” drift that prevents and hinders the elaboration of mourning, the spiritual resources of Buddhism would be able to read in lyrical repetition meditational forms of consolation for grief. Other references to Buddhist culture can be found in Tuol Sleng, according to Kabir, for example in the altar in the school courtyard, and even in the name of the café outside the museum, which is called Bodhi like the tree beneath which Siddhartha meditated until he was transformed into the Buddha. According to this reading, Tuol Sleng would suggest a confluence of diverse forms of memorization that while not repudiating the Western tradition nonetheless graft different cultural elements onto it. I am unable to assess the weight and importance that the altar in the middle of the courtyard may have for a Cambodian visitor, while any elaboration on the name of the café outside the museum honestly strikes me as specious; but in any case it does not seem that international tourists grasp these references, at least according to the empirical research carried out by Hughes (2008). Certainly however, the Buddhist-inspired interpretation of Vann Nath’s paintings seems problematic: the repetitive and mimetic elements are anything but a characteristic exclusive to Tuol Sleng, and can be found in very many other memorials of this type. As we already discussed in the first part of this book, the “mimetic” approach is one of the most widespread modalities that characterize those trauma sites that tend above all towards a re-presentation of the past rather than its pure representation. Moreover, other elements of the iconographic apparatus of Tuol Sleng go in this direction, like the singular map of Cambodia to be found at the beginning of the museum. Until a few years ago at the start of this route there was a highly particular exhibit, which coupled in a very peculiar way human remains and the iconic dimension. This was a large geographical map of Cambodia made exclusively of human skulls, with rivers and lakes painted red, as if drawn with blood (Figure 3.5).

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Figure 3.5:  The map of human skulls.

The advisability of keeping such a map, and the skulls that composed it, on display to all visitors, led to a heated debate that began in the 1990s, in which King Sihanouk also took part as he maintained it was necessary to cremate the remains in accordance with Buddhist custom. Semiotically speaking, the debate is particularly interesting because of the diverse interwoven levels of discourse, from the appeal to religious tradition, to the political one regarding the foundation of a new national identity, down to the one based on the logic of museum requirements. In March 2002 the skulls were removed and put elsewhere, with a ceremony held by Buddhist monks, and in their place was hung a large photographic blow-up of the incriminated map. According to Hughes (2003b), the curator of the museum, Chey Sophera, maintained that the removal of the skull map would have put an end to the feelings of fear that visitors felt on visiting Tuol Sleng. This statement strikes us as being very far from reality. The most intense

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pathemic effect of Tuol Sleng depends, more than on the direct exposition of human remains, on the sight of the thousands of photo portraits of the faces of the victims incarcerated in that place hung along the walls of the museum’s four principal blocks, but especially along all the walls in block B. It is these images above all that remain in the mind of visitors to Tuol Sleng and stay with them for a long time after the visit is over.

The faces of the dead The photo portraits were made by a special body of Khmer Rouge on the entrance of every prisoner in S-21, and so their precise function was to document the “accountancy” of horror. The photos were accompanied by the meticulous registration of data regarding every person arrested, with personal details and the region of origin, proof of the efficiency of the work carried out. Even though all the photos had been accurately filed away with their data, the ones currently on show in the museum bear neither names nor other indications regarding the origins of the prisoners, but only the number with which they were registered upon entry. The vast majority10 are frontal portraits of faces almost all of which appear to us as oddly dispassionate, without any explicit trace of the emotion we would expect to see there (fear, horror, sadness, anxiety?) (Figures 3.6 and 3.7).

10 Numerous photos are also displayed showing images of the corpses of prisoners slaughtered during their time in S-21 or of those who died due to torture or beatings, generally cadres of a higher level and important personages in the Khmer hierarchy, whose decease was probably certified in this manner.

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Figure 3.6:  Photos of prisoners.

Figure 3.7:  Photos of prisoners.

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It is perhaps the contrast between their at least apparent absence of emotion and the awareness that the onlooker has of the place (but that the prisoners must have had, too) that engenders the very strong pathemic effect that these photos produce. It is as if those apathetic faces spoke to us of a separation between the pathemic and the cognitive as experienced by the victims, of their certainty of an atrocious, imminent end and of an apathetic resignation in regard to it. It is only in the distraught gaze of the onlooker that knowing and feeling are reunited, restoring in all its horror the “sense of the place”. But let us take a closer look at the central issue of the gaze and the different roles involved in it. Boltanski (1992) in his famous work on the representation of grief, spoke of three distinct thematic roles and narratives: the Torturer, the Victim and the Spectator. At Tuol Sleng visitors are positioned, in their line of sight, frontally with respect to the image of the victims, and since the latter all faced the lens, visitors find themselves looking from exactly the same viewpoint as the one from which the torturer looked at his victim, through his eyes we might say. The space of the enunciation which was once that of the torturer-photographer comes to coincide, during the visit, with that of the spectator-visitor: we are seeing what he saw. In this way the actors in play are no longer only visitor and victim: the device of vision also reactivates the ghost of the torturer, the absent author of the image that has made all subsequent gazes possible. We might say that the encounter between the gazes of the victim and the spectator reopens the virtual space of the third role, that of the torturer, a space ambiguously occupied by the gaze of the spectator himself when he stares at the victim. The device of vision thus comes to function as an operator on an actorial level, actualizing the implicit virtualities and the traces of the enunciation embedded in the enunciate of the photo. And not only this, but the moment of vision also reactualizes the time of the photographic enunciation, the terrible moment in which the detainees were photographed and fixed forever. This leads to the production of a sort of temporal short circuit between the past moment in which the photograph was taken and the present moment in which it is seen. Finally, as we have already mentioned previously, the photos we look at are photos of dead people. They are victims who, when they were portrayed,

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were about to die, but whose death has already occurred for us who look at them. Those who look at us, when we gaze at their faces, are already dead, and we, as spectators, not only know this, but are there for this very reason, we are there to look at the faces of those who are dead. It seems to me that here we touch upon a very delicate and complex point, which perhaps lies at the root of a basic ambiguity that runs through all trauma sites that show directly not only testimony, but also the visibility of the traces of the bodies of those who lost their lives in that place. And here it is not only a question of the prophecy of their own fate inscribed in the photos of the dead people about whom Barthes (1980) talked and so, when we look at photos of the dead, we cannot avoid seeing in them the harbinger of that death. This awareness is certainly at the root of the particular effect that the sight of these photos produces (Barthes spoke of a punctum in these cases) because the onlooker’s cognitive competence is ineluctably interwoven with a pathemic value, re-proposing the fusion of knowledge and feeling that I discussed previously. But there is also something more, which directly involves not only our pathemic reactions, but our very statute as spectators and the voyeuristic components implicit in it, given that we visit these places precisely to look upon death, to re-actualize it to some extent in the very act of our seeing. In this act the roles of victim, torturer and spectator are once more perilously confused, also from this point of view: the position of the spectator cannot be solely that of an external observer, no matter how pathemically modalized. Inasmuch as we are spectators of these places, the sight of the suffering of others simultaneously and paradoxically puts us both in the place of the victim and in that of the torturer: we empathize in our own bodies, sometimes to the point of physical distress, with the suffering shown, but at the same time we observe it from the outside, just as the torturers observed it. The dual positioning implicit in our vision questions us subtly and in depth, posing some disturbing questions: we were not there – evil is never where we are – but if we had been there, which place would we have occupied?

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Effects of presence and practices of forgetting The complex mechanism of gazes that I have tried to examine thus far as well as the positioning within it of the spectator, a meeting point of pathemic, aesthesic and valorial tensions, makes the Tuol Sleng Museum a highly particular place, which goes beyond the logic of pure representation to constitute itself as a presentifying device: the dead and their faces are not only represented, but re-presented, rendered present to every new gaze that lingers on them and questions them. The strong effect of presence produces a shift in the role of the visitor, who is directly involved in the experience, down to its sensible and corporeal dimension: a visit to Tuol Sleng is very unlikely to leave anyone indifferent, more often it is disturbing and engenders an almost physical malaise. We might say that the place, like the song of the Cuna people analysed by Levi-Strauss, has a particular symbolic efficacy that acts on visitors modifying them pathetically and even aesthesically. Visitors are called upon to participate, at least for the duration of the visit, according to modalities of involvement that are also corporeal in what we might define as a form of re-enactment of the traumatic experience; their visit thus acquires a testimonial nature, more than an informative and documentary one. They are no longer just visitors that see, look, and inform themselves; they, too, have become a part of that story to some extent. They have become witnesses. Empirical research carried out on visitors to Tuol Sleng (Hughes 2008) confirms these impressions: almost all visitors complained about the paucity of information in the museum, but maintained that the experience of the visit was significant as testimony, as a symbolic gesture of solidarity and a responsible and humanitarian form of tourism. What was perceived as important after the visit was not “I have learned more”, hence “I know”, but “I have seen”, which is precisely the position that qualifies a witness. There are also other elements that contribute to the particular effect of presence that characterizes the photos in Tuol Sleng. In the first place the quantitative dimension: the faces that follow one another to cover the walls of the museum, especially on the first floor of the main building, are in the thousands, all different in their singularity, yet all are identical (Figure 3.8).

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Figure 3.8:  Photos of prisoners, detail.

In this case a merely quantitative datum becomes qualitative, producing a particular meaning effect that we might define as generalizing typification. The combination of these thousands of photos, different yet the same, produces a kind of horizontal summation in which, paradoxically, the multiplication of so very many individuals obliterates their singularity, to give us back a single face, a kind of general type, superordinate to the individual occurrences. What is staring at us, and questions in many ways our status as spectators, is the face of the Victim. There is no doubt that those who died in S-21 are victims, but perhaps things are not that simple, and their actorial status is more complex. We know, in fact, that S-21 was not just any investigation centre, but was specifically dedicated to middle- and intermediate-level Khmer cadres suspected of treason, especially in the last terrible phase of the dictatorship, characterized by an ever more marked paranoia even towards Khmer Rouge party members. Hence belonging to the category of victims rather than to that of the torturers was perhaps for some the result of a tragic local causality

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rather than predestination, as has been the case with many other genocides of modern times, and primarily with the Holocaust. This ambiguous status of the prisoners of Tuol Sleng can supply us with a key for the interpretation of the total absence of names that characterizes the photos in the museum. Not only have the names of the victims, which are all conserved in the archives, never been “restored” to their respective faces, but, an even more interesting phenomenon this, the authorities first discouraged and then openly prohibited a practice we might define as renaming, which was very widespread after the opening of Tuol Sleng. At that time many Cambodians went to the museum to trace, through the photos, missing relatives and friends and thus to have the certainty of their fate. The photos served in that moment as an archive that made recognition possible and made identification easier. Once the missing relative was recognized, and the fact of his or her death became a certainty, there was a widespread habit of attaching a little card to the photo bearing the name, origin and personal details of the victim. But very soon the authorities formally prohibited this practice, and all the names already attached were removed (Hughes 2003b). This was a rather surprising prohibition, because it flies in the face of what is today a widely held tradition starting from the beginning of the nineteenth century; it suffices to think about the importance given to the names of the fallen in all monuments and memorials: the Wall of Names, from Yad Vashem to the monument to the fallen in Vietnam in Washington,11 is a constant and recurring element. Marking the names of all those who, for one reason or another, have lost their lives in a given event is basic to the form that our way of remembering the dead has culturally assumed, starting from the Napoleonic period, as has been shown by Koselleck (2003).12 Nor does this memorial form seemed to be connected more to Western than Oriental custom: the huge mausoleum in Nanjing 11 12

For the monument to the fallen in Vietnam, see Wagner-Pacifici 1991. Koselleck’s analysis refers above all to the funeral monuments for fallen soldiers, who began to be remembered in the early nineteenth century, during the Napoleonic period, even though the Prussians were the first to build funeral monuments with all the names of the dead inscribed thereon, independently of rank. The custom then

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commemorating the victims of the slaughter committed by the Japanese in that city, analysed in Chapter 4, contains an enormous wall upon which the names of all the victims are inscribed. We may hypothesize that the practice of erasing names adopted in Tuol Sleng is functional precisely to that generalizing typification that subsumes all individual differences in a single, unique Type, wiping out individual particularities, but at the same time concealing more specific and differentiated responsibilities. In Hughes’ (2003b) interpretation, the prohibition of this practice should be traced to the desire to avoid an excessive emphasis on the individually recognizable singularity of the victims, which would have diminished, it was feared, the narrative emphasis on the collective generality of the genocide. The interpretation goes in the same direction as my previous observation on the effect of generalizing typification that the photos produce. Moreover, it suggests an implicit and complex dynamic, if not a real opposition, between individual and collective memories: single memories, without a doubt highly problematic and controversial given the ambiguous role of the victims themselves, were to be discouraged in favour of their forced inscription within a collective memory that was to some degree manipulated and imposed, if not censored. Here we are in the presence of a practice of voluntary production of forgetting, a form of those strategies of forced or “decreed” forgetting that Paul Ricoeur also dealt with. The philosopher talks of “memory manipulated” (Ricoeur 2000: 636) by power to allude to all those cases in which there occurs a voluntary and forced reconstruction of collective narratives through the repression, rewriting and obliteration, in our case even literally, of memory. These practices are deliberately aimed at the production of forgetting, different and generally very rare practices of the processes of selection and narcotization that always govern the complex dynamics of memory and forgetfulness. These last are processes that occur without any planning, by what we might call the “natural” selection of some properties that constitute a sort of background to the collective memory, a peripheral spread beyond monuments for those who fell in war, and the list of names today is an essential component present in almost all trauma sites.

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zone that in any case might re-emerge in future as a new centrality. Instead, the practices of the voluntary production of forgetting constitute a plan for dominion and control, with a precise intentionality and addresser; in the case of Tuol Sleng the new government that replaced the Pol Pot regime. This is a typically ideological operation, in the sense previously discussed by Eco (1975), where ideology is the targeted suppression of traces and the concealment of possible levels of interpretation. Removing the name of the victims with the singularity of their stories, tragic and contradictory like the entire history of the Cambodian nation in those awful years, re-established albeit forcedly a single common memory, that of the dictatorship of a few maniacs over a multitude of blameless victims, offering univocal interpretative categories that are highly dichotomized and clearly distinct. It is obvious how this operation served the need to re-establish a new collective national identity, supported by a new state, in strong discontinuity with the past and able to show a univocal face. In conclusion, Tuol Sleng presents itself to the visitor as a device that is more pathemic than cognitive, more testimonial than epistemological, where people play a part in an experience rather than understand the dynamics and the historical and political responsibilities of a mass crime. It is a museum that stages horror without explaining it or making it comprehensible, and in which the discourse of information is practically absent. Visitors learn almost nothing from their visit, but make a symbolic gesture of re-actualization and re-enacting of the trauma experience. The device of seeing makes the spectator a witness who acts out the trauma once more upon recognition of and contact with the gaze of the victim. In this movement not only the historical reasons, but also the specific responsibilities of individuals are concealed and suppressed: it proved necessary to wait for Rithy Panh’s documentary before it was possible to look some of the people responsible for S-21 in the face. It is by starting from the topic of responsibility that we may suggest a few conclusive interpretations on the meaning and the function of a place such as Tuol Sleng, which seems to oscillate between an interpretation of the trauma as absolute evil, in the presence of which no analysis is possible, and a knowing concealment of the dynamics and the causes of the genocide.

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Schizophrenic memory or ars oblivionalis? In order to gain a profound understanding of the strategy underpinning Tuol Sleng we have to start from what seems at first sight like a paradox. There is no doubt, in fact, that the process of elaboration of the trauma and the re-establishment of the truth in post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia is at the very least an incomplete and patchy process. Only in 2009, that is to say exactly thirty years after the end of the Pol Pot regime, did a public trial begin of the few surviving perpetrators involved with the S-21 detention centre.13 In the intervening thirty years there had not been any radical change within the political class, and many cadres who had had a role in the Khmer Rouge regime served in subsequent governments, or in any case lived undisturbed. No collective process of reconciliation, or elaboration of the memories, was set in motion, nor was any particular care taken to conserve the numerous common graves and massacre sites scattered all over the country.14 In fact very many common graves were hidden and made invisible, in accordance with a targeted plan to destroy all traces, a politics of forgetting that went well beyond the erasure of the individual names of the victims of Tuol Sleng to affect Cambodian society as a whole. The Cambodia that emerged from the Pol Pot dictatorship seems to have created that ars oblivionalis described by Eco (2007: 79), the realization of a generalized collective forgetting. But since a reverse mnemotechnics is by definition impossible, Eco observes that forgetting can be imposed only textually, through the discursive break up of narratives, erasing some of them in order to permit other controlled ones to emerge. It is not enough, in fact, to erase a few traces in order to manipulate memory, you need

13 14

In reality, in April 1979 there was a sort of mockery of a trial, in the absence of accused and defenders, which more than anything else had the character of formal ritual with no consequences. There was more interest outside Cambodia. At Yale, for example, in 1995 they founded the Documentation Center of Cambodia, to translate the confessions and testimony from Tuol Sleng, localize the common graves and conserve the proof of genocide ().

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to construct complex alternative narratives, working simultaneously for repression but also for excess and exaggeration. I believe that only within this composite picture is it possible to read the apparent exception of Tuol Sleng in the general Cambodian “amnesia”: the sole camp that is maintained and musealized, to the point where it has become a genuine national monument, constitutive of the country’s identity, a highly pathemized place intensely charged with identitary values, “the symbolic central place of the foundation of the modern Cambodian nation, of the governing Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and, officially, of the people’s gratitude to Vietnam and the CPP for their defeat of the Khmer Rouge” (Hughes 2003b: 186). While perhaps this strong accentuation of the political function of Tuol Sleng is now partly attenuated, given the situation of present-day Cambodia that no longer has any need of institutional and international legitimization on this level, Tuol Sleng certainly continues to play a very strong identitary role in the country’s overall image, especially with regard to tourism. All the organized tours in Phnom Penh include the museum as an important destination, and the same holds for tour guides. Lonely Planet, to give just one example, lists it in the special section of “Top things to do” in Phnom Penh and devotes two pages of description to it, commenting with these words: “A visit to Tuol Sleng is a profoundly depressing experience. The sheer ordinariness of the place makes it even more horrific. […] Tuol Sleng is not for the squeamish.”15 So not only a national identitary monument, but to this day a potent device for creating affects and effects 15

It is also worth observing how Lonely Planet explicitly compares Tuol Sleng to Nazi camps, both for the horror of the place and for the painstaking practice of filing [the details of ] the prisoners: Nazism is the indispensable frame of reference within which, at least for the Western traveller, every horror becomes interpretable, independently of all historical, political and temporal specificity. The Cambodian genocide and the Nazi extermination have very little in common, apart from the horror in itself of generalized and atrocious death, but the Holocaust works as a powerful generalizable interpretive schema and as a multi-directional memory, to use Rothberg’s (2009) term. The parallelism with the Holocaust, and the consequent identification of Pol Pot with Hitler, recurs frequently in the discourse that the Vietnamese have constructed on the memorialization of the Cambodian genocide.

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that go beyond the local environment and open up into a transcultural and transnational dimension, Tuol Sleng appears to us as a central element of the self-description that Cambodia wants to give of itself. How to read and interpret this apparent paradox? The Cambodian memory of the genocide is perhaps less schizophrenic than it may appear at first sight if we look at the politics of forgetting from the standpoint I have just indicated, reading them as overall discursive strategies, equipped with a unitary argumentative structure, behind the apparent co-presence of divergent forms. From this point of view an “excess of information” as Eco suggests, can be as functional as its opposite. And so we can hypothesize that it was precisely the monumentalization of Tuol Sleng that substituted and took the place of the missing re-elaboration of the trauma of the Cambodian genocide. Tuol Sleng is a monument to an unfinished memory: it is because of the absence of a real process of revision and historical reinterpretation, and not despite itself, that Tuol Sleng has become an identitary national monument, going to make up for and suture the sense of that lack, the void of a political and juridical judgement that never happened. After the end of the Pol Pot regime, the new Cambodian People’s Party government was faced with an almost impossible situation squeezed between two exigencies that were hard to reconcile: on the one hand closing with the tragic past of the dictatorship and marking a radical discontinuity with it, and on the other avoiding a reckoning that would have affected the entire nation depriving it further of the few human resources remaining to it. In this context the use of the traumatic memory becomes a central strategic instrument. Tuol Sleng stages the horror, and therefore allows an explicit distancing from the past, avoiding the attribution of more specific and individual responsibilities; hence the absolutization of evil and the typification of the victims, which blocks the practices of identification, and individualization, both for the victims and the torturers, thereby paving the way for the possibility of a transversal discourse of the foundation of a new Cambodia. To some extent we might say that the operation has been successful thanks to its intrinsic ambiguity: the sacralization of such an intensely symbolic place partly makes it possible to conceal the absence of a deeper

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investigation into causes and responsibilities; in this sense Tuol Sleng constitutes an ideological response, as we defined it previously, to a deeper question of truth. But at the same time, and precisely because of this capacity for substitution, Tuol Sleng can appear as a place central to the identitary self-description that the country wishes to show the world. And so it is important to consider the way in which the discourse of tourism, which includes tour guides but also established practices, identifies this place as a fundamental, unmissable visit for tourists who wish to know the reality of modern-day Cambodia. The fact that the rewriting of the past effected in Tuol Sleng has an ideological character, concealing the complex play of complicity between victims and torturers and not supplying instruments with which to understand how what happened could have happened, does not prevent, in fact it favours, the capacity to transform this place into a powerful transversal identitary bond linking all of Cambodian society, thanks largely to its pathemic efficacy. The victims of S-21, most of whom were no strangers to the Khmer party organization, thus comes to represent the suffering of the entire Cambodian people, and Pol Pot’s crimes take on the character of genocide. From this point of view, trauma sites, as well as reconstructing the image of the past and founding the national identity of the future, also prefigure possible exit strategies from the situations that ensue after great tragedies and genocides. In this sense they constitute powerful devices for the management of post-conflict phases and the emergence from devastating collective traumas.

Chapter 4

The rhetoric of nationhood: The Memorial Hall in Nanjing

A controversial memory On 13 December 1937, Japanese troops occupied the city of Nanjing – at that time the capital of the Republic of China – and over the subsequent six-week period committed what is generally considered one of the greatest massacres of the Sino-Japanese War, killing civilians and unarmed soldiers, raping women and girls and destroying the city through arson and indiscriminate looting. Although there are today few doubts about the largescale atrocity of the event, its exact dimensions, and its true nature, are far from being acknowledged and agreed upon by the two conflicting sides. This starts with the very terms used to designate the event, which range from rape, massacre and even holocaust on the Chinese side, to the far more neutral historical event, facts, or even illusion and myth, on the Japanese side. Lexical choice is obviously an important way of categorizing the event and transmitting conceptions of it, a real “frame of memory” in Halbwachs’s sense. (Halbwachs 1925). The estimated number of deaths is also a highly controversial issue: on the Chinese side this has been estimated at roughly three hundred thousand victims, while the Japanese side asserts that the number is much smaller. The story of this historical debate is itself worthy of serious attention. It was not until the 1970s that it was possible in Japan to hold a serious debate about many issues connected with the Sino-Japanese War and in particular the Nanjing Massacre, which had been largely ignored by the Japanese and apparently even deleted from school textbooks. Among the first to address Japanese war crimes in China was the journalist Honda Katsuichi, who published several articles and books at the

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beginning of the 1970s – amongst others, Travels in China (1971) – which for the first time described the Japanese not only as victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atom bombings, but also as perpetrators. His writings generated strong opposition in Japan as well as a widespread movement of denial or at least minimalization of the Nanjing event, claiming that it could be attributed to the behaviour of a few troops affected by battlefield stress, unfortunate in itself, but hardly worthy of being called a “massacre” or a “rape”. Paradoxically, in China during the Maoist period a parallel historiographical suppression of the Nanjing Massacre occurred, due to national pride and the consequent need to build an image of a strong, unified nation and to glorify the heroic victory of the revolution. As Kirk Denton has observed: “Revolutionary martyrs were worshipped for their noble sacrifice to the nation, but victims of atrocities … did not fit well the prevailing heroic narrative” (Denton 2007: 246). This is a very interesting example of the way historical narrative is based on forgetting as much as on remembering; this continuing historiographical oblivion regarding the massacre can also throw light on the story of the site itself, as we shall see. It was only during the 1980s and 1990s that an increasing interest in the affair grew up among Chinese and American researchers. In 1997 Iris Chang, a Chinese American journalist, published a book that quickly became a best seller: The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II. As is by now widely recognized, Chang’s book is highly problematic, full of errors and exaggerations, and is often considered too unreliable to serve as an authoritative historical reference. Its findings and claims were criticized as highly controversial and based on an uncritical use of documented sources, but certainly it drew attention to what happened in Nanjing and led to the discovery of an important new source, the diary of John Rabe, a German businessman who was in Nanjing at the time and who actually witnessed the massacre, while at the same time trying to help the civilian population.1

1

John Rabe, The Good German of Nanjing: The Diaries of John Rabe (New York: Knopf, 1998). Original German version: John Rabe: Der gute Deutsche von Nanjing (Munich: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1997).

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Independently of its actual historical value, Chang’s book nonetheless represents an important step in the discursive cultural construction of the Nanjing case as such, and in its circulation and popular reception in the Western world. Special attention should be also paid to its title, which for the first time connects the Nanjing Massacre to the Holocaust, thus inscribing one specific event belonging to Chinese history in the list of the world’s most traumatic cases of genocide, decontextualizing it and forcing an ahistorical reading of it.2 It is beyond the scope and purpose of the present work – and my personal and professional academic competencies as a semiotician – to delve further into the details of this heated historical discussion; it is, however, important to mention it in order to provide a more contextualized understanding of what appears even today to be a highly controversial and often contested piece of cultural memory, which is still far from having arrived at a commonly accepted and widely shared reconstruction.3 Nanjing is an emblematic case of how the politicization of memory tends to transform historical events into highly conflictual sociocultural spaces, where the reconstruction and acknowledgement of the truth appears increasingly more difficult to attain, as it is still mostly hidden behind forms of mythology, propaganda and other ideological implications.4 The 2 3

4

See on this point Joshua A. Fogel, “The Nanking Atrocity and Chinese Historical Memory”, in The Nanking Atrocity 1937–38: Complicating the Picture, ed. Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi (New York: Berghahn Books, 2007). For historical references see, among others, Joshua A. Fogel, The Nanjing Massacre in History and Historiography (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000); Takashi Yoshida, The Making of the “Rape of Nanking” History and Memory in Japan, China, and the United States (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006); Mark Levene and Penny Roberts, The Massacre in History (Oxford: Berghahn Books, 1999); and the two recent collections of essays, Li Fei Fei, Robert Sabella and David Liu, eds, Nanking 1937: Memory and Healing (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 2002) and Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi, ed., The Nanking Atrocity 1937–38: Complicating the Picture (New York: Berghahn Books, 2007). A well-known example of such a mythology is the story of the 100-man killing contest, a contest between two Japanese lieutenants to see who could sever 100 Chinese heads before reaching Nanjing. On this specific point, see Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi, “The Nanking 100-Man Killing Contest Debate: War Guilt Amid Fabricated Illusions, 1971–75”, Journal of Japanese Studies vol. 26, no. 2 (2000): 307–340.

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different, and irreducible, pre-existent narratives regarding the Nanjing Massacre throw light on the dominant, inevitably ideological role of memory in shaping collective identities, and the possible uses of it in a broader nationalistic perspective. Indeed, in China, it was only after Deng Xiaoping introduced his economic reforms in the early 1980s that Chinese nationalists rediscovered Nanjing, together with new forms of remembering the past and new forms of social identification. A shift occurred at that point from a “victor narrative” to a “victim narrative”, to use Peter Gries’s words (Gries 2004). Significantly, this shift from a rhetoric of revolutionary heroism to self-representation based on victimization and the exhibition of Japanese atrocities is associated with the new globalizing market economy and the increasing gap between rich and poor in Chinese society. Denton explains the phenomenon in the following way: Forms of memory that downplay class struggle and emphasize national unity through shared suffering serve the state well in a new consumer economy founded on class distinction. Depictions of Japanese atrocities are morally unambiguous and serve to direct divisive class resentments toward an external other; national unity and shared national sentiment grow out of this “othering” of Japan. … The emotionality of atrocities is one way the state can forge national cohesion without stressing the potentially subversive message of revolutionary class struggle that was until very recently so central to its legitimizing myths. (Denton 2005: 248–250)

In this way the narrative of national victimhood becomes intertwined and entangled with resurgent visions of patriotic national pride and hegemonic nationalism, and is also functional, helping build China’s new economic, political and moral leadership in Asia and the rest of the world. It is thus not by chance that the first memorial in Nanjing was built in 1985. It is against the backdrop of this broader discursive and cultural framework that we can approach a critical semiotic reading of the Nanjing Memorial. Located at one of the principal sites of the massacre near Jiangdong Gate, one of the main city gates, a first Memorial Hall was built in August 1985 by architect Qi Kang to commemorate these tragic events. This memorial was later expanded, first from 1994 to 1995 and then from 2005 to 2007, in accordance with the original project designed by He Jingtang. The memorial was finally opened to the public in its present form on 13

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December 2007, the day of the seventieth anniversary of the massacre, under its full name of Memorial Hall for Victims of the Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders. As I will show in my analysis, more than serving as a place for the conservation and transmission of a deeply tragic, traumatic memory, the Nanjing Memorial is semiotically configured as a monument to nationhood, as an important step in the building of a modern national identity, a veritable discourse for and about the nation itself or, probably more correctly, for and about nationalism as a way of conceiving of oneself and others. This close reading of the place itself will seek to reveal the carefully organized construction of such an ambitious project.5

The memorial hall Site structure The memorial is an extremely complex semiotic object: it includes a large museum with a vast number of documents, witness statements, photographs and videos, but it is also, and perhaps above all, a huge theme park, which is to be visited by following a very precise route. Strictly speaking, the Nanjing Memorial is not only a trauma site; it has a distinctly hybrid character. As is mentioned in the illustrated guide booklet for the memorial, it is a site-based memorial museum whose location is connected to the actual place of slaughter, but not exclusively. This is not only because the massacre took place throughout the whole city of Nanjing, and was not limited to one specific area of the city near Jiangdong Gate, but 5

See also Kirk A. Denton, “Museums, Memorial Sites and Exhibitionary Culture in the People’s Republic of China”, China Quarterly vol. 183 (2005): 565–586. Here, too, Denton’s forthcoming book, Exhibiting the Past: Historical Memory and the Politics and Ideology of Museums in the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, will certainly bring an important contribution to this field of study.

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also because few elements of the site actually date from the Japanese occupation: in fact, there is only a small section of the ancient half-ruined walls of the city as well as an excavation site where human remains were found. The whole complex occupies an extremely large surface area of 74,000 square metres, of which 9,800 are dedicated to the museum building itself, and the remaining area consists of the immense park. The huge dimension of the site itself is symptomatic of the almost megalomaniac project that is the keynote Memorial Hall, where the sheer magnitude of the place seems to allude to and symbolize the vastness of China, and the greatness of the Chinese people, which appears to be the principal “object of value” that the monumental complex as a whole aims to convey to its visitors. The structure of the site is, however, not simplistically describable in terms of semiotic oppositions between external versus internal spaces, since the park also includes a number of smaller buildings, which alternate with various kinds of organized outdoor spaces, all of which must be passed through in the course of a visit by following a series of arrows showing the way. The park has an elongated shape that vaguely resembles the outline of an enormous ship, as can be seen from the model of the park (Figure 4.1) and the map (Figure 4.2).

Figure 4.1:  Model of the Memorial Hall.

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Figure 4.2:  Map of the Memorial Hall.

The full trajectory of the site actually begins just before the entrance, in a large rectangular square called the Sculpture Square, separated from the road by a few steps and enclosed by a long wall of grey stone looking out onto a channel filled with water. On the opposite side of the entrance there is a large statue more than 10 feet high, depicting a mother holding the body of her murdered child (Figure 4.3). Many more statues are located along the wall, each representing different typologies of victims: the orphaned child, the elderly couple, the raped woman, and so on. After passing through the main entrance area, the visitor enters a large open space, the Assembly Square, which is the first of four larger macro-areas constituting the site as a whole: the Assembly Square, the Exhibiting Area, the Site Area and the Peace Park. These four sections organize the space

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Figure 4.3:  The Sculpture Square outside the Memorial Hall.

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topologically, while at the same time structuring the route syntactically, in accordance with what we may describe as a narrative structure, within which each of the four above-mentioned sections plays a specific and welldefined role. Through the articulation and narrative development of these four sections, the whole site tells visitors an exemplary story, while at the same affecting and transforming their emotional attitudes and cognitive competencies. Using the semiotic distinction between the two narrative levels of enunciation (the act of storytelling) and enoncé (the enunciated story or content) already discussed in Chapter 2, the larger story told by the Nanjing Memorial is that of a frightful massacre and a subsequent process of national rehabilitation, but this is only one side of the overall meaning of the site. In addition to the story that it narrates, the site is conceived, through its actual mode of enunciation, as a device for involving and transforming the visitors themselves – their beliefs, their intellectual competencies, and, perhaps more then anything else, their personal feelings and emotions – in order to accomplish a very precise goal: the definition and construction of one specific type of national identity. In this way, a visit to the site becomes both an experiential and a pedagogical pathway, that at one and the same time obliges visitors to look and learn, to be astounded and appalled, and to be moved to prayer, meditation and subsequent purification of themselves. The Assembly Square The Assembly Square is an extremely large open space, enclosed at one end by the entrance to the museum and a huge concrete staircase ending in empty space, and at the other end by a black granite wall: the Wall of Calamity (Figure 4.4), which is of particular interest for us here from the point of view of the semiotics of its inscriptions and their symbolic value. In the black granite of the Wall of Calamity we find engraved in twelve different languages the number 300,000 – the number of victims of the Nanjing Massacre, according to the Chinese.

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Figure 4.4:  The Wall of Calamity.

On either side of the wall there are two symbolically different monuments: a large cross (Figure 4.5) indicating the dates of the massacre, and a large bronze bell, the Bell of Peace, with inscriptions in Chinese characters reminding us of the tragedy (Figure 4.6). This bell is rung on 13 December every year during a solemn commemoration of the tragic event. The large cross, with its obvious reference to Christian religion, and the bell, which incorporates elements of more local religious traditions, either Buddhist or Confucian, appear to try to weave the tragedy of Nanjing into a universalist kind of cultural framework possessing a far more comprehensive and inclusive character than any one single religion, ideology or national identity. In this way, the Nanjing Massacre is not only portrayed as a tragic “local” historical episode, but it also can be seen as an exemplary case of a “transversal” tragedy that could well affect and at the same time also belong to all human beings, regardless of their religious background or national identity. Indeed, the use of many different languages in the mural inscriptions mentioned above tends to support this particular reading.

The rhetoric of nationhood: The Memorial Hall in Nanjing

Figure 4.5:  The large cross monument.

Figure 4.6:  The Bell of Peace monument.

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One of the most important features of the whole site is what I will refer to as a strategy of semiotic heterogeneity. The accumulation and juxtaposition of many different kinds of cultural symbols, as well as many different languages and styles, is omnipresent in all sections of the site and is fundamental for leading us towards a more universalistic, “inclusive” reading of the Nanjing tragedy itself. This semiotic heterogeneity is also a key feature on the more formal level of analysis: the site exhibits a huge variety of materials, colours, architectural styles and forms of representation – from the white pebbles of the peripheral first square, also used in the central site area, to the black granite wall, the dark glass of the museum entrance, the grey stone of the cross, the green copper sculptures and the bronze of the bell, inscribed with golden characters. The overall impression the site seems to convey is one of striving to create the largest possible degree of inclusion, both on the symbolic level of culture and on the more “syntactic” and “morphological” levels of the various types of visual elements employed. The Assembly Square has a preparatory, propaedeutic function in relation to visiting the museum itself and the rest of the site: it puts the visitor in touch with the past, alluding to horrors and crimes perpetrated there, while at the same time setting up the more general interpretative framework, and presenting the visitor with the implicit task of trying to better understand what happened there, while also keeping memories of the past alive for those of us who will come to live in a (presumably) better future. It is thus a first environmental setting that prepares, and to some extent summarizes, the other thematic and experiential steps that are to follow, establishing a configuration of fundamental cultural values that permeate the whole site: a universalist ecumenism of symbols belonging to many different religious and cultural traditions, in a powerful syncretism fuelled by a high degree of semiotic heterogeneity. In the Assembly Square the past is evoked symbolically rather than described in minute detail: it is the subsequent museum space that has the task of offering realistic, accurate documentation of the hard facts. Here in the square, a concatenation of allusive elements prevails: the geometrically formed monument at the entrance, the great empty space covered with small white stones, the staircase that ends in the emptiness of the sky, the long black wall repeating by way of different semiotic inscriptions – numbers

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and letters – the numbers of the dead. The visitor implicitly accepts the interpretational and value system meta-framework already hinted at in the Assembly Square, and, beforehand, at the main entrance. As time goes on, the visit takes on the character of a real physical and experiential journey within a course of simultaneous discovery and symbolic purification. The value system already beginning to take shape there outlines the monstrosity and cruelty of the massacre on one hand, and on the other, the presumed innocence of the victims – unarmed and defenceless women, children and elderly people; no soldiers are represented among the statues at the entrance. At the same time, it is the suffering, endurance and strength of the Chinese people themselves that in the longer run emerges as the real object of memory. The Exhibition Hall of historical records From the Assembly Square the visitor accesses the museum building itself. At the entrance a large inscription displays the words: “A Human Holocaust: Historical Facts of the Nanjing Massacre and the Victory 1945”, where the reference to the Holocaust is yet another sign of the universal character being attributed to the Nanjing Massacre, here associated with the genocide par excellence of our era. I have already pointed out in relation to Chang’s book that the word “holocaust” gives rise to a complex system of powerful meanings and implications as well as a risk of historical misinterpretation always implicit in the improper use of such a word. As terrible as the Nanjing Massacre was, it is certainly not comparable to the carefully planned and executed Nazi genocide project. To classify the two events under the same linguistic label clearly serves several different purposes, the main purpose being to decontextualize the historical and local specificity of the event by absolutizing and inscribing it in a hypothetical communal history of human atrocities. It is another instance of an ideological reading of a traumatic event, implicitly serving a nationalist reconstruction agenda. It is impossible to give a complete description of all the material, documents, artefacts, texts and objects exhibited in the museum, which

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is spread over two floors and covers a total area of almost ten thousand square metres. The first floor is devoted to the Nanjing Massacre itself and includes the history of the museum building and of the discovery of the remains of the last ten thousand victims. The second floor is dedicated to the story of the Sino-Japanese conflict since the late nineteenth century, and constitutes the general frame of interpretation for the Nanjing episode. Here, atrocities committed by the Japanese during the war are carefully documented, as are the Chinese resistance and the final victory. A museum is first of all an archive that preserves, documents and transmits the historical memory of past events: as such, it is by definition also a place where the visitor acquires some degree of historical competence by increasing his or her knowledge of the past. Certainly, even the most casual and distracted observer will gain, by the mere fact of passing though these seemingly endless exhibition halls, a vast amount of information during a visit, given the quantity and variety of documents displayed in the museum. Thousands and thousands of photos, videos, personal documents, diaries, private journals, newspapers, testimony, objects and environmental reconstructions document and describe not only the massacre, the atrocities and the destruction, but also the ongoing struggle and resistance of the Chinese population. The exhibition forms are varied and exploit a huge variety of materials and methods, ranging from traditional transparent display cases to the use of advanced forms of technological support, such as computers and video screens (Figure 4.7). In line with a general trend in contemporary museology, the Nanjing Memorial mixes authentic artefacts with new technologies in order to compete with communicative styles characteristic of popular culture. Display technologies are deployed side by side with some kitschy toy-like elements: small models reconstructing historical environments and battle scenes, intended to realistically reproduce the scene of famous battles, with flashes of gunfire, bombs and even the noise and the smoke of the cannons.

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Figure 4.7:  Inside the museum: Technological devices.

From this point of view, the museum shares with the rest of the site what I previously defined as an aesthetic of heterogeneity and accumulation, regarding both the variety of records and other exhibited materials, and stylistic choices within the exhibition itself, often aimed at producing the highest possible degree of perceptual and emotional engagement on the part of visitors. A huge museum like this is of course physically impossible to fully comprehend and “read” seriously in all its minute details. The visitor is confronted with a suggestive mass of documentary and explanatory materials of various kinds exceeding all possibility of analytical assimilation. To “see everything” is impossible; what the memory retains is rather a cloud of sensations that are often oriented more towards emotion and perceptual stimulation rather than cognitive understanding. The expository strategy of a museum environment of this kind appears to aim to plunge visitors into a massive, endless flow of information, images and other visual and perceptual stimuli, producing a kind of “total immersion” in the massacre itself as a real historical event.

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The “ideal” or “model” visitor of this museum6 is thus not an analytical reader who takes in and thinks about every single detail, but rather a “synthetic” wanderer who passes through the countless rooms, stopping here and there, without the ability to assimilate all the information they offer, but perhaps grasping some general, overall sense of historical and cultural “atmosphere” here and there. Paradoxically, it is the huge number of records exhibited that makes it so difficult to make any kind of precise historical reconstruction of the events they refer to, and, as a result, it mainly succeeds in producing more or less vague impressions of an immense national trauma. But what exactly is the historical story this museum recounts to us? Essentially, it is the story of a secular conflict between Japan and China and its resolution, which involves not only the defeat of the enemy but also, and first and foremost, the restoration of a set of universal values such as peace and harmony between peoples. Using the linguistic categories of aspect,7 this can be seen as an event of simultaneous durative and terminative character, since the conflict as such took place over a period of almost a century, but is now over. It is the terminal phase of this event that is to be emphasized and valorized here: the end of the war, the trial of the culprits, the ability of China and the Chinese people to combine justice and forgiveness. The supposedly sage Chinese management of the terminal phase of the conflict is presented as allowing the opening up of a new, temporally unending, phase of peace and harmony to be projected into the future. In this larger context, the Nanjing Massacre is just one specific episode, albeit a highly tragic one, that has now been overcome and left in the past. The principal characters in the story are not the Japanese and Chinese peoples in general; they are the Japanese army troops and the Chinese population. This 6 7

I am using here the notion of “ideal” visitor in parallel with that of “ideal reader” or “model reader”. See Umberto Eco, The Role of the Reader (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984). In linguistics, temporality refers to the relation between the time of utterance and the action expressed by the verb. Aspectuality refers to the different perspectives from which an action can be described, focalizing on the beginning of an action (I started reading), its duration (I was reading), and its final state (I finished reading). The same action can be described as punctual (I read) or as progressive and continuous (I was reading for ten hours).

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distinction is important, as it shifts the narrative focus from a war between peers to an instance of aggression by armed soldiers against an unarmed civilian population. The massacre was a massacre of civilians, not an incidental episode of war, however cruel and brutal these also may be; it was the meaningless slaughter of harmless women and children and elderly people, the extermination of entire families in their homes, collective rape. Moreover, the Japanese army is an army of invaders, occupiers of a land that was not theirs, aggressors who crossed the border and entered another country. The thematic roles of the two contenders are configured as those of ruthless aggressors on the one hand, and innocent victims on the other. However, here we are not confronted by a narration of victimization in the longer term; instead, the victims themselves were able to resist and triumph, by restoring the subverted order and reaffirming the positive values of peace and coexistence temporarily denied to the Chinese people by the Japanese invaders. There is also a very important third actor in the story: the international community, which essentially plays the role of sympathetic observer and participant helper. We have already mentioned the importance of Rabe’s diary and other such testimonial materials in this respect. Many of the archive records, as well as numerous testimonies by members of the international press, show how American and European foreigners – academics, enterprise managers and religious figures – had assisted the Chinese people during and after the massacre. This is an interesting element, since it shows an effort to internationalize the Sino-Japanese conflict, removing it from a merely “local” perspective and inscribing it within a global dimension, where “global” refers essentially to European and North American cultures and their values. The whole “civilized” world witnessed this brutal attack and stood by the Chinese people, who were forced into a defensive war and popular resistance to defend their land, but more than anything else – so the exhibition suggests – to allegedly restore the basic configuration of universal values that had been shattered and defiled by the invader. The Chinese themselves appear, in this narrative, to be a people, a collectivity that, although composed of singular individuals whose specific stories have been carefully collected and preserved, is nonetheless able to act also as a singular collective actor, with a shared cultural competence (the ability

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to resist and react) and a shared narrative programme. The purpose of the reaction is not only victory over the invading enemy, but also, and maybe to an even greater extent, the restoration of trampled civil values, the universality of which is already shared by the wider international community. The Chinese are represented as a naturally peaceful people who do not want war, but who, when attacked and provoked, know exactly how to react in order to restore the delicate equilibrium that has been broken. Precisely because the Chinese people are now acting as proxies for a higher universal value, their reasons for resistance are now recognized by the former enemy. A large section of the museum is devoted to this theme, with the diaries and testimony of Japanese soldiers who were sorry for what they did and asked for forgiveness, as well as regular Japanese citizens who felt compelled to compensate their victims symbolically. Thus the story also becomes a story that, in Western eyes, could be read within the script of “sin and redemption”, where the sinful enemy repents and becomes grateful. The core meaning transmitted by the carefully constructed narrative framework is the moral superiority of the Chinese people and their Confucian culture, thus reinforcing the overall nationalistic and associated religious (ethical/ moral) emphasis that pervades the whole site. The Chinese people are in the end portrayed as generous victors: not only do they restore justice with fair trials for the few guilty, non-redeemable, enemies, but they are also capable of displaying real forgiveness and compassion. The museum paints a detailed picture of Chinese generosity toward the defeated, with the information that over 1,000 war criminals were set free and more than 3 million Japanese prisoners were sent back home; and particular attention is given to orphans of Japanese military personnel, about 3,800 children, who were all born and raised in China. Documents show how after the war they often came back to thank, and pay tribute to, the Chinese authorities, thus displaying their gratitude. This is the story the museum recounts, by many different rhetorical means, to visitors, a much more complex narrative than the mere documentation of a terrible historical massacre. By preserving the memory of the past, the Chinese people essentially wish to ensure future peace for the whole of humanity, represented in the final interior space of the museum by flocks of white doves circling just below the ceiling.

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The site area After exiting the museum building, the principal area of the larger memorial site begins. It is an extremely large and complex external surface, which includes outdoor spaces, monuments and inscriptions as well as a number of buildings and interior spaces serving various functions. The first area the visitor encounters after passing the remains of the ancient walled city – the Catastrophe of the Ancient City, which is the only real historical artefact of the entire site – is the wide-open space of the Graveyard Square, which undoubtedly engenders a strong visual effect (Figure 4.8). The square is a spacious sloping surface covered with white river pebbles: during the massacre many dead bodies were thrown by the Japanese into the Yangtze River, and the pebbles seem designed to recall that memory as well as to establish an obvious, even if rather trite, chromatic symbolism with the whiteness of human bones.

Figure 4.8:  The Graveyard Square.

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The downward slope ends in a long wall of grey stone, behind which rises a background of tall evergreen trees and a hedge. On the wall are engraved the names of 10,000 of the victims of the massacre, and to its right there is a low building, the original museum site (the Exhibition Hall), shaped like a sarcophagus. The square is filled with symbolic elements: three dead tree trunks situated close to a green hedge of evergreens signify “life and the fighting spirit”, as described in the guidebook. The whole area is enriched with numerous sculptures and monuments of various kinds, all in heterogeneous styles and materials, following the general logic of accumulation permeating the whole site: seventeen stone blocks with inscriptions commemorating victims of the massacre from different places; two large basreliefs (Calamity and Massacre) with scenes of massacres and killings; a large granite statue 4 metres high depicting a mother (Call of the Mother); and, finally, another huge relief, The Memorial, in a style strongly inspired by the aesthetics of socialist realism. In this main area of the site the visitor has to traverse all three different memorial spaces, in the following order: the Mass Grave of 10,000 Corpses; the Memorial Square; and the Meditation Hall. These three buildings are arranged in what can be read as a narrative sequence representing three steps in a process of knowledge acquisition on the part of the visitor, through a gradual transformation of his or her own internal state. First, there is direct contact with the tragedy of violent death (the Mass Grave); second, the purification of a collective rite (the Memorial Square); and finally, access to an internal meditation process (the Meditation Hall). The Mass Grave of 10,000 Corpses contains the remains of 208 skeletons found between 1998 and 1999. The remains are laid out in a darkened room, carefully arranged and lit in a composition reminiscent of an archaeological dig, creating a powerfully dramatic emotional impact (Figure 4.9). The age, sex, place and manner of death of each victim is carefully documented as well as the instruments used to slaughter them: knives, bullets, sticks, and so forth.

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Figure 4.9:  The Mass Grave of 10,000 Corpses, interior.

During the passage from the exterior space of the Graveyard Square and the inner room of the Mass Grave the representation of death changes from a metaphorical to a highly realistic dimension. While the mass of white pebbles evokes the idea of death through chromatic and symbolic forms, death is now shown directly, with no mediation, in the material form of the remains themselves. What was before only imaginable now becomes visible, with an even stronger emotional involvement and effect on visitors. Here, knowledge of death is not documented but staged; it is no longer textually mediated, as was the case in the museum, but directly embodied in the materiality of the human remains exposed to our view. Such direct exposure to death transforms the visitor’s knowledge, making these remains, in a sense, witnesses. Until arriving at the Graveyard Square, death has been symbolically evoked in absentia; here, it is displayed in praesentia. It is the intimate presence and direct knowledge of death transmitted via the senses that characterizes the position of the eyewitness. While in the

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museum the visitor was largely a spectator of a complex staged performance, in the Graveyard Square he or she is transformed into a witness through a process of progressive involvement. Only after visitors have been turned into de facto witnesses, and have thus been led to encounter the reality of death in a tangible form, can they then set out on their further journey of redemption, purification and salvation. This is what occurs during the two following stages of what, seen through the eyes of a Western visitor, appears to be an idealized secular via crucis: the Memorial Square and the Meditation Hall, which conclude this third section of the site, before arriving at the Peace Park. It might well be that such a connotation will not necessarily be the same for a Chinese visitor who has a different set of cultural references, perhaps rooted in the Confucian tradition. But in a way this is not all that important: whatever the cultural framework is, the overall sense of the place seems to allude to a quasi-religious universalizing principle that seeks to include and thus transcend the whole of the history of a shared humanity. The Memorial Square is configured as a sort of huge secular temple where visitors can meditate, pray and pay symbolic tribute to the victims, and consists of a large open space, paved with white pebbles, which contrast with the large blocks of black granite. In the middle of the space is a granite altar with a large bronze brazier with a perpetually burning flame, something that is typical of Chinese temples. A paved path through the vast expanse of pebbles leads right to the altar, where visitors can pause in prayer and meditation or carry out traditional devotional practices, such as offering small flowers or burning incense sticks (Figure 4.10). The Memorial Square is thus a sacred space in terms of the etymology of sacer, which means delimited, separated, secluded: it is a place of worship, but it does not appear to be attributable to any one specific religion. It possesses a more secular kind of sacredness, based on eclectic, quite specific forms of symbolism: the altar and the spatial topology of the space refer, for example, to the shape of a Christian Church, while the brazier, fire and offering of incense are elements present in traditional Chinese temples.

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Figure 4.10:  The altar in the Memorial Square.

Without being clearly attributable to any specific religion, the temple, however, does refer to a certain transcendental dimension. It suggests that the elaboration and more long-term processing of the collective memory of the massacre is to be conceived of as positioned within an all-encompassing transcendental system of meaning, governed by a higher order, which nonetheless always remains undefined. After experiencing the transcendental holiness of the temple, the visitor enters the last building of this section of the site: the Meditation Hall, a space dedicated to individual meditation, and the ultimate passage in a transformative path that leads to the final section of the site, the Peace Park, where the values of peace and universal harmony are celebrated. The Memorial Square and the Meditation Hall may appear somewhat redundant: both establish and open up a dimension of meditation, purification and expiation. These values are, however, defined in each case in very different ways, and do not actually overlap. The Memorial Square is a place of worship, prayer and purification that takes place in a public

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dimension, where everybody can follow and take part in collective, socially shared rituals. These rituals are always visible: everyone can clearly see who is praying, burning incense or depositing flowers – the altar is the centre of an open space accessible to the eye from all directions. The configuration of the Meditation Hall is very different from that of the Memorial Square. The former’s external structure, which looks like a big black box, is completely enclosed and without any obvious openings. The same black granite, used in both structures, produces very different effects of meaning in each case, as can be seen in Figures 4.10 and 4.11, where the system of oppositions between the two structures is very visible: open versus closed, concave versus convex.

Figure 4.11:  The Meditation Hall, interior.

The interior of the Meditation Hall is formed by a large dark room whose only light sources are numerous small red candles standing on the floor, which is covered with water. Two wide walkways allow visitors to walk through the hall in more or less complete darkness until they arrive at the exit. These two structures exhibit significant structural and spatial differences: the first is bright and open; the second is hidden and dark. In the former, public rituals take place, while the latter is dedicated to personal, intimate forms of experience, all almost invisible from the outside.

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Inside the Meditation Hall the visitor is plunged into darkness, interiority and a vague sense of displacement – the almost complete darkness makes it difficult to orient oneself, the walkway on the water produces an effect of instability and uncertainty as one moves along it. Here, visual perception is minimized in favour of proprioceptive sensorial experience: though it seems highly individual, sight is in fact a relational sense that maximizes communication with the external environment, while proprioceptive sensations like balance or orientation are related to the inner experiential sphere, and thus more or less incommunicable. The public rituality of the Memorial Square and the individualizing interiority of the Meditation Hall display a coherent system of oppositions at different levels: spatial (internal versus external); perceptual (visible versus invisible; light versus darkness); social (collective versus individual; public versus private; shared versus internalized). The system as a whole is structured according to a precise progression from outside to inside, from a public, social dimension of grieving, guaranteed by generic religious values, to an individual interiorization of such experiences. After the vaguely claustrophobic darkness of the interior space of the Meditation Hall, visitors finally reach the last section of the site and conclude their journey by entering the Peace Park. The Peace Park The exit from the Meditation Hall faces a long, narrow stretch of water, exactly 160 feet long, ending with a tall white marble statue depicting Peace: a female figure with a child in one hand and a dove in the other. The sculpture, exactly 30 metres high in commemoration of the 300,000 dead, stands on a high pedestal of dark basalt and is curiously duplicated by another, identical, slightly smaller sculpture at the base of the pedestal (Figure 4.12). The reason for this replication is not clear, nor is it explained in the guidebook. One can only speculate that it constitutes another example of the various forms of semiotic redundancy characterizing the site as a whole, which are particularly emphasized in this last section, filled with numerous elements representing very different symbolic styles.

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Figure 4.12:  The Peace Park, detail.

On the right of the canal there is a 140-metre-long wall, the Wall of Victory, decorated with two large V-shaped bas-reliefs that, according to

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the guidebook, “stand for victory”. At the centre is a large statue in socialist realist style: a Chinese soldier sounding a trumpet, which is also a symbol of victory against the invader. On the left, there is a green park with trees planted by Japanese soldiers who have repented the massacres committed by their own army, going on to found a Sino-Japanese Friendship Association that, every spring since 1986, has performed a ritual reconciliation by planting new trees and flowers in the park. The Peace Park seems to combine a complex system of conflicting values potentially in tension with one another: on the one hand, a nationalistic celebration of the greatness of the Chinese people at war, and on the other, the process of pacification and reconciliation with former enemies, who are now represented as both repentant and rehabilitated. The large statue of Peace serves a dual function: it topologically concludes the space while at the same time suturing potential tensions between contrasting value systems, representing a kind of balancing and synthesizing of the conflicts that might have divided them. The Peace Park is without doubt the final moment of a doubly positive sanction, both on the level of the story of the massacre itself (story level), and on that of the visitor’s own journey within this story (enunciation level). On the story level, this is the moment of a final restoration of values, already anticipated in the museum: the heroes – the Chinese people – are celebrated in their full glory and value, even by those who once were their persecutors, but who have now repented, admitting their errors. For the visitor, the process of acquisition of knowledge of the past tragedy parallels a process of progressive emotional involvement that is brought to an end within the shared values of Chinese national heroism, superiority and promotion of universal models of reconciliation and peace. The visitor’s journey through the Nanjing Memorial is thus revealed to be at one and the same time a transformational process on three distinct symbolic levels: knowledge, emotions and values. The visitor who completes this journey will be personally affected and changed, both in terms of her knowledge of the past events and in terms of her personal feelings and attitudes. All possible shades of emotionality have been activated: from pity to horror; from the purification of prayer and meditation; to the final acquisition of a redeeming sense of universal peace and forgiveness.

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Not only victims: A site to national identity I would like to conclude my analysis with some more general considerations regarding the overall meanings the Nanjing Memorial seeks to construct and transmit, a complex system of meaning that is at one and the same time a way to read and interpret the past, and also a projection into the future of a new sense of Chinese national identity. According to Reinhart Koselleck, every monument is a bearer of a given core meaning implying that something must be remembered in that particular way and not otherwise, and consequently implying, too, that something else must remain hidden. This also applies to memory sites and memorials like the Nanjing Memorial. In this kind of double-meaning dynamics, remembering and forgetting are intimately intertwined with each other: “[T]o show something also implies at the same time letting something else pass unmarked. It is part of the inner logic of a monument that every visualization hides something else” (Koselleck 2003: 20). From this point of view, every monument, site or memorial is intrinsically ideological, if we define ideology, following Eco, as a partial (in both senses of the word, i.e. both incomplete and also specifically value-loaded) reading of an event or a text. Rather than a place to remember the past, the Nanjing Memorial is primarily a pharaonic ideological work of celebration, a great monument to China’s national identity, to the strength and superiority of its people, who were able not only to triumph over the Japanese aggressor but also to reaffirm a full set of universal values. In this context, memories of the past are primarily a function of the construction of a new collective identity projected into the future, and it is precisely this new national identity that is at stake here, configured as the true value underlying the place as a whole, and thus as the source of its deepest meanings as a place of memory. As we have seen, the whole strategy of the exhibition is to seek to develop this meaning-making project through a series of very precise steps. First, the representation of the Chinese people as innocent victims of a gruesome military aggression from outside. This is the first thematic role of Chinese self-representation, starting even before the entrance, with the

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series of statues representing a typology of all possible categories of civilian victims (alongside the child’s mother and many others, there is an elderly couple and an orphan, for example). Second, the globalization of the Nanjing tragedy. The massacre is likened to a holocaust, transcending a mere local dimension on the way to acquiring a new, trans-historical form of universal value. The symbols of the cross and the bell in the Assembly Square, at the beginning of the site, refer, for example, to a universal sphere of cultural meaning and not only to a more specific Chinese reality. Moreover, throughout the whole museum, the solidarity of the international community with the Chinese people is continually emphasized as a sign of recognition of the supranational character of the Nanjing tragedy. Paradoxically, the Nanjing Memorial develops a nationalistic discourse within a blatantly globalizing frame of reference. Third, the superiority of the Chinese people. Their valorization is thus central, as expressed through what could be defined as a dual capacity for agency. First, they have the ability to put up an effective resistance to the enemy: the people are victims of a ferocious and evil attack, but they do not only see themselves as helpless victims. The Chinese people are capable of reaction: they know how to resist and finally triumph over the enemy. Second, they are also capable of forgiveness. This is an advanced form of moral agency8 reaffirmed by the Chinese people, through the fairness of legal trials, justice and generosity. Their former enemies, who then repent and reform, also implicitly recognize the moral superiority of the Chinese people themselves. The Chinese people are not only victorious on the level of their military power, but also on the level of their moral agency, as a subject capable not only of defeating but also persuading, and finally convincing, the enemy. Through the shift of temporal perspective from past to future, the memory of the traumatic past is mainly oriented towards building a better future, where all conflicts will be resolved. Thanks to the efforts of the Chinese people, the future will certainly be eternally peaceful: an uninterrupted period of infinite duration without wars or fighting, as represented 8

See for some contemporary research issues connected to the notion of moral agency.

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in the last room of the museum, the Corridor of Time, with its endless list of years to come. The massacre itself, and also the wider Sino-Japanese War constituting its background, becomes a merely tragic, highly circumscribed episode in an infinite flow of temporality that is easily able to include and overcome both it and the war. This is a very different way of feeling and representing time from the one constructed in other places of memory, such as Yad Vashem in Jerusalem or other Holocaust memorials, where historical temporality is irremediably interrupted by an apocalyptic event that marks an irreversible historical and moral breaking point to be remembered forever. In the highly ideological objective of the Nanjing Memorial, the extreme heterogeneity that characterizes the site – of symbols, materials, architectural and aesthetic styles, colours, and so on – is functional in relation to a strategy of inclusion that aims to unify diverse elements in a definitive, unifying totality. Many languages, cultural symbols, forms and substances are represented and integrated here; it is precisely here, in co-presence with a vast multitude of heterogeneous components, that an entire people can finally discover their own unifying identity and destiny. This complex process, based on the construction of an idealized national identity and, ultimately, too, on the assertion of the eternal superiority of the Chinese people, foresees an “ideal” or “model” visitor who identifies entirely with the Chinese people themselves. Even more than reconstructing a historical trauma and making a national tragedy known to the outside world, the Memorial Hall is an immense monument to national self-celebration: one specific instance of a highly articulated form of nationalistic discourse, or, in other words, an “emotionally charged state-sponsored nationalism” (Denton 2007: 250). In this sense, it is certainly a monument made for remembrance, but it is also, and perhaps above all, a pedagogical construction of a communal foundation for a new form of collective identification, using past pain to build and reinforce the future identity of the Chinese nation in a global context.

Chapter 5

The difficult memories of Latin American dictatorships: The case of Chile

Disputed memories and diffuse sites In the 1970s and 1980s many Latin American countries were under ferocious military dictatorships; among them Chile and Argentina reveal analogies in relation to the debate that has developed in the two countries over the management, transformation and re-use of places of memory, analogies that can be traced back to a certain parallelism in dealing with the difficult post-conflict phase and the transition to democracy. In both cases, in fact, the armed forces had been able to count on the support, or at least the silent non-interference, of a consistent part of the population. The transition to democracy was therefore particularly difficult and troubled, caught between the need to avoid new conflicts and at the same time to guarantee justice and truth for the victims. In such situations we are always faced with a specific memorial issue, in the impossibility of recomposing a shared common memory; opposed, fragmented and contested memories confront one another and clash, sometimes even within the same nuclear families. The complexity of this transitional phase is clearly reflected in the debate that, in both countries, has accompanied the recovery and transformation of many places of torture and detention scattered all over the country and subsequently opened to the public in different forms. These debates are of extraordinary interest to us, because they allow us to focus on a memorial model that is completely different from the cases we have examined so far; authentic laboratories for reflection and popular participation, the Chilean and Argentinean sites show us the complexity but also

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the potential wealth that the care for and management of memory can involve. Both in Chile and in Argentina, despite all the ambiguities and contradictions that transitional situations involve, the transformation of places of detention into trauma sites has not been managed from the top, as we have seen in the case of Cambodia and China, but to a large extent has involved society at large, the associations of survivors and victims’ relatives, civil rights NGOs, and so on. From the point of view of a narrative grammar, we can read these new figures as so many forms of destination that construct narratives that are highly diverse compared to those we saw in the other cases examined. These addressers are, in fact, bearers of a value system opposed to that of the government authorities whose principal aim is an identitarian if not openly nationalistic politics, and sometimes even the concealment of more precise responsibilities, as is partly the case at Tuol Sleng. The places that emerge from these choices guided from below, through lengthy and sometimes laborious decisional processes, are something very different from the monumentality of great memorials in the style of Nanjing, and from museums clearly characterized by the rhetoric of horror alone, such as Tuol Sleng. Certainly it is no accident that both in Chile and Argentina trauma sites are often places somewhat removed from the traditional image of a museum of memory: open spaces for gatherings and debate, social centres, places for the political education of young people, locations for art exhibitions and theatrical performances, places of memory are open to the present and the future as well as preserving the memory of the past. Another datum is common to both the Chilean and Argentinean situation. In both countries trauma sites constitute a diffuse network of places of little significance in themselves, scattered all over the country, especially in big cities. The military, in point of fact, used as torture centres mostly anonymous places unmarked as military spaces: homes, apartments, garages and detached houses in various areas of the city, from the historic centre to the furthest outskirts, in elegant residential areas as well as prevalently working class districts. Such delocalization was certainly functional for the military: no one suspected the existence of these centres that passed unobserved and ignored. Camouflaged within normal housing areas, they

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were not recognized for what they were and this made it much more difficult for the relatives and friends of victims to trace the places where their loved ones were imprisoned. Even after the end of the dictatorship, their eradication as torture centres was greatly facilitated by their anonymous nature, and as a consequence it has not always been easy or quick to recover them as places of memory. Nonetheless behind this operation we can also trace a precise semiotic value that we might define as the “terrorist rewriting of the territory”: seeding the entire urban fabric with micro terror centres means the disappearance of every clear distinction between spaces marked as run by the military or the police and unmarked civilian spaces. The entire urban landscape becomes potentially “a terror landscape”, every house can conceal the horrors of torture and death, and there is no longer a clearly legible distinction between different spheres of action. The extensive delocalization of centres of torture and detention, sometimes in tiny apartments or bungalows, implies a management of terror based on the widespread diffusion of a military and police-style logic throughout the country: the citizens are modalized according to an impossibility of knowing that increases the possibilities for control on the part of the persecutors and the fear and powerlessness of the victims. The task of mapping these centres to which the associations dealing with memory are dedicated has been lengthy and complex: proof of this lies in the two books that catalogue and count all the places of memory as well as the traces and signs of the dictatorship and the resistance to it, both in Buenos Aires and in Santiago.1

1

For Buenos Aires, see the book published in 2009 Memoria en la ciudad. Señales del terrorismo de estado en Buenos Aires, edited by Memoria Abierta, an Argentinean group very active in the field of memory and responsible for an important archive of testimony. For Chile there is a book that maps all the places of detention under the dictatorship, edited by the Chilean Ministry of the Interior: Geografía de la memoria, Ministero del Interior, Programa di Derechos Humanos, 2010, and a photographic book by Alejandro Hoppe, Memoriales en Chile. Homenajes a las victimas de violaciones a los derechos humanos, Flacso: Ocho Libros Editores, 2007.

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As for Chile, we shall analyse in particular a certain number of places with partly different characteristics, today utilized for various functions: the most infamous place, perhaps, under the Pinochet dictatorship, Villa Grimaldi, has been transformed into a park while other small sites have become cultural centres whose activities are diversified and not limited to the conservation and transmission of the traumatic memory. In this way the spaces become above all open places for practices that are often innovative, paving the way for the contemplation of possible alternative uses for trauma sites, a topic of growing importance today.

A difficult democratic transition: Villa Grimaldi between park and museum On 11 September 1973 the government of Salvador Allende, regularly elected after democratic elections in 1970, was overthrown by a coup headed by General Pinochet. This marked the beginning of a bloody dictatorship that was to last until 1990, in the course of which an estimated 3000 people disappeared or were killed and more than 130,000 were imprisoned and tortured. Most of these murders were perpetrated in secret places of detention and torture, scattered all over the country but above all in the capital, Santiago, and situated in anonymous apartments or detached houses, acquired by the military for these purposes. The detainees were kidnapped, blindfolded and taken there in secret and in many cases they disappeared after being thrown alive into the ocean without leaving any trace. One of the most notorious of these places of detention and death was Villa Grimaldi. The Villa, a large residence in the Italian style, with a fine garden full of trees and flowers on the outskirts of Santiago, was built in the nineteenth century by José Arrieta and in the 1960s was used as a country house by Emilio Vassallo. During the years of the Allende presidency the villa was transformed into a restaurant and a rendezvous frequented, above all, by left-wing intellectuals and artists. A year after the Pinochet coup, the villa was bought by the DINA (Dirección Nacional de Intelligencia),

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the Chilean secret service, and was used as a torture and interrogation centre until February 1978 after which in 1980 it was sold to the CNI (the National Intelligence Agency), the successor to the DINA. Perhaps it was no accident if the place chosen had previously been a well-known rendezvous frequented by the same left-wing intelligentsia that was now taken there blindfolded and tied up to be tortured. It has been calculated that about 4,500 people were imprisoned in Villa Grimaldi and, of that number, 226 disappeared forever, killed during torture or tossed alive into the Pacific from military aircraft. The site therefore has some similarities with the case of S-21 in Cambodia, analysed in Chapter 3: in both cases it was a matter of buildings originally intended for other functions and only later transformed into centres for interrogation, torture and death. Nonetheless there is one important difference: in 1987, as the dictatorship was nearing its end, the last chief of the CNI, General Hugo Salas Wenzel, sold the villa to some of his relatives, proprietors of a property company who in 1988 razed it completely to the ground with the dual intention of building a luxury condominium and erasing all traces of the crimes committed in it. The speculative building project was blocked, however, and after the transition to democracy in 1990 Villa Grimaldi was restored to the Chilean government. Only seven years later, in 1997, the site was transformed into its present form and opened to the public with the name Parque por la Paz Villa Grimaldi [the Villa Grimaldi Peace Park]. The story of the transformation of this empty space into the current memorial park deserves careful interpretation because it can help us to get a better understanding of the role that society can play in conserving and passing on the memory of the victims of post-conflict situations as well as the difficult and non-linear shift to democracy in Chilean society after the end of the Pinochet dictatorship. In 1989 in Chile there began a phase of negotiated transition to democracy, which concluded in 1990 with the first civilian government of Patricio Aylwin who instituted that same year the National Commission for Truth and Reconciliation (Comisión Nacional de la Verdad y la Reconciliación, or

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CNVR) to look into human rights violations during the Pinochet regime.2 Although the CNVR represented an important first step in the recognition of such violations, its powers were limited and in any case did not lead to any formal trial for those responsible. These limits should be seen within the general context of a difficult transition and an even more fragile democracy. Chilean society at that time did not believe it was possible to combine a politics of joint peace and justice; one widespread sentiment was the real fear that “dealing with the past would destabilize the fragile transition to democracy and would sink the country back into a period of terror” (Baxter 2005: 124). It certainly was not an unjustified fear, given that Pinochet was still supported by a large part of society and the armed forces. Many scholars have emphasized the fragility of Chilean democracy in the 1990s (Drake and Jaksic 1995; Winn 2004; Portales 2000; Paley 2001), a period in which the pressure to re-establish justice and truth was closely accompanied by a drive towards forgetting the memories of the past dictatorship. President Aylwin’s speech on the occasion of the presentation of the CNVR report clearly reflects this ambiguity and the government’s political decision to bury the past with its memories and “look forward”. This is what Aylwin said on that occasion: For the good of Chile, we must look to the future that unites us rather than the past that divides us. […] Chileans must not waste their energy examining wounds that are incurable.3

If “examining past wounds” could be defined as a “waste of energy”, there is little doubt that all attempts to conserve and transmit memories of the abuse and rights violations committed during the dictatorship are seen as highly problematic and controversial, and the spaces of memory could only acquire a residual status, as maintained by many scholars.4 And so, on its appearance, Chilean democracy seems to be characterized by a generalized form of amnesia with regard to its violent past, 2 3 4

For this point, see Demaria 2006. Quoted from Paley (2001: 127) For this, see, among others, Richard 1998, 2000 and 2001; Lira 2001; Illanes 2002; Paley 2001; Meade 2001; and Gomez-Barris 2009.

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in which reconciliation is “a form of concealment … forcing closure over what had yet to be revealed” (Gomez-Barris 2009: 25). The contradictory form that the memory of the past has assumed in post-conflict Chile is also reflected in the museums and memorials relative to the dictatorship. According to Meade, for example, in Chile: Memory sites exist within a society that has not reached any form of reconciliation with the dictatorship, nor held accountable those who carried out its most egregious acts of violence … The memory sites thus exist as monuments to the contradictions of Chilean society and to the fragility of its democracy. (Meade 2001: 124–125)

The construction of the Villa Grimaldi Peace Park should be contextualized and understood within this broader political and social background, in which the debate on the common memory and the forms of commemorating the victims does not seem to have led to any form of unitary national awareness. Even though the CNRV contained explicit recommendations for an official government involvement in symbolic actions aimed at the creation of monuments and public memorials for the victims, the realization of the Villa Grimaldi Park was exclusively the result of the involvement of civil society and the associations of relatives of victims and survivors. The government partly financed the creation of the park as a public space, but the role of the organizations representing the victims – such as the association of the relatives of detainees who had disappeared and the association of the relatives of executed political prisoners – was of central importance, as was that of a certain number of survivors, especially Pedro Matta, a former detainee in Villa Grimaldi who was subsequently very active in the promotion of the park and its memory.5 The relatives’ and survivors’ associations played a central role in the complex decisional process regarding how Villa Grimaldi should be transformed into a place of memory, a long debate that saw diverging positions in opposition to one another and ultimately differing policies concerning the traumatic memory, the postconflict period and the transition to democracy.

5

For this see Baxter (2005: 128).

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In particular, three different alternatives were taken into consideration at the time: the complete reconstruction of the villa exactly as it was before its destruction when it was used as torture centre; the construction of a sculpture as a monument in memory of the victims; or the re-semanticization of the villa as a park, retaining the few traces left after its demolition.6 After years of discussions the third option was eventually adopted. This marks another important difference with what happened at Tuol Sleng and Nanjing, as in many other places of memory in the world, where the initiative of transforming a trauma site into a museum, or to construct a grand memorial as in Nanjing, is entirely ascribable to the official policies of new governments that took direct charge of the running of places of memory seen as powerful instruments of political propaganda. In the Chilean case, the agency that guided the process was instead entirely constituted of social actors and base organizations, such as the relatives’ associations, NGOs and civil society. The very choice of name marks a profound distance between the two places: “Genocide Museum” in Tuol Sleng, “Peace Park” in Villa Grimaldi. The two different denominations imply a radical shift in the categorization of the place according to a dual system of oppositions on two different semantic axes: the functional-spatial one (not museum but park) and the thematic one (not genocide but peace), thus suggesting a completely different reading of the place. Right from the very name, Villa Grimaldi seems to reject any form of externalization and exhibition of the trauma, redesigning the urban space and reaffirming the supremacy of the pleasant nature of a park over the horror of death. Despite the functional similarities with Tuol Sleng, the two places could not be more different, as are the roles they play both in the urban landscape in which they are embedded, and for the importance they assume with regard to the collective memories and the cultural identities of the respective countries.

6

For further discussion on this see Baxter (2005: 129) and Lazzara (2003: 131) who provide two slightly different versions of the debate.

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The past at a distance A decentred standpoint Whereas Tuol Sleng is situated in the most central area of Phnom Penh, spatially speaking Villa Grimaldi is a decentred place, in a suburban neighbourhood of Santiago, far from tourist routes and not very visible. Naturally, the position of these places had already been decided when they were chosen for use as prisons, nonetheless their physical location came to play an important role if considered in relation to the urban landscape as a whole. While Tuol Sleng is a place that is fundamental for the city and its selfrepresentation, the Villa Grimaldi Peace Park seems marginal and almost hidden in relation to Santiago. Unlike the other sites in the capital, such as the Cementerio General or the Puente Bulnes memorial, not only is it far from the city centre but it is also not very well known and rather difficult to find. In the overall urban panorama of Santiago today, the marginality of Villa Grimaldi lies not only in its material location, but also its scant renown, which leads to an objective difficulty in getting there. Although it is on a bus route, when I went there I could not find a taxi driver who knew the place and even the local people seemed to know little about it and were not always aware of its position and its history. The marginalization of the place in tourist guides is also significant, and most of them do not mention it at all or make only a passing mention, certainly far from the symbolic importance of Tuol Sleng in relation to Phnom Penh today. In this case the tourist discourse is a warning light signalling a more generalized marginality within the overall cultural self-representation that Chilean society offers of its own past. In the three visits I made to Villa Grimaldi over three years there were practically no visitors, only a few young couples and some youngsters, in open contrast with the hundreds of international tourists and Cambodian school parties you come across in Tuol Sleng. Even more important is the way in which temporality is embedded in the two sites. In the case of Villa Grimaldi, the decision to open a park instead of a museum of crime implies a distance and imposes a gap between the act of remembering and the memory that is the object of that act, in other terms

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between enunciation and enunciate. Separating the living memory from its object, that is to say the atrocities committed, also means a precise choice with regard to the politics of memory and the representation of trauma. In Tuol Sleng, as we have seen, we are in the presence of a constant effort to re-actualize the past, re-presenting the horror through the exact and obsessive maintenance of every detail of the time when torture and death permeated the place. Through this device the site aims to neutralize the gap between past and present and visitors are to some extent obliged to re-enact the past in a kind of ideal temporal continuity that annuls all attempts to distance oneself from that same past. In Villa Grimaldi a different strategy is at work: visitors find themselves in a pleasant, tranquil park that bears practically no sign of the atrocities once committed there, definitively removed into the past. The present has no elements of contiguity with what has been: the act of remembering is collocated in a time that is radically different from the object of the memory and the two temporalities are separated by an unbridgeable gap. All forms of re-presentation of the trauma and of pathemic reactivation are precluded by a choice that is both aesthetic and political. The aspectual dimension is also highly differentiated: the Peace Park is characterized by a terminative aspect: visitors look at a past that is presented as having ended some time ago and that has no degree of continuity with the present, whereas in the case of Tuol Sleng a durative aspect is prevalent, the past is actualized as a continuity that shows itself to us in an endless present. The structure of the site Before discussing the overall meaning effects of a place such as Villa Grimaldi, it is necessary to analyse its structure in detail. The first thing we can observe about the park is its openness, the sense of space it gives off, merging in the distance with the horizon of the Andes, in an imaginary contrast with the closure that characterized the previous use of the villa as a place of detention. The park is a green and pleasant place, full of flowers and mosaics, which transmits no sense of a traumatic past, nor does it bear direct witness to the many horrendous crimes committed there.

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Figure 5.1:  A view of the Peace Park.

Figure 5.2:  A view of the Peace Park.

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Figure 5.3:  The mosaics in the park.

Referring to this particular form of spatialization, Nelly Richard (2001: 254) wonders about the relation between the current openness of the park and the claustrophobic experience of the detainees who, bound and blindfolded, were imprisoned in tiny cells. According to Richard, the openness constitutes a distancing device that produces an effect of remoteness from the traumatic experience of the past: The geometry and the homogeneous spatiality of Villa Grimaldi converts into an ordered field of vision that was once a tormented weave of experience, disembodying living matter of memory. (Richard 2001: 255)

The park is laid out in the form of a cross, with a fountain in the central point of juncture between the two arms; the symbolism of the cross can be interpreted in a religious sense, like an allusion to a “symbolic place of reconciliation” (Lazzara 2003: 121). According to Gómez-Barris other interpretations are possible, thinking of the history of the dictatorship and the Chilean resistance.

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Meaningfully, the cross summons the slogan “Nunca +”, meaning “Never again” or “No more” that was popularly used by the human rights movement during the military dictatorship. (Gomez-Barris 2009: 62)

Nevertheless, the ordinary visitor is unlikely to spot this hidden significance in the absence of more specific information. Among the few signs still visible of the past there is an empty swimming pool that during the dictatorship was used to torture detainees (but at weekends the guards and their families swam in it) and a small reconstructed wooden tower that reproduces the old water tank used as a prison. In each of these places mosaic plaques on the ground illustrate the function of the places. Piscina: lugar de amedrentamiento [Swimming pool: An intimidating place] La torre: lugar de soledad, tortura y exterminio [The tower: A place of solitude, torture and extermination]. The mosaics are composed of pieces of the tiles from the bathrooms of the old villa where the prisoners were tortured (Figure 5.4).

Figure 5.4:  The mosaic inscriptions.

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These tiles were probably very meaningful for the detainees since, being blindfolded, the floor of the rooms in which they were shut up were the only thing they could see and remember of their prison (Lazzara 2003: 134). Other signs of the past are traceable in the rose garden (Jardin de las rosas) where every rose bears, painted on a little terracotta plaque, the name of one of the women detainees who was killed or who disappeared in Villa Grimaldi (Figure 5.5).

Figure 5.5:  The rose garden.

Victims by category We shall return shortly to the rhetoric that characterizes the rose garden, fiercely criticized by many scholars. For the time being I should like to observe how the garden is indicative of a particular modality in the remembrance of the victims, which seems to proceed by the fragmentation of

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categories of different victims: women, in the rose garden; the militants with various political groups, elsewhere. It is as if in the park two diverse modalities of memory coexist, in tension between them. On the one hand, there is the effort to construct a common memory that holds for all victims without distinction and independently of their specific political militancy and gender, as represented by the wall where the names of the 226 victims are engraved, which closes off one end of the park (Figure 5.6).

Figure 5.6:  The wall with the names of the victims.

On the other hand, there remains the will to keep separate the memory of the “different” dead by distinguishing their diverse political allegiances. In another corner of the park, near the swimming pool and the point where the central building of the villa stood, three distinct monuments have been erected, each one dedicated to one of the three principal political groups to which the victims belonged: the Chilean Communist Party, the MIR and the MAPU (Figures 5.7, 5.8 and 5.9, respectively).

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Figure 5.7:  The monument to the victims from the Chilean Communist Party.

Figure 5.8:  The monument to the victims from the MIR.

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Figure 5.9:  The monument to the victims from the MAPU.

The three separate monuments are indicative of a tendency to parcel up the memory that does not manage to become a common memory shared by an entire collectivity, but remains as a memory of different sub-communities, which stress and symbolically assert their diverse identitary affiliations. We might say that there is a lingering tension between a generalized collective memory, which thinks of victims as an integral whole, and a memory broken up into individual groups of actors, in the form of different partitive totalities that keep up a separate existence. An open signification It is not easy to derive a unitary conclusion from the analysis of the Villa Grimaldi Peace Park. Two aspects seem most debatable, and criticized by many: the overall aesthetics of the site and a general difficulty in “reading” and interpreting it.

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Nelly Richard (2001) is among the most critical commentators with regard to the layout of the park, especially the “aesthetic” use of the villa’s tiles to compose decorative mosaics with the same materials that were part of the rooms where prisoners were tortured and killed. According to Richard we are in the presence of a disturbing contrast and discrepancy between that which, semiotically, we might define as the plane of Expression and the plane of Content. The categories of one level seem to be in strong contrast with those of the other level, almost in a paradoxical semi-symbolism of the opposing sign.7 The result does not succeed in capturing the “dissolution of the semantic and referential world of the victims, reduced to silence, stammering and trembling on account of the methodical procedures for the eradication of consciousness” (Richard 2001: 255). The same happens, according to Richard, in the rose garden, where the conventionally poetic effect of the roses results in a rhetoric of femininity in sharp contrast with the memory of the abominable sexual abuses suffered by female detainees in the villa. Analogous considerations have also been made by Lazzara (2003: 134) who objects to the “aesthetics of embellishment and smoothing” pursued in the park, maintaining the impossibility of inserting horror in the category of “beauty”. The second criticism is connected with what we can consider as a general “lack of sense” or, perhaps, more correctly, “sense of lack” that seems to pervade the entire site. Visitors find themselves looking at a pleasant but uncharacterized garden, without any internal route or directions that help to “read” the space. Little specific information is supplied to help contextualize the history and the narrative of the place. It is significant that the sole available guide to the park, on the three occasions I visited it, is in English, written by Pedro Alejandro Matta (2000), a former detainee in Villa Grimaldi who then became one of the most active promoters of the park. Perhaps the logic underlying this choice 7

In semiotics, the phenomenon of correlation between an entire category of expression and a corresponding entire category of content is defined as semi-symbolism. For example, in representations of a religious nature, on the plane of expression, the spatial opposition high/low corresponds semi-symbolically to that between the celestial world (saints, angels, god) and the earthly world.

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lies in the conviction that the local community is already intimately familiar with this place and has no need of the type of documentation necessary for a less informed international public. This may also be the case, but certainly the “living memory” embodied in this and similar places is destined to dissolve slowly as the witnesses die off and the era of post-memory (Hirsch 1997) arrives. The generation of young Chileans who are twenty today has had no direct experience of the dictatorship and it is perfectly possible that they know very little of that past. We shall see shortly how in more recent times responses to this crucial problem have been worked out. Faced with these and similar criticisms, we must however observe that other, more “benevolent” readings are possible. For example, according to Gómez-Barris, the Peace Park brackets the experiences at Villa Grimaldi as those of trauma, loss, and victimhood. That is, rather than highlight the national issue of domination, resistance, revolution, and counterrevolution that was at stake at Villa Grimaldi, the architectural elements of the park are framed in this limited understanding of the multifaceted history that the place represents, presenting an important, albeit ultimately limited, view of the past. (Gómez-Barris 2009: 66)

From this standpoint one could maintain that the decision to move away from any form of realistic representation, or re-presentation, of horror and atrocity is a political decision against representation and its rhetoric, a conscious distancing from the aesthetics of museums of memory. Depending on which of these two interpretive lines you adopt, different conclusions will be reached, indeed almost opposite ones, interpreting the park respectively as a successful attempt to redraw the landscape of traumatic memory or instead as a symbolic monument to the contradictions of Chilean society. For Gómez-Barris “despite the complexities of the representation and memory, the Peace Park constructs an alternative public sphere that is enhanced and made salient through spaces of reflection and architectural design” (Gómez-Barris 2009: 70). For Meade on the contrary “Considering its horrific past, today the well-tended park is itself a contradiction”, a place where children and adolescents meet up in the late afternoons to play or chat, but where “it is unclear how much the park’s young visitors understand the history commemorated here” (Meade 2001: 132).

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Such diversity of interpretations introduces a series of questions and so there is no simple, univocal answer: is it possible to maintain and keep the memory of past atrocities by distancing ourselves from all direct forms of representation of those same atrocities and any explicit aesthetic of the “realism of horror”? Can the Peace Park be seen as a place of “reconciled” memories or is it doomed to become a place of forgetting? One possible answer to these questions could perhaps lie in the multiple readings, uses and practices that the park seems to make possible. Survivors and the relatives of victims can come here to commemorate and remember just as kids can use the park to play football. From this point of view the openness that characterizes the spaces of the park could become a metaphor for an open, non-univocal reading of the “sense of the place”. The Peace Park is not intended to arouse in visitors the almost unbearable emotions that Tuol Sleng or other memorials of that type produce; on the contrary it constructs a space of distance from the past and its horrors, and in this it can run the risk of being perceived as a space of indeterminacy and contradiction. This is no accident. In this specific aspect the park reflects the complexity of Chile’s transition to democracy: in the early years after the end of the dictatorship there was a widespread fear that an overly direct representation of Pinochet’s crimes might destabilize a democracy that was still very fragile, as many scholars have emphasized. Such worries are certainly not extraneous to the decisions that led to the transformation of Villa Grimaldi into the Peace Park. The difficulties and ambiguities of this process are clearly visible in the urban landscape of the Chilean capital itself: it suffices to think that one of the most important streets in the centre of Santiago was still called, until recently, Avenida 11 Septiembre in commemoration of Pinochet’s coup of 11 September 1973. For many years, the various attempts that followed one another from 1990 onwards on the part of the democratic parties that wished to change the name of the street have failed owing to the opposition of the right-wing administration of Santiago’s central districts, which enjoys the support of a good number of citizens. Tuol Sleng and the Villa Grimaldi Peace Park represent two different, if not opposed, answers to the same question: how do you create and transmit the sense of a shared memory in a country that has still failed to

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fully come to terms with its own traumatic past? The Cambodia museum, through its remorseless and almost disturbing condemnation of what happened there, strongly emphasizes the emotional components inscribed within the indexical nature of the site, whereas the Peace Park neutralizes and keeps those same elements at a distance. The two sites, and to certain extent the Nanjing site, too, can thus be read against the background of two different policies of memory and representation: while places such as Tuol Sleng or Nanjing aim at reconstructing a univocal national identity through the staging of the horrors of the past, Villa Grimaldi precludes the very possibility of reconstructing such a unified identitary representation, thereby opening itself to many diverse and almost contradictory interpretations. But Villa Grimaldi is no longer, today, the sole and exclusive place of Chilean memory and an interpretation of the memorial processes of that country must take into account a more varied and composite panorama.

Memories and post-memories: The two stages of Chilean memory For many years the Villa Grimaldi park was one of Chile’s very few memorials in the proper sense of the term, almost the only place delegated to the conservation and memory of the crimes of the Pinochet dictatorship, apart from the monument to the victims in Santiago’s Cementerio General. In the last few years, however, the situation has changed a lot, also starting from the effort and political attention that Michelle Bachelet’s government has devoted to the memory of the past. It was her government that built the great Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago, inaugurated on 11 January 2010 by Bachelet herself. Nevertheless, the attention of a left-wing government, whose leader had been imprisoned and tortured in Villa Grimaldi and was the daughter of one of the very few generals who remained loyal to the legitimate Allende government, is not the sole reason for this change. In reality what is underway in Chile,

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but the phenomenon holds partly for Argentina, too, is a renewed interest in the years of the dictatorship that has led to an in-depth revisitation of the past. The main actors in this movement are the children of the persecuted (and the persecutors) of those days, the generation of today’s thirty-forty-year-olds. As we have said, today we talk of post-memory to indicate the memory of the generation after the one directly involved in the experience of a collective trauma, with reference above all to the trauma of the Shoa (Hirsch 1997, 2008). The generational changeover, together with the deaths of the direct witnesses, involves a profound transformation on the memorial and cognitive levels: direct knowledge based on personal experience is steadily replaced by a more mediated form of knowledge, which becomes history or, sometimes, myth. From a semiotic standpoint, the notion of post-memory is certainly not exempt from many ambiguities. Post-memory is characterized as the memory of the “generation following” the trauma, but the positionings that characterize the individuals in both the generations in question and the modalities of signifying these positionings can be many and various. The idea of a “direct” experience of traumatic events can pose a few problems if it is extended beyond the confined and tragic sphere of the concentrationcamp universe. Who had “direct experience” of 9/11? Only the New Yorkers who were there and actually saw the attack, or all those who were exposed to it through the mediation of television and other media? And if this is the case, in what way will the post-memory of a successive generation, who will see the same images and the same film clips, really be any different? Is it perhaps the sharing of the same time, being co-present on the temporal plane that creates an experiential community? Perhaps the concept should be further refined from a semiotic standpoint,8 but it is still useful because

8

From a semiotic perspective the problem is precisely the idea of a possible direct knowledge based on a presumed experience without any mediation. Since experience is always the result of forms of semiotic mediation the question of “direct” experience appears more complex than it did at first sight, especially if we consider the mediation of the media that today characterizes much of our experience.

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the transmission of memories obviously requires specific forms of semiotic mediation, all of which are to be questioned. To return to the Chilean question, the new interest that today seems to run through at least a significant part of society in relation to its own traumatic past has led, starting from 2007, to the opening of very many new sites and small museums, all of which were originally places of torture and detention run by the junta. As I mentioned, there can be various reasons for this renewed attention, from the changed political climate to the interest of the new generations, from the complex dynamics of the post-memory of those same new generations to the emergence of a past repressed even by those who were directly involved. But what is in play in these sites is not only the rediscovery and reinterpretation of the past. As far as concerns the recovery and the conservation of places of memory, in Chile the post-memory of the generation after the dictatorship has encountered in some interesting and original ways the generation of their fathers, now sixty years old or more. I shall briefly analyse three of these new sites, significant not so much and not only in themselves but for their novel interaction with new collective practices of memorialization, directed at a social use of public spaces that, starting from the memory of the past, also addresses new social actors. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of these places is the superimposition of recovery of past memory and active presence in a modified present context. In this way the temporal dimensions of the past, the present and the future are replayed according to a logic that is at least partly innovative with respect to the strict museal conservation that often characterizes trauma sites. Londres 38 As I said at the beginning, for the most part the torture centres operated by the military junta were anonymous locales not recognizable as military spaces: not barracks therefore, but civilian homes, apartments and detached houses located in the most diverse areas of Santiago, from the centre to the farthest outskirts. These were secret places that could easily pass unobserved

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and were easy to “clean up” at the end of the dictatorship, so as to conceal all traces and make their identification very difficult. Exemplary in this sense is the story of Londres 38, a high class apartment in the centre of Santiago, in a very elegant neighbourhood, which took its name from the number and the street where it stood. Until 1998 the apartment was owned by the military, who had all the time they needed to erase the traces of the atrocities committed therein. Victims were taken here blindfolded and hidden in civilian cars, almost always at night, in such a way that any witnesses would not see anything unusual. In this place many very young people, mostly students at the nearby university, were tortured and killed. In 2005 Londres 38 was declared a national monument, but only in 2007 was it acquired by the Chilean state. Open to the public as from the end of 2010 with limited hours, the site is now privately run by an association of survivors and relatives of the victims, with a small public contribution. I shall return to the role played by private associations in the maintenance and transmission of Chile’s traumatic memory; we have already seen in the case of Villa Grimaldi how the agency for the transformation and opening of the site to the public has been entirely in their hands. In the case of Londres 38, as in the other small sites that have gradually been opened in Chile in recent years, the associations of survivors or relatives of the victims are the ones who have played the role of the ideal addresser that sees to the conservation and transmission of memory, a particularly delicate and easily effaceable object of value. Outside the site, the sole visible signs of the past are a few small slabs set into the paving in front of the house; they bear the name and the age of each of the victims who met their deaths in Londres 38 (Figures 5.10 and 5.11).

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Figure 5.10:  The pavement in front of Londres 38 with its “stumbling stones”.

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Figure 5.11:  The pavement, detail of the “stumbling stones”.

This is a reprise of the so-called “stumbling stones” (Stolpersteine) invented by the German artist Gunter Demnig in 1993 to commemorate the victims of Nazism and installed for the first time in Cologne two years later. The interior of an anonymous apartment, practically empty apart from the association’s offices which have been left as they were in an attempt to highlight the very few traces left by the military (Figures 5.12, 5.13 and 5.14).

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Figure 5.12:  Londres 38, the entry.

Figure 5.13:  Londres 38, the offices.

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Figure 5.14:  Londres 38, detail of gunshots.

Few material elements here can operate as activators of memory; the resemanticization of this anonymous apartment as a trauma site has in fact

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required some rewriting, such as the insertion of the small Stolpersteine as memory devices outside the entry. The need to rewrite significant elements that may serve as triggers of isotopies of memory is also a recurrent element in other sites similar to Londres, especially in the Casa Memoria José Domingo Cañas. The Casa Memoria José Domingo Cañas In this case, too, we are faced with a place, namely a small working-class house in Santiago’s biggest suburb, which, after being used as a centre for detention and torture, was completely demolished by the military. In Figure 5.15 you can see how the house used to be.

Figure 5.15:  Casa Cañas before its demolition.

In this case, in order to highlight and emphasize the few remaining traces, the plan of the house, the outer walls and the division into rooms were reconstructed,

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marking significant points with illustrative texts, in a kind of archaeological memorial dig (Figures 5.16 and 5.17). The entire reconstructed area is delimited and marked by a sort of monument made of tall metal poles (Figure 5.18).

Figure 5.16:  The remains of Casa Cañas, detail.

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Figure 5.17:  The remains of Casa Cañas, detail.

Figure 5.18:  The monument at the entry to Casa Cañas.

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The dig is the trace of the past place, resignified by the denomination that has been ascribed to it through the texts; these re-semanticize the trace as a function of the “archaeological” reading of the site. The explicit analogy with an archaeological sort of re-presentation of the elements-traces functions as the mark of a temporality deliberately kept distant and concluded. From an aspectual standpoint, in this first section the site appears under a terminative and closed aspect, referring to a temporality frozen in its past. As far as the modality of signification is concerned, unlike what happened in the Villa Grimaldi Peace Park, here there is a strong insistence on the indexical component, on the recovery and the highlighting of the elements of the past, even if partly reconstructed, and then on the trace insofar as it is a guarantee of continuity over time. Many aspects differentiate a place like Casa Cañas from Villa Grimaldi, expressing an opposition between the aesthetics and politics of memory that are very far from each other.

Figure 5.19:  Mural in Casa Cañas.

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Where Villa Grimaldi distanced and attenuated the deictic nexus with the traumatic past by neutralizing its traces, Casa Cañas emphasizes it through what I would define as a “rhetoric of the trace”. This rhetoric is accompanied by the choice of a highly realistic figurativity, based on vaguely naïf representations, as in the murals painted on the internal walls of the site (Figure 5.19), worlds apart from the decorative abstraction of the mosaics of the Peace Park. But Casa Cañas also has another aspect, in many ways surprisingly different and almost opposite. In reality the site is made up of two connected but independent parts which unfold in accordance with a topological orientation of anteriority (exterior) versus posteriority (interior). In the rear part of Casa Cañas a small building has been constructed that serves as a social and cultural centre for debates, shows and various kinds of initiatives. The styles and the functions of the two “souls” of the site are both different: the front part seems to constitute a monument to the past, according to aesthetic canons characterized by a marked realism, especially in the murals painted on the interior walls (see Figure 5.19) and a recovery of the spatial indexicality; whereas the back part is entirely oriented towards the present and the future, to a work of connection and a social network open to the community, and it has a wholly different spatial and stylistic organization (Figures 5.20 and 5.21). In this second section, especially in the public space dedicated to social events, shows and debates we find an elegant and highly abstract organization of the spaces, which is redolent of a vaguely Japanese minimalism. The stylistic contrast between the two parts of the Casa de la Memoria seems to prompt a semi-symbolic reading, in which the past is strongly anchored to an indexical and rather coarsely realist expressivity, whereas the space dedicated to the present and the activities underway is expressed in more sophisticated and abstract forms.

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Figure 5.20:  The space behind Casa Cañas.

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Figure 5.21:  The space behind Casa Cañas.

Nido 20 Finally a brief mention of a third new site, smaller and more marginal than the others, but one that confirms the trends already seen in Londres and Casa Cañas, proof of how the recovery of these places and the overall sense that runs through them is transversal. Nido 20 is a small detached house of modest dimensions and appearance, located in the outer suburbs of Santiago in the La Cisterna neighbourhood, a poor area that grew up around major through roads where warehouses and industrial estates alternate with residential areas comprised of small single-family detached houses (Figure 5.22).

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Figure 5.22:  Nido 20, exterior.

This site, too, was opened recently: it was recovered by the association of relatives of victims and survivors of Nido 20 only in 2006, after having been for many years the headquarters of an association of laryngectomy patients, hence wholly extraneous to all links with the past dictatorship. The place was recovered thanks to a lengthy battle waged by the survivors’ committee who wanted to get possession of it in order to conserve it as a place of historic memory but also as a social centre. Nido 20 has very few of the characteristics of trauma sites proper: very far from the city centre, it is not marked in any guide book and is practically impossible to find; it is often closed and gives no indication of opening hours, so that visiting it requires a good deal of determination. Determination that is not really justified, moreover, because there is practically nothing to see in the little house. The main room is an anonymous little living room with a big portrait of General Bachelet, who was a detainee here for a brief period. When I went there, we were welcomed with great enthusiasm by two likeable elderly representatives of the association

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of survivors who had been imprisoned in these very rooms. Unsurprisingly, we were the first two foreigners to set foot there. But it is interesting to observe how also in this place, albeit on a poorer, more limited scale, we found the same indexical focalization on the trace that we have already mentioned in relation to Casa Cañas. The few traces that refer to the tragic past have been obsessively conserved: a wooden beam to which prisoners were tied and a cupboard in which they were closed up and in whose interior a cardboard cut-out has been placed to illustrate its use (Figure 5.23).

Figure 5.23:  The interior of a cupboard in Nido 20.

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The few exhibits remaining from the dark years of the dictatorship have been placed in rooms that today have a completely different use and serve as offices, given that Nido 20 is above all a social centre that is locally active both as a cultural centre for the Mapuche community and as an activity centre for middle-school students aimed at keeping the memory of the past dictatorship alive. It may also be interesting to note that in Nido 20, as we have already seen in Casa Cañas, the part dedicated to the social centre activities, aimed at the local community, is in a section of the site located behind the house in accordance with a topological organization of anteriority and posteriority similar to that of Casa Cañas. Here, too, the façade of the house, and the part of the site facing the exterior, are allotted to the memory and conservation of the past, while the rear and the interior of the site perform the functions of a social centre and activities aimed at the external community, in a sort of spatio-temporal chiasmus. Beyond the trace What general conclusions can we draw from these specific analyses? First of all it is worth underlining the difference between these trauma sites and any museum of memory proper, such as the great Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago. I am unable here to go further into an analysis of the museum, which lies beyond the scope of this research, but a first observation is necessary. As I have already emphasized, museums in the traditional sense are characterized by a container/content dynamic that can take on different values, but always lingers as significative tension; in the case of new museums, too, where the container often prevails over the content, there is always a specific content that in the final analysis constitutes the museum’s raison d’être. In the Chilean sites we have examined there is no longer any content: nothing remains to be conserved, kept and transmitted; no object and no trace of past existences. The places have been emptied and often used for years by other associations and groups with different aims. Not only this. At least in some of these places (Villa Grimaldi and Casa Cañas) not even the container exists anymore because the entire place has been demolished

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and at most we can see the perimetrical archaeological traces, as in Casa Cañas, where the setting is a sign of itself. The only thing that remains is therefore what we know about these places, their indexical connections with the past event, by now totally emptied of all material and purely ideal remains, abstract traces of its own past. As I already discussed in Chapter 2, the place acquires a value only when it is recognized and semioticized as such: its commemorative capacity does not rest on any factual naturalness but on a shared and diffused knowledge. It is only the knowledge that “this was the real place”, and the consequent transformation of the imprint into sign-trace, that produces signification. And it is only on the basis of this knowledge that a visit to these sites acquires meaning. Since by now there is nothing to see, you do not go to these places to see, but to be there, to have an experience of the place in itself, something very similar to a form of pilgrimage that is at once both ritual and testimonial. A pilgrimage that often acquires the characteristics of a test, given the difficulty of getting to these sites. Visiting them is not so much an act of cognizance but of testimony. From this standpoint a particular importance is acquired by the private associations that run these places, especially the “custodians” who keep the sites open. Active members of the associations, these people almost always belong to the generation that was a victim of the dictatorship and survived it, and in many cases they were imprisoned and tortured in the very places they now look after. Highly motivated to keep alive the memory of a past in which they played a direct part and always ready to relate the life experiences and the history of an entire generation, they are authentic addressers who maintain and hand down the fundamental values of historical memory and guard the “sacred” places. The isotopy of the pilgrimage I suggested a little earlier finds in these figures a kind of lay ministrant of a rite that perpetuates itself in time. In these figures the dimension of the individual memory and that of the collective memory are welded together: the survivor witnesses become the interpreters of a past that is at the same time singular and common, and guarantee its transmission to future generations. It is no accident that the main activity of these social centres is centred on schools and young people.

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In conclusion, we can say that the Chilean memory today seems to be moving along a dual track, after the conclusion of the first phase immediately following the difficult transition to democracy. Starting from the middle of the first decade of the new century a new phase in memorial processes has begun, connected to the changes in the political order and the emergence of new generations not directly involved in the dictatorship. On the one hand we can trace a strong drive towards the recovery, conservation and commemoration of the past. This is a memory system, which should be understood as an integrated, connected whole. Together with the opening of an entire series of minor sites, such as the ones described here, we should also consider the operation, likewise begun a few years ago, of reopening mass graves with the consequent attribution of names to the anonymous victims buried therein. This has happened in many localities scattered all over Chile, and also in the large Cementerio General in Santiago with the transformation into a monument of Patio 29, an area in the cemetery where many victims have been buried, most of them slaughtered during the attack on La Moneda on 11 September 1973 and in the very first days of the dictatorship. Naturally, central to this memory system is the Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago, which I have already mentioned, inaugurated on 11 January 2010 by Prime Minister Bachelet. On the other hand, as I have pointed out, the new sites that are being opened in these last few years all seem to be characterized by a strong tendency to play a role in the current social reality and serve as a memorial only in part. Nido 21 is a local meeting place and one that is also involved in the diffusion of Mapuche culture; Londres 38, when I visited it in January 2011, housed a temporary exhibition on transsexuals, organized together with a local association. For over a month, the transsexuals occupied the centre and, as well as showing photographs and other materials, they transformed the site itself into a place for informal debate in which they informed visitors of their situation, their difficulties and the discrimination they suffered. New practices are therefore inserted into the memorial semantics of trauma sites, resignifying the spaces and introducing new themes, not necessarily connected with those of the dictatorship and that historical trauma. This strikes me as the most important innovation and the most interesting aspect of the “second phase” of the contemporary Chilean memory that

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tends to revitalize places of trauma by connecting them with customs and practices anchored more to the present than the past. We can certainly suggest an implicit connection between a fascist dictatorship and the repression of sexual behaviours considered to be deviant, but this remains an implicit and indirect connection, more ideal than historically given. In this way the current activities that take place in places of memory are emancipated from an overly restrictive reading of the past in a purely commemorative vein, to open up to new actors that may not have played any significant role in that past, either for reasons of age or for social position. These practices introduce a completely new nexus between the past and the memory of it and a different way of understanding the present, peopled by new social figures who are marginal by culture or gender positioning. Another example of the re-semanticization and reutilization of trauma sites, connected more in this case with themes of memory but capable of re-reading them in an innovative way, is the use of some of these sites as theatres and performance venues in the course of the International Theatre Festival held in Santiago in January 2011. Of extraordinary interest from many points of view was the staging of a most particular text: the play Villa by Guillermo Calderón, a young dramatist and theatre director of the new Chilean generation. The villa referred to in the title is in fact Villa Grimaldi, and the three protagonists of the play are the daughters of three women who were tortured and raped in Villa Grimaldi. The show was performed in the Peace Park, Londres 38 and Casa Cañas in the very places where detention and torture had taken place, and for a very restricted number of spectators. The interest of this and similar experiments consists mainly in calling into question the semiotic function of trauma sites, imagining their possible re-utilization – both dynamic and connected with the present – that makes it possible to go beyond the purely memorial reference to the past.

Chapter 6

The difficult memories of Latin American dictatorships: The case of Argentina

An invisible trauma As mentioned in Chapter 5, in many ways the case of Argentina is very similar to that of Chile. Between 1976 and 1983 this country, too, was dominated by a ferocious military dictatorship, headed by General Jorge Rafael Videla, and then by his successors, who set in motion throughout the country a programme of violent repression aimed at eliminating all political opposition and all forms of protest and dissidence. The dictatorship, euphemistically described by the generals as a Process of Popular Reorganization, which went down in history as the “dirty war” (guerra sucia), was characterized by the massive violation of human rights, the abduction of real or presumed opponents, imprisonment without trial and without evidence and, above all, by torture and murder on a large scale. Apart from 2,300 proven political murders, over 30,000 people, most young persons below thirty years of age, vanished without trace, creating the phenomenon of the desaparecidos. These people, most of whom were abducted at night, do not figure in police or military files. Hidden in secret places of detention, they were subjected to all forms of abuse, violence and torture and then thrown, drugged but still alive, into the ocean so that their bodies were never found. As in Chile, but with even larger numerical proportions, places of detention and torture were scattered all over the country in anonymous apartments or hidden in places normally deputed to other functions, such as hospitals, factories, schools or barracks: in Buenos Aires alone over 200 such places have

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been identified, as documented by Memoria Abierta,1 but every Argentinean city held numerous clandestine centres for detention and torture. It was an authentically diffuse system, even more structured and pervasive than the Chilean one, which obliged post-dictatorship Argentinean society to think deeply about the possible use of such places, about their recovery and function in a new democratic society. Perhaps more than any other country that had emerged from a bloody dictatorship, post-conflict Argentina asked itself all the questions that demanded public attention in such cases: how can a divided and conflicted society come to terms with a past that is still contested? What should the trauma sites become? Can they be normal museums or are they something different, places of commemoration and mourning? Should they be conserved and sacralized by keeping them exactly as they were, and even by reconstructing their topography of terror, or should they be transformed to serve other functions and practices of an artistic, social and political nature? What subjects and what social actors should be involved in the process? Local government, the State or other public agencies? Or perhaps the civil associations and the NGOs? Are the victims the only ones authorized to decide on these issues, or should the process include far broader sections of society? Each of these options involves some very precise decisions both in relation to the conservation and restoration of the spaces and to a politics of memory and representation. As in Chile, also in Argentina at the end of the dictatorship, in the vast majority of cases, almost nothing remained of these places of detention to bear witness to the horror that occurred there; only the a posteriori attribution of a knowledge of those places transformed them from anonymous places to trauma sites, memorials and places elected for the conservation of the traumatic memory. In these places, therefore, what is in play is not so much an operation of material restoration as the reconstruction of a knowledge and a discourse that constitute the very conditions of representability and narrability of memory, a semiotic marking that attributes a signification to the place, symbolically restoring the indexical connection with the event. For these reasons the task of mapping and cataloguing the 1

Cf. The wealth of documentation found in the already mentioned Memoria de la ciudad 2009, edited by the group Memoria Abierta.

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places carried out by groups such as Memoria Abierta acquires such important value: in reconstructing the territorial map of the places of horror, the history and symbolic value of these places are re-signified. This operation saves them from obliteration and oblivion and, independently of their material status, it restores their function as symbolic testimony to the past. Hence two tasks face the nascent democracy: to reconstruct the narrative fabric of places of memory, by resignifying them, but even before that by making them visible and recognizable. The Argentinean dictatorship, as often happens with military dictatorships, operated in accordance with a regime of invisibility aimed at wiping out all traces, from the concealment of places of detention to the disappearance of prisoners, who became desaparecidos well before the physical obliteration of their bodies. As soon as detainees were arrested, the soldiers eliminated their names and “traceability”: those who were arrested, usually abducted by night, literally disappeared without a trace; prisoners’ names did not figure in any records and they ceased to exist as legal entities. The track of their existences, the traceability of a path and therefore a record of the arrest, did not exist. Before the prisoner’s physical body, therefore, they first obliterated his legal and nominal identity, which was rendered literally untraceable and hence invisible. Finally, the last and most atrocious act in this strategy of invisibility consisted in taking new-born babies from prisoners who were pregnant at the moment of arrest and handing them over to military families. In this way not only the life and identity of the victims were wiped out, but also their existence in the future memory of the generation of children. By depriving victims of generational transmission, their children were deprived of a family genealogy, altering and distorting the rhythm of generational memory and post-memory.2 Of course, from this standpoint there are similarities with Chile, although the Argentinean case seems even more terrible, both for its quantitative dimension, over 30,000 victims, and for the awful practice of taking away babies – it has been calculated that over 500 babies were made to disappear, but, alas, the figure is only an approximation. But there is also a significant difference, which marks an important peculiarity: in Argentina, unlike Chile, there is an almost total lack of images and any kind of visual index regarding

2

For a discussion of these aspects of the Argentinean dictatorship, see Violi 2014.

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the coup. The Chilean dictatorship began with an event of maximum visual impact, which marked a break and a violent discontinuity with the previous situation, which can be precisely pinpointed in time. On 11 September 1973 the army, under the leadership of General Pinochet, overturned with a coup d’état the regularly elected government of Salvador Allende and after a ferocious bombardment took over the government building, La Moneda, in the centre of Santiago. The images of that attack went right round the world, they were broadcast by all television networks and were impressed on the collective memory – and not only of Chile – and eventually became an important visual archive of that dictatorship. It is no accident that the great Museum of Memory, established by Michelle Bachelet during her term in office and inaugurated in 2010, devotes the entire ground floor to images of the Moneda under bombardment, the first deaths, Allende with his helmet and rifle, the foremost militant symbol of the Chilean people’s resistance. So in Chile we have an archive of images regarding the dictatorship, a visual repertoire of great impact and power. And above all the coup has semiotic visibility, a series of very powerful images that mark the radical temporal discontinuity between the before and the after; the punctual nature of the event is therefore dramatically emphasized and acquires an almost mythical dimension, with the epic struggle, the battle, the shelling, the bombing and finally the heroic sacrifice, made even more emblematic by Allende’s unassuming and rather unheroic appearance in his helmet and rifle. Nothing of this kind exists in Argentina, where the military dictatorship took power in a less visible, creeping way: the coup of 1976 had been in preparation at least since the previous year and was carefully planned so as to silence and neutralize domestic opposition. There are no symbolic images of the brutal discontinuity imposed by the army; “obliteration” and subsequent invisibility seem to be the main keys to an understanding of the semiotic strategy of control and domination set in motion by the military junta. Faced with this “image void” that is also the lack of a shared iconosphere, post-conflict Argentinean society found itself having to recover and reconstruct its own past in a visual sense, too. It was to do this by utilizing the photos of the young men and women who disappeared during the dictatorship, which cover the walls of public buildings, schools and universities to become visual icons that record and signify the past (Figures 6.1 and 6.2).

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Figure 6.1:  Photos of the disappeared at the entrance to the ESMA.

Figure 6.2:  Photos of the disappeared at the Faculty of Architecture.

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And it was also to do this by transforming the trauma into a traumatic heritage, a heritage around which different subjects, communities and social actors question themselves, confront one another and occasionally clash, claiming different interpretations and alternative uses. Like all heritages, traumatic ones also involve the idea of a “property”, albeit a highly particular one, and raise certain questions. Which social figures are authorized to manage and pass on such a heritage? Who holds the moral and historical inheritance? In other words, above all, to whom does the “right to memory” belong? The debate that has grown up in Argentina in relation to the use of what is arguably one of the most significant places of the military dictatorship, namely the Escuela Superior de Mecánica de la Armada (ESMA) in Buenos Aires, is from this point of view extremely important for a comparison of the diverse options that have been considered, each one the bearer of a different instance of destination as well as a different view of memory and trauma.

The ESMA site During the years of the military dictatorship, the ESMA naval academy, built between 1924 and 1926, became one of the most important clandestine centres for the detention, torture and death of opponents, political activists and their families. It has been calculated that between 1976 and 1983 over 5,000 prisoners were detained in the ESMA, of whom 90 per cent were murdered. This was the departure point of the aeroplanes from which prisoners, drugged but alive, were thrown into the ocean. The ESMA covers an enormous area, about 17 acres, and contains numerous buildings with a similar architectural structure, typical of military buildings of the first decades of the last century, set a good distance from one another and separated by wide avenues and green spaces. Figure 6.4 shows a plan of the complex.

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Figure 6.3:  The main façade of the ESMA.

Figure 6.4:  Plan of the complex.

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Inside the ESMA complex there were the cadets’ barracks, offices and services, gymnasia and parade grounds as well as the officers’ mess and quarters (Casino de los oficiales). The officers’ quarters were used as a place of detention: detainees were kept locked up, handcuffed and blindfolded on the third floor where, as well as the cells, there were also two rooms for torture. As from 1977 other torture rooms were set up in the basement, where the photographic laboratory was also located: in point of fact, all detainees were photographed and filed on record the moment they entered the ESMA. After the end of the dictatorship, in 1983, the ESMA remained in the hands of the military for years; in 1998 the Menem government tried to demolish the entire area to build a park that was to have been an anonymous place dedicated to “national reunification”. The attempt failed thanks to the opposition of many organizations for civil rights and activists who criticized the project as an attempt to impose closure on a memorial process that was still largely underway. On the other hand, Menem’s proposal was part of the more general politics of forgetting the past promoted by the governments that came immediately after the dictatorship. In 1986 Raúl Alfonsin promulgated the “Full stop law” (Ley de Punto Final) which effectively overruled all previous sentences and the following year, 1987, the Law of Due Obedience (Ley de la Obediencia debida) which sanctioned the right of all military personnel who had followed the orders of a superior to be exempt from prosecution. A radical change came with the Kirchners, starting from 2003. First Nestor Kirchner (2003–2007), then his wife Cristina put “memory and justice” at the centre of their programme for government starting up a vast project for the recovery of places of memory. In this context the large spaces of the ESMA were ceded by the military and transferred to the local government of Buenos Aires in 2004. On 24 March 2004, the anniversary of the military coup, Nestor Kirchner, together with the head of local government, officially inaugurated the constitution of the ESMA as a place of memory; in his inaugural speech, in which he never referred to himself as president but always as a militant and political activist, the guiding role of the figure of the survivors in the memorialization process was made official perhaps for the first time. In fact, it was above all the survivors, the associations of relatives of the victims and the NGOs of civil rights activists that took part in the long debate that followed the cession of the military spaces in order to decide on

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the definitive form that the site should take, but the discussion was eagerly followed by Argentinean society as a whole, especially artists and intellectuals, with articles in numerous dailies and international conferences. The debate dragged on for many years and to this day its outcome is not yet definitive. Various issues were the cause of disagreement, all of which mainly concerned the extension, and consequently the function, of the site. To turn all of the enormous area of the ESMA into a museum or only the clandestine prison? To permit the presence of other military and government installations inside it or to strictly exclude any activity? And again, to focus solely on a memory site in the strict sense of the term, connected with the memory of that place of detention, or to admit other more committed social and artistic activities? Before examining in greater detail the terms of this debate and the positions adopted by the various subjects involved, let us see what form the ESMA complex has assumed today. We might say that the ESMA today is a non-univocal place of memory, a heterogeneous summation of many different elements and many different social actors and figures that refer to diverse political positions regarding the conservation and restoration of sites in their turn dependent on different ideas on what the memory of historical traumas should be and how they should be transmitted. It is perhaps in this open multiplicity of possible interpretations that we find the most interesting aspect of this site, but also, at the same time, what we might call its “semantic indeterminacy”. Today the ESMA includes the following spaces: The officers’ quarters where, on the third floor, as we have said, there was the prison proper, with little cells and torture rooms. In the basement there was space for other torture rooms and the photographic lab. Until the beginning of 2015 this area was conserved exactly as it was and could be seen only on special guided tours, even though in these rooms no trace remained of the horrors perpetrated there, with the exception of the chain marks on the internal staircase that connects the third floor and the cellars. In 2015 the place underwent restructuring that, while sticking faithfully to the original structure, enhanced it with many informational elements and multimedia devices. On 19 May 2015 it was inaugurated as Museo Sitio de Memoria, and to this day it is open to the public and also hosts exhibitions and a variety of events. An active part in the planning of the site was played by various

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associations of survivors who had been imprisoned n that place, and every decision regarding its restructuring was the result of participatory decisions. The remainder of the huge ESMA complex has been divided up as follows: – The Espacio cultural Nuestros Hijos (ECUNHI), run by the Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo, a multi-purpose centre for young people that organizes various artistic and cultural activities including a school of popular politics. – The Haroldo Conti cultural centre, part of the National Archive, which takes its name from the writer who disappeared during the regime; the centre also houses temporary exhibitions and a small theatre. – The Casa de la Militancia [The House of the Activists] is in what used to be the barracks gymnasium and is run by the organization of the children of the desaparecidos: H. I. J. O. S. (Hijos por la Identidad y la Justicia contro el Olvido y el Silencio [the Children for Identity and Justice against Forgetting and Silence]). In this space they hold seminars for the training of political and social activists. – The Archivio Nacional de la Memoria [National Archive of Memory], a government institution that conserves all the documentation from the period of the dictatorship and the results of the CONDEP commission, an archive still not open to the public for legal reasons, given that many trials involving those responsible for crimes in that period are still underway. – The space run by the Madres de Plaza de Mayo association – Linea Fundadora,3 the headquarters of a music school open to the public. – A cultural television channel, the Canal Encuentro. – A building that houses a UNESCO master’s programme in Human Rights.

3

In 1986 the Madres split into two separate groups: the Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo and the Madres de Plaza de Mayo-Linea Fundadora, the original group that began the movement. The split centred on the propriety or not of accepting the economic reparations for the loss of their children offered by President Alfonsin. One group, led by Hebe de Bonafini, rejected this offer and broke away from the original organization, which from then on took the name of Linea-Fundadora. The mothers who followed Hebe de Bonafini called themselves the Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo.

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– Other spaces assigned to various human rights associations. The multiple attribution of different spaces to different organizations and groups, with differing aims, objectives and political profiles, reflects paradigmatically a fragmented and not yet unified process of memorialization.

The politics of restoration and the politics of memory: A debate Memory between performative practices and museal instances A re-reading of the debate that developed as from 2004 emerges as significant. The same holds for the different actors involved in it, because in them we can also find – along with divergent ideas on the function and the role of traumatic memory – different options concerning the restoration and use of trauma sites in a complex urban context such as that of Buenos Aires. To simplify, we might say that two prevalent positions were in opposition to each other: on the one hand the option of strict conservation, with a view to leaving the memory of the past unchanged; on the other hand, instead, an alternative use of the space, more open and flexible, capable of involving different subjects and of transcending all forms of “sacralization of the victims”. To use Andermann’s (2012) terms we might define these two positions respectively as the testimonial option and the performative option: whereas the former considers the entire site to be an inalterable heritage that must be conserved unchanged, the latter is in favour of a completely different, alternative use of the site, with artistic practices and various kinds of political activities, oriented towards the future. As well as these two positions, according to Andermann, there is a third option, the museal option, differing from the testimonial one on account of its strong pedagogical vocation. The museal option demands above all the need for a work of contextualization and transformation open to new and different addressees, even including the military themselves.

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On a careful reading of the materials of the debate among all the actors involved,4 the picture seems even more varied: the performative option reveals differentiated positions within itself, some more oriented in a politico-militant sense towards the training of activists, such as those of the H. I. J. O. S. and their Casa de la Militancia, others leaning more towards recreational uses, such as the school of popular music run by Linea Fundadora or the television production channel; others again are composite, such as the multi-functional centre run by the Madres, which seems to be a combination of both of the previous positions, for example in the way they run their school of politics where young people are encouraged to get involved through social dinners with celebrities rather than through training seminars. On the more “conservative” side, we also go from testimonial options strictly dedicated to the transmission of the indexical and “referential” value of the place, to more composite museal forms, which in their turn lean both towards an artistic and cultural expositional calling, such as the Haroldo Conti centre, and a more pedagogical and critical inspiration, in the proposals of various associations and study centres. Not to forget the archive, a place of documental conservation par excellence. To make free use of the semiotic squares proposed by Floch (1986 and 1990) we might suggest the system of underlying semantical expressions in Figure 6.5. The positions of the various social actors are variously positioned in this square, occasionally occupying intermediate positions, too. Let us take a closer look at the proposals of the individual groups of protagonists. Subjective positioning and value systems Among the most tireless defenders of the performative idea of the site we must certainly number the Madres, who right from the start adopted a strongly anti-museal position, asserting the need for a radical transformation of the place and its uses in favour of a multi-functional centre for

4

For the entire debate, see Brodsky 2005.

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Referential

Utopian

(testimonial)

(militant)

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performative

museal

Critical

Ludic

(re exive)

(artistic) Figure 6.5:  Diagram of semantic relations.

young people. Their suggestion marked an explicit distancing between them and the organizations of victims and survivors and the museal idea they advocated. The opinion of the mothers is totally different from that of the other organizations. The best memory is the one that has to do with culture. This is why we ask you, Mr President, if there is a space, to give it to us to make a cultural centre in which youngsters from all over the country may have a place in which to show painting, sculpture, music, theatre, film, videos … everything that can inspire young people and give them a chance to make memory out of what happened in the past, and of what is happening now and will happen in the future. We do not want a museum where people go only once to see all that horror and then see it no more. […] Culture is full of life and never makes us encounter something that has to do with death. The white handkerchief is identified with life. Death is for the executioner, not us. (Brodsky 2005: 219)5 5

As is known, the Madres had adopted as a badge of recognition a white handkerchief, in the early days of their protests a child’s nappy, which later became the symbol of the protest movement throughout Argentina.

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Even clearer were the words of Hebe de Bonafini who, after having praised the idea of requisitioning the entire area from the military, had this to say in an interview: But we do not agree with the idea of a museum of horrors. Instead we ask the President to open here a school of popular art, where there is everything that has to do with culture and life, an expression of the past, the present, and the future, not connected to horror. […] I am not interested [in a museum of victims]. We are not victims, either them or us. […] Museums are associated with death, when all things end. And here, nothing has ended. Everything is beginning. We must speak to future generations of life, not death. (Brodsky 2005: 219)

The mothers strongly backed an option that was alternative to the one supported by other associations of victims and relatives, an option whereby memory is not the pure maintenance of the past but something that “has to do with culture” and strongly oriented towards the future. Not, therefore, a museum locked in the fixity of trauma, where people go in a sad ritual to visit the horror, but a house of culture, oriented towards life rather than the memory of death and wholly projected towards the future of the new generations. This marks the strong emergence of the values of life and future, while the past, with its legacy of death, is negatively polarized. In this axiological opposition even memory itself is no longer considered a value, if memory is too closely connected with the theme of death. It is worth remembering that one of the most successful slogans of the Madres’ movement was “Aparición con vida” (literally, “Appearance with life”) in order to oppose a memory of their desaparecido children that was centred solely on death. The association of the H. I. J. O. S. also rejected the purely museal logic, but on the basis of an underlying value system that was considerably different from that backed by the Madres, more oriented towards the political values of militant testimony than to culture, accentuating the continuity binding the present to the tragic past. For the Hijos, as for the Madres, memory cannot be the static fixity of the past: their proposal is that of a “Space for Memory” as opposed to the museum idea, whose static role in time and space is criticized along with its not very participatory nature. In their spaces the Hijos propose to realize an alternative idea of memory, but one, unlike that of the Madres, that is fundamentally anchored to the continuity of past and present:

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We do not want abstract, easy memory, but active memory, for all of society. Starting from the present, because memory, the reconstruction of memory is a living thing that cannot be abstracted from the present and its problems. It is from this point that we remember and forget. Otherwise we risk turning memory into a corpse, withering it. […] The risk is denying history as a process and a social construction. (Brodsky 2005: 220)

It is precisely the strong connection claimed for the past-present axis, considered more important than that of the present-future, that makes the Hijos more open to the museum option, albeit interpreted dynamically. In fact, the Hijos recognize the necessity for some form of conservation of the places not only as an essential element of testimony that retains a trace of the past, but also, and perhaps at first above all, in relation to the recovery for forensic purposes of the objects and remains of the desaparecidos, the generation of their parents. It seems to be above all a request for truth and justice that drives the logic of conservation present in the proposals of the Hijos: It is very important to conserve the places that once served as clandestine detention centres, they can still provide concrete proof for the trials currently underway. So there must be a guaranteed initial phase of archaeological investigation, of forensic anthropology, if necessary. (Ibid.)

Upon the end of this first phase, which we may define as testimonial-documentary, the spaces of memory are seen above all as the valorization of political militancy, both the actual variety and that of the preceding generation. Not cultural centres, unlike the proposals supported by the Madres, but rather places for political debate, points where the narrative of the past and the active militancy of today come together, where a fundamental role is played by the testimony of the generation of the fathers, who the Hijos often did not have the time to know. It is interesting to observe how in the Hijos’ position we can glimpse concerns and value systems different from those of the Madres, not only in the demand for justice and legal procedures, but in the occasionally moving need to find, through the testimony of surviving former detainees, the traces of a past that contains their origins, the voices of lost fathers and mothers, “a reconstruction of the identity of militants, of their life stories, where they were militant, what they did”, and also the urgent need to revalorize that past, resignifying it beyond a narrative of defeat:

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Chapter 6 By showing the struggle of the militant comrades of the 70s, a struggle for a better world, understanding history as continuity, and this present as the consequence of those years, but also making it very clear that it was not a defeat. (Brodsky 2005: 220)

On the other hand, almost all the associations of ex-detainees and relatives of the victims occupy positions far distant from these as they are internally divided between strict conservation and forms more open to other options. In particular, the Asociación de Ex-Detenidos-Desaparecidos [the AEDD or the Association of Ex-Detainees-Desaparecidos] supports the value of a strict and integral conservation of the site, seen as material testimony to the genocide and for that reason provided with an inherent truth value. For these survivors it is precisely the materiality of the site, understood in a quasi-ontological sense, which guarantees an authenticity that cannot and must not be altered. A semiotic potential is ascribed to the physical space, a capacity to signify the trauma directly, which makes its strict conservation indispensable: the place must be maintained exactly as it was, without modifications or variations, because, as they say in their document: “the entire area, all the buildings, the furnishings, the sports fields, mean the place that functioned as a clandestine centre for disappearance and extermination, and its entire materiality constitutes the historical fabric of this site” (Brodsky 2005: 216). In this position there is a strong assumption about the mode of signification of the spaces through indexicality, which emphasizes the connection between place and event and characterizes the AEDD’s entire conservation project. This is broken up into a series of programmatic points: first of all the claim that the ESMA has a cultural value that is above all historical and social in nature. In second place, and as a consequence, the need for its conservation. Conservation of the ESMA signifies the entire process of protection for the Place whose aim is to maintain its Cultural Value, that is to say its conservation both as site and testimony to the genocide, as a clandestine centre in which people disappeared and were exterminated. […] Conservation must be based on respect for the historic fabric, and must not distort its aspect. (Brodsky 2005: 215)

From these general premises there follow specific guidelines concerning the forms of maintenance and restoration that may be carried out.

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Conservation must not permit any demolition or change that may produce a negative effect with respect to the cultural value of the site. […] It must be limited to the protection, maintenance and, where necessary, the stabilization of the existing historical fabric, but without any distortion of its cultural value. (Brodsky 2005: 216)

Within this framework of maximum conservational faithfulness, provision is made for an à l’identique restoration of the officers’ quarters where the detainees were imprisoned, since that place was subsequently transformed by the military in order to conceal the crimes committed, but every modification, as well as adhering to the pre-existing structure, must also be marked as such. Restoration must be effected with absolute fidelity to the original place, which must be kept exactly as it was, giving back the snapshot of the frozen time of the traumatic event. Within this framework there is maximum diffidence with regard to any form of adaptation or transformation of the site towards new and alternative uses, because any function that is not directly aimed at “signifying, conserving and representing the historic events that took place there constitutes a kind of attack against its cultural value as a site testifying to the genocide” (ibid. 216, author’s italics). This position is poles apart from the one advocated by the Madres, who saw in culture and art a means with which to free themselves from the memory of the dictatorship. For the survivors, on the contrary, every activity that is not aimed at the unyielding preservation of the past trauma is seen as a loss of meaning, a kind of unacceptable discursive normalization. It is important to observe how all the preceding organizations represent actors directly involved in the trauma of the dictatorship, either at first hand, like the surviving ex-detainees, or because of close bonds of kinship with the victims, such as the mothers and children. This subjective involvement entails a very strong pathemic and passional activation, but at the same time it also marks very different enunciational positionings. Victims, survivors, witnesses, relatives, even though all of them are involved in the trauma, are positioned differently with respect to it and look at it from different viewpoints. The feelings, plans and desires of a mother who has lost a son or a daughter are not the same as those of a person who has never known their own father or mother, nor of those of people who have suffered violence directly as victims. The situated nature of one’s enunciation orients the value system, determines the passional attitude and conditions

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the temporal and aspectual perspective. For victims, the quasi-obsessional conservation of places also means restoring value and meaning to their terrible past experience; for children, the witnesses’ accounts can make parents they have never known speak once more; for mothers working with young people, it gives new hope in future continuity. Even the way of thinking about one’s own experience in relation to temporality is modified. The Madres insist on the inchoative aspect of the event (Nothing is finished. Everything is beginning, Hebe de Bonafini says); the victims seem captured by the frozen time of the trauma, in accordance with a terminative modality fixed on the past. While the mothers seem to adopt the point of view of their lost children by almost putting themselves in their place, in a perspective projected into the future, the victims remain fixed in a sort of paradoxical “fidelity” to the traumatic past, of which they alone, precisely because they are victims, would be the “authorized” guarantors. At this point there crops up yet again a question that is ever present in this type of debate, the one regarding the “right to memory”: who can decide what to do with places of memory, who has a say in the matter, who has the authority and the moral legitimacy to choose? These are problems that the ESMA case will not solve definitively, but will rather try to mediate, by causing different positions to coexist. Semiotic efficacy and multi-directional memories But other actors, too, perhaps less directly involved at first hand in the trauma, have taken part in the debate and it is worth analysing their positions briefly because they show how the conservative concern can also be expressed in forms that differ from the fixation of memory, attempting to safeguard it from oblivion but without making it stiffen into a univocal meaning. This is the path suggested, among others, by the Fundación Memoria Histórica y Social Argentina, by the Asociación Buena Memoria and by the Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS), which, while they all fall within the ambit of what we have described as the museal and conservative camp, are thinking in terms of institutions that are more receptive to the active participation of multifarious differentiated visitors, in the

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first place the new generations. In particular, the latter two associations mentioned have made innovative suggestions in this sense. The proposal suggested by the Asociación Buena Memoria starts from what we might define as a reflection on the semiotic efficacy of trauma sites as memorial instruments, precisely because of their indexical connection and the capacity to activate a deeper knowledge of the past through the experience of the visit, according to a reasoning that closely resembles the observations we made in Chapter 2. For Buena Memoria the concrete materiality of the physical places of trauma has a particular power of signification insofar as they are capable of transmitting a sensory memory, which we might call embodied and directly connected to experience, that is more vivid than the distanced and intellectual one conveyed by books. Hence the necessity to maintain those spaces that permit a living experience, that works through all five senses, in which a person can have an idea of how it was and what people experienced in those places. Something that cannot be done by looking at a map or a photo. Instead, the building is here, you can see it, you can enter it, you can touch it, it has its own texture, its smell, its colour. All in all, it conveys a very powerful experience, which allows the most complete identification with that which constitutes our history and our culture. (Brodsky 2005: 216)

However, the museum that Buena Memoria would like is not a univocal and fixed object, but rather an open discursive organization, capable of including a plurality of different opinions and narratives and of bringing about the coexistence of multiple differentiated points of view. A multiple narrative, open to interpretation, will encourage reflection and learning. A narrative that includes different opinions, but based on an agreement on some basic principles. A narrative that combines documents, testimony and art. The recreation of horror can not transmit what happened. The reconstruction of the scene of torture is paralysing. Reconstructing a space of horror is counterproductive, it claims to freeze time in order to construct a didactic founded on exemplification. Constructing a multiple narrative is far more difficult. (Brodsky 2005: 216)

The differences between the proposals of the various organizations are interpreted by Buena Memoria as an opportunity to elaborate a “complete and multi-directional” discourse, where no single voice holds the truth

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but many different accounts and narratives confront one another. This is a true model of participative democracy, based on freedom of expression, equal rights and the multiplicity of viewpoints. While this group, too, can be numbered among the supporters of a museal position, their proposal is certainly very far from the one put forward by the ex-detainees and is based on a very different value system. In some ways analogous, but perhaps even more advanced, the position of a group such as the CELS (Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales or the Centre for Legal and Social Studies), supporters of a museum that is both critical and pedagogical that, without giving up on careful building, testimonial and historical conservation, nonetheless does not translate into a museum of horrors. Theirs is perhaps the most articulated, wide-ranging proposal on the political, social, institutional and conservative requisites that a trauma site must comply with. Various criteria are identified, but the common feature that underlies them is always the same: maximum possible social inclusivity. A museum of memory cannot be solely the expression of the standpoint of the victims or their relatives, and not even of civil rights associations, but must include the entire social body, according to a first criterion of social legitimization that strongly distinguishes the CELS proposal from those of almost all the other organizations. Not only must the dialogue range across the board, it must also lie within an institutional framework, which constitutes the second basic criterion. According to the CELS, only a public and institutional figure can guarantee a milieu suited to social participation. In order to ensure such wide-ranging participation, it is nevertheless indispensable to have a certain degree of compromise among the various components, in such a way as to make effective general participation possible. The plurality of opinions and the complexity of the debate are the other indispensable requirements, together with the need for testimony, education in human rights and permanent relations with university and research institutions. The museum that should arise from these premises will be something very different from a museum of horrors; instead it will be a place for open, and to some extent impartial, debate within its inclusive perspective. One of the most provocative, and controversial, proposals put forward by the CELS is without doubt that of suggesting the inclusion even of the military

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in the process of critical reflection underpinning the transformation of the ESMA into a site. By distancing itself from the “victimization” of the site, which sees in survivors and their families the sole social actors authorized to decide on the forms of transmission of the historical memory, and by proposing instead an inclusive space open to all the components of Argentinean society, the CELS has advocated the inclusion of the military in the process of rethinking the nation’s history. This was certainly not in the name of any presumed reconciliation, but to realize the educational and transformative objectives of the museum and to construct armed forces that respect democratic values. But is it really possible to involve the former persecutors in a project for democratic, participative education? This is certainly a difficult challenge that poses a series of difficult questions: what to do with the memories of the persecutors? Can they be integrated, or at least faced, within a common space of national memory, or must they be relegated exclusively to the discourse on justice, as the accused in the trials against them? In any event are their memories a part of the historical picture, despite the burden of their political and moral responsibilities, or should they be erased from the places where the collective memorial discourse takes place? In the debate around the use of the ESMA the CELS proposal has emerged as a minority issue and has been rejected by all the other human rights groups, but it certainly touches on a very delicate problem and is far from having found a definitive answer.

Closed and open models In Figure 6.6 we can now try to collocate the principal positions that we have discussed so far within the framework proposed in Figure 6.5.

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Utopian

(testimonial)

(militant)

AEDD

H. I. J. O. S.

Buena Memoria

museal

performative

text

practices

past

future CELS

Centro Culturale Conti

Madres Linea Fundadora

Critical

Ludic

(re exive)

(artistic)

Figure 6.6:  Diagram of various actors' positions at ESMA.

Now for a few observations in the interests of clarity. The basic opposition between museal and performative can be expanded, to a certain extent, to an opposition between texts and practices, in the sense that all the proposals in the right-hand column think of a use of the ESMA as a centre for activities, be they exclusively about political activism or the artistic and cultural variety, and all reject, more or less explicitly, the expositive-textualist option underlying the idea of a museum. Hebe de Bonafini goes so far as to say that “museums are associated with death”. This also explains the temporal

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polarization between the past, on the left-hand side of the diagram, and the future, on the right. The museal position lies between the referential pole of testimony, perfectly represented by the association of ex-detainees (AEDD) who are in favour of absolute conservation, and the critical pole represented by the Haroldo Conti expositional centre. I have placed Buena Memoria and the CELS towards the centre of the diagram because, while they are collocated within a museal option, they propose solutions that go beyond the solely expositive or testimonial horizon, and even without imagining specific activities they explicitly come forward as transformative models and hence, to some extent, performative ones. Naturally, such a diagram does not capture the complexity of all the themes in play, for example, the pedagogical or cultural vocation is not explicitly indicated because in reality all the models discussed are imbued with them, albeit with varying emphases. What I felt was most important was to represent the basic lines that construct the semantic structure underlying the complex debate that has grown up around the ESMA. Over and above the specific nature of the case in question, this discussion allows us to focus on some fundamental problems that concern possible choices regarding the conservation and re-utilization of trauma sites. Two possible models emerge, in fact, underlying the various positions: a strongly predefined and univocal closed model, which does not provide or leave room for other uses apart from those foreseen in the moment of its definition. This is the case of the AEDD proposal but also, to a certain extent, that of the Hijos. This typology is opposed by an open model, susceptible to various interpretations and diverse uses, such as the one suggested by the Madres, but also by Buena Memoria and the CELS. At the end of this long and intense debate, the final choice was one that we might define as of “accumulation”: all the positions have been accepted to some extent and all the diverse options for restoration and reuse coexist in the vast spaces of the ESMA: the officers’ quarters where detainees were imprisoned has been conserved and turned into a Site of Memory; the mothers of the Linea Fundadora have opened a school of music; the Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo run a youth centre; the Haroldo Conti cultural centre faces the National Archive. The H. I. J. O. S.

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have opened the Casa de la Militancia where they hold courses in politics. No exclusive choice has been adopted and everyone coexists side by side, even though perhaps more in the form of a linear juxtaposition than in that of truly interwoven, reciprocal interaction. The result is a complex, non-univocal place, open to different possible and contrasting interpretations. We can emphasize the lack of a coherent overall structure and a certain inevitable semantic dispersion. Otherwise, and for the same reasons, we can see the ESMA as a space open to many different interpretations of the past, not closed in a univocal meaning. In a certain sense this undecidability reflects the non-linear complexity that runs through Argentinean society with regard to the memory of its traumatic past and shows at the same time the plurality of the subjects involved. The different positions that we have briefly analysed show clearly how the politics of memory and conservative choices are closely interwoven: those, like the victims, who remain bound to a memory fixed in the past also propend for strict museal conservation. It is no accident that the survivors’ association also proposed that the ESMA be included in the UNESCO World Heritage Scheme to sanction its definitive memorial consecration. Conversely, those who look to the future, like many other associations and activist groups, propend for a freer and more innovative use of the architectural structures. Proof of the fact, if proof were needed, that every choice concerning trauma sites is not just an aesthetic choice but always a political one at the same time.

Chapter 7

When trauma meets art: The Museo per la Memoria di Ustica in Bologna

Ustica between massacre and tragedy The last case in my corpus is a highly particular museum of memory, in many respects anomalous within the panorama of the other sites I have analysed so far: in a strict sense it is not even a real trauma site, even though it can be included in our typology for the very strong role that the indexical dimension plays in its system of signification. This is the Museo per la Memoria di Ustica [the Museum for the Memory of Ustica] in Bologna, realized by Christian Boltanski to honour and conserve the memory of the victims of an air disaster that was very soon revealed to be an authentic act of war. This is about how, perhaps even more than other trauma sites, the Ustica Museum is a complex semiotic object, in which diverse dimensions of interpretation are interwoven: museum, place of historical memory, funeral memorial, work of art, civil – and in some ways political – testimony. It is above all an expositional space, which can be described in the forms of its spatial configuration. It is the result of complex social and political negotiation and in that sense it can be interpreted as an answer that society has tried to give to a legal case that is still partly unresolved. From this point of view it is part of that complex play of memorial dynamics, so frequent in our day, in which a juridical solution seems impracticable and a political sanction impossible. New actors are now emerging on the social scene to deal with a controversial, as yet unreconciled memory: civil society, in the form of associations of the victims, as often happens in situations that follow dictatorships and civil wars. A place of collective memory, therefore, but also and perhaps above all, a work of art, an avant-garde installation

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that poses questions for us to think about: can the traumatic memory of an event become a work of art? Which passions, which involvements, which reactions are engendered in visitors transformed into genuine spectators of an artistic installation? And again: how did we come to this museum? Let us go back over the story, which is also the story of a dramatic episode in Italian history of the last few decades, to this day still a locus of disputed reconstructions. On 27 June 1980, an Itavia DC-9 on a scheduled flight between Bologna and Palermo vanished from the radar and plunged into the Mediterranean between the island of Ustica, near Sicily, and Ponza, which is halfway between Rome and Naples. All seventy-seven passengers, among whom eleven children aged between a few months and twelve years, together with four crew members, died in the crash. The first hypothesis after the disaster was that of a sudden failure of some of the plane’s load-bearing structures and precisely because of this suspicion the Itavia company went bankrupt shortly after the event. Nonetheless, right from the start serious doubts arose regarding the true cause of the disaster and other hypotheses began to take shape; among these the suspicion of an explosive device inside the aircraft or a guided missile from outside it. In 1982 a government commission was charged with investigating what soon became one of the most controversial cases of mass murder in the Italy of those days, controversial even in its very name. As was shown by Daniele Salerno (2014), in the course of time and the various judicial inquiries that followed one another, diverse terms were used to designate the Ustica event, from the less marked “tragedy” and above all “disaster”, which suggest the idea of an incident for which no one is responsible, down to strage [mass murder, slaughter], the term used by the Association of Relatives of the Victims, which implies intentionality and a precise agentive responsibility. On a terminological level, too, around the Ustica case a conflict has grown up among divergent narratives: each of these terms, in fact, involves a very different reconstruction of events, namely the responsibility taken on by opposing subjects of enunciation, from the apparatus of the State to top-ranking air force officers, to the relatives of the victims who want to establish the truth of the event. For over fifteen years a series of investigations have followed one another, together with various attempts at raising smoke screens and other forms of concealment on the part of the highest echelons of the armed

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forces, involved to such a point that the air force high command was accused and investigated by the committee of inquiry for acts of high treason. It was only in 1999 that a definitive sentence, handed down by judge Rosario Priore before the Rome Tribunal, established the true nature of what happened that night in the skies above the Tyrrhenian Sea: this was no accident, but an authentic act of war, a war that was undeclared and unknown to public opinion, which “by mistake” had killed eighty-one innocent civilians.1 The DC-9 had been shot down by a missile fired by a fighter plane of a NATO member nation, which in its turn was trying to shoot down a Libyan aircraft in which Colonel Gaddafi may have been travelling, probably hidden by the flight path of the Itavia plane. To this day there is no certainty as to the identity of the NATO nation involved in the presumed military action over Ustica and it is not known whether it was the USA or France, as maintained by various sources. A request for compensation was recently made to the French government, but since the case is classified as an international military question, the norms of common law do not apply to foreign military authorities and so the initiative came to nothing. A similar impasse occurred regarding the high command of the Italian air force. During this long criminal and political process, a central role was played by the Associazione Parenti delle Vittime della Strage di Ustica [The Association of Relatives of the Victims of the Ustica Massacre], founded on 20 May 1988, whose president, Daria Bonfietti, a sister of the one of the victims of the incident and for many years a member of the Italian Senate, fought ceaselessly to establish the truth about the disaster and to preserve and hand down the memory of it. It is above all thanks to the work and the mobilization of the association that it was possible to arrive at the construction of the museum as a place dedicated to the memory of Ustica. The story of Ustica, its tragedy and the long inquiry that followed it can be read as a complex narrative of which the museum represents the final sanction, a narrative that in its turn constitutes a specific chapter of an even more articulated narrative that concerns the dark, tragic period 1

The documentation regarding the various sentences can be found at .

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between the 1970s and the 1990s, the so-called anni di piombo (literally the “years of lead”, namely the period of various terrorist outrages). This period was one of obscure, never fully solved mass murders that lacked both the sanction of state institutions and, very often, a legal decision that might formally close the account with history, framing the events within a legal process brought to its conclusion and assigning a form of intelligibility to the past, together with the inevitable judicial sentence. In Italy, those years were marked by a political and social process that progressively deprived the State and its institutions of the formal role as the addresser of society, on account of the discredit and suspicions of collusion between the machinery of state, the secret services and fascist terrorists. The delegitimization of state authority, seen as inadequate when not directly involved in the perpetuation and covering up of criminal activities, left an empty space where other figures of Destination began to gain ground. In the first place, this began with a shift in political initiative from the State to the courts: judicial inquiries became the real loci of an incomplete political process and the juridical discourse – in the figures of its judges and magistrates – often found itself taking on the role traditionally played by political institutions. In many cases, however, thanks to delays caused by interminable appeals, trials came to nothing as far as concerns the attribution of criminal responsibilities. And so, along with the judges, another figure became more and more important as an instance of destination, in the sense we defined earlier on, which is to say a bearer of social values: civil society and in particular the association of the victims and the relatives of victims that, in the case of the Ustica Museum, played as we have said an absolutely essential role.2 The complex, and not entirely resolved, political and juridical story of the Ustica case is an integral part of the overall meaning that the museum has come to have: its very existence can be interpreted as a compensatory act, an indirect way of compensating the victims for the failure to arrive at a full reconstruction of the truth of the event. And also as a reparative place of symbolic burial for those who can never have a grave, and that in the museum have found a prolonged and postponed funeral rite.

2

For the role of civil associations, see Turnaturi 1991.

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A museum and a funeral rite During the long years of the investigation, starting from 1987, the remains of the aircraft, together with a series of personal effects belonging to the victims, were recovered from the bottom of the sea, and a skeleton of the fuselage and of what remained of the DC-9 was reconstructed in an air force hangar in Pratica di Mare, near Rome. The reconstruction was concluded in 1991, at which point the wreck, instead of being destroyed as normally happens in less controversial cases, was put at the disposal of the families of the victims’ association who had been thinking about the possibility of a museum for some time. Over the years, in fact, with the support of the local authorities of Bologna and the Emilia Romagna region, the idea had been taking shape of building a museum to conserve the wreck and carry on the memory of the outrage. The Ustica case reveals, from this standpoint, a tragic constitutive difference from all the other museums and memory sites we have analysed so far: Ustica could not have its own memory site. It was not possible to construct any memorial, any site, or commemorate any space: the plane had sunk in the sea, at some spot still to be pinpointed and hence it is not marked in any way. All that was left to signify the outrage was the wreck, an indexical trace of the event, a trauma site itself in its own way, albeit a type completely different to the cases we have analysed thus far. And in this lies the very materiality of the object, the wreck that spatializes itself to become a place of memory, metaphorically substituting for the “empty space” in which the event occurred. As we shall see better in the course of the analysis, many metaphorical shifts characterize the semiotic functioning of the Ustica Museum, called upon to symbolically replace the lack of a physical place, the lack of a funeral rite, the absence of bodies, and in a more general sense the difficult political recognition of a memory contested to this day.3 3

Still in recent times the reconstruction of events concerning Ustica has been disputed and subjected to attacks on the part of the centre-right. In 2001 Carlo Giovanardi, then a minister in the Berlusconi government, defended the hypothesis of a bomb,

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Bologna was not chosen by accident: even though the majority of victims were not from Bologna, the Itavia flight 870 was on the Bologna to Palermo route and above all the association was based in Bologna. One determinant factor was the participation of local institutions, which had always been involved in backing the museum project. After much discussion and a pilot project that was never realized, a final destination was eventually found in an area near a disused tram terminus in the suburban neighbourhood known as Bolognina (Figure 7.1), in a building constructed for this purpose to designs by the architect Gianpaolo Mazzuccato and located in a small park (Figure 7.2).

Figure 7.1:  The adjacent tram station.

denied by the Priore sentence, and kept up this position over the years to the point of visiting the museum in 2010 to show that the wreck was concrete proof of that hypothesis. For further reading and a discussion on the story of the memory of Ustica, and the “reparative” character that the Museum took on, see Salerno 2010.

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Figure 7.2:  The exterior of the museum.

The location of the museum is decentralized with respect to the city, in a zone with no particular artistic or tourist attractions: it would be hard to come across this museum by chance. You need to know what to look for and wish to see. And maybe what people “wish to see” is above all a work of art, important above all for the authoritativeness and fame of its creator. And in fact the organization of the museum was entrusted to Christian Boltanski, who agreed to take on the commission for no charge and to design a permanent installation. Not without some argument, the museum was connected with the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Bologna (Mambo) and not with the circuit of other historical museums in the city. This decision was certainly motivated by the participation of a well-known artist such as Boltanski, but nonetheless it also represents a kind of implicit “users’ manual”, an interpretive framework for a reading

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of a highly particular museum, perhaps more a work of art than a historical document. In June 2006 the wreck of the plane was taken to Bologna by fifteen fire brigade low loaders; for a few days the Italian motorway network was partly blocked by this extraordinary transport, filmed from helicopters all along the way, the video of which can now be seen in a documentation room attached to the museum’s main exposition hall. On 27 June 2007, twenty-seven years after the disaster, the Museo per la Memoria di Ustica was finally opened to the public.4 As I have said, the local administrations – the City and Province of Bologna and the Emilia Romagna region – played a very important role in the creation of the museum, but they were not the only public institutions involved: participants in the construction of the museum included the Ministry of Justice, which had donated the wreck of the aircraft, and the Ministry of Heritage and Cultural Activities, to emphasize the cultural and artistic value of this museum, and not only its function as an archive and historical memorial. But if the activation of a project of this sort was possible the credit should undoubtedly go to the Association of Relatives of the Victims, and the determination of its chair, Daria Bonfietti. It is interesting to note that in the illustrative leaflet given to visitors at the entry to the museum, before the visit, which contains a brief summary of the legal history and the birth of the museum, this different role of “agency” is explicitly acknowledged. The leaflet says that the museum “has been created by” the abovementioned institutional figures and immediately below this the words appear: “By the express will of the Association of Relatives of the Victims of the Ustica Massacre”. It is this will that is the real addresser of the Ustica Memorial Museum. Right from its construction the Ustica Museum appears to be something more than a museum of memory; while all trauma sites always have something of the funeral monument about them, more than any other the Ustica Museum presents itself as a place of symbolic burial, starting

4

The museum website is: .

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from the ideal funeral cortege that was the wreck’s long “return” journey back to Bologna. On that journey, which was filmed by all the national news networks and lasted several days, the aircraft became a symbolic substitute for all the bodies that were never found and left without burial. Even before than in the museum space, a funerary isotopy can already be traced in the set of practices that led to its construction and of which there remain documentary traces in the video clips of the news programmes of those days. In particular, three moments emphasize its character as a genuine funeral service: 1.

The transportation of the aeroplane from Pratica del Mare to Bologna, which as I have said took on the value of a collective funeral in place of the impossible funeral of the individual victims. The video clip of the journey is shown without interruptions in a room inside the museum, a reiterated memory of a funeral cortege. 2. The installation of the wreck in the museum. Given the huge size of the plane, it was necessary to lower it from above into the space they had prepared in the museum, while the roof was added later. This sequence, again documented in a video clip and shown again in the museum’s room archive, is an exact reproduction – on a magnified scale – of the interment of a coffin. 3. Finally the museum inauguration ceremony, held on 27 June 2007 in the presence of all the city dignitaries, took on the character of a funeral service in the sense of the timing and the tenor of the speeches. Every funeral service is also a great device for sight and concealment: the body of the deceased in at the centre of the ceremonial practices, but at the same time it is, in our culture at least, hidden from view, closed up in a coffin. The complex dynamic of visibility/invisibility, the tension between that which is shown and that which cannot be shown, but to which we can only allude indirectly and through traces, is at the centre of Boltanski’s installation.

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The spatial structure The Museo per la Memoria di Ustica is composed of a single space of huge dimensions that contains the wreck as well as a small side room where video documentaries and other material on the Ustica case are on show, such as various television news programmes from the period. The space occupied by the installation is a rectangular one, dominated by the immense bulk of the reconstructed wreck that takes up the entire room where it meets the eye with enormous pathemic effect. Two walls are constituted by two large windows screened by white curtains; above the wreck there hang from the ceiling eighty-one luminous bulbs that pulse regularly with a rhythm reminiscent of human breathing (Figure 7.3).

Figure 7.3:  The wreck, Museum for the Memory of Ustica.

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The large room is divided into two non-communicating areas: the space of the wreck, located below, and the visitors’ space, standing about 1-metre high. The visitors’ space is a raised gallery that runs right around the room, delimited by a transparent handrail. From this area visitors can see the wreck from all sides, but they cannot go down into the aircraft’s space, they cannot approach it, nor touch it or go inside it. Along the gallery, on a level with the visitors, there are eighty-one black mirrors. The space of the wreck also includes nine large black wooden boxes set side by side on the floor at both sides of the aircraft, which resemble huge coffins. In the illustrative leaflet they give you at the entrance you read that “each of them holds dozens of personal objects that belonged to the victims. Shoes, flippers, snorkels, glasses and clothing”, but these objects are not shown directly nor are they accessible to direct contact, and remain invisible to the visitors’ eyes. Visitors who have not read the illustrative material before entering the museum hall cannot know what the boxes contain, because there are no written indications of any type inside the hall. The wreck is placed on a floor surface dotted with pebbles, which evoke the sea bed.

Figure 7.4:  The boxes beside the wreck, Museum for the Memory of Ustica.

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The skeleton of the wreck is made up of over 2,500 fragments recovered from the sea around Ustica, each one labelled with a little piece of paper containing the notes and the numbers used by the investigators in their attempt to reconstruct a complete inventory of the fragments recovered from the sea. In this reconstruction there is a strong effect of indexicality: the wreck does not represent the trauma, but is the very place where the tragedy occurred. A direct bond of causality links the remains of the plane to the event that produced it and determines its most particular pathemic efficacy: it is almost impossible not to think of what it must have been like to be aboard that plane when it was struck, and what the passengers, all unaware, must have felt in that final instant. This most intense, almost violent, pathemic effect depends on the fact that what we are seeing is the real plane, or at least what remains of it, patiently recomposed piece by piece over time. But is this the real plane? Here we come up against that dilemma of authenticity that we have already discussed and that runs through all trauma sites born in places that were the effective scene of dramas and tragedies of various kinds. In effect, the remains of the plane recovered from the sea bed originally included much more than is now exhibited in the museum: tons of diverse materials, including the seats, hundreds of cables and many other parts of the aircraft. What we see today in the museum is therefore a reconstruction of the plane itself, on the basis of painstaking, systematic selection aimed at producing an extremely precise effect of indexicality and reality. The opposition created by the two levels establishes a first partition of the space into two distinct regions: on the lower level the wreck, the space of the enunciate; on a higher level, the visitors’ gallery, the space of the enunciation of the ongoing visit. This first spatial opposition expresses a series of other oppositions on the temporal, actorial and modal level, giving rise to a semi-symbolic system that puts various categories of the content into correlation. The space occupied by the wreck, below, is also the space of the past and death, visible but not accessible. The gallery is the place of the visitors, a place of the present and of life, according to a schema of oppositions (Table 7.1).

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Table 7.1:  Schema of semantic oppositions Enunciate

Ongoing enunciation

Low

High

Floor

Gallery

Space of the wreck

Visitors’ space

Past

Present

Visible but not accessible

Accessible and open

Cannot do

Can do

Static

Dynamic

Death

Life

But on closer inspection the museum system reveals far greater complexity: the reciprocal interweaving of past and present, of life and death, unfolds a tissue of more subtle, enveloping stuff, in which the visitor-spectator is captured on both the sensorial and pathemic level. Let us imagine that we are following the experiential path of a hypothetical visitor who enters the museum for the first time and let us try to describe her impressions.

Voices from no place On entering the great hall that contains the installation, visitors are assailed by a series of complex sensations: they find themselves in a multi-sensorial setting that involves all their senses and not sight alone. They can see the wreck, but they also hear sounds that are at first indistinguishable, that only gradually become distinct perceptions, when it becomes possible to identity their source. The first auditory impression is muddled: the whispers that pervade the hall vaguely resemble the murmur of the waves and follow a tensive rhythm similar to that of light. We have already said that the eighty-one suspended light bulbs pulse slowly with greater or lesser intensity, gradually varying the luminosity of the hall with a rhythm

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alternating between “strong” and “weak”, reminiscent of the sea’s ebb and flow and the phases of respiration. On walking along the gallery, visitors soon realize that the sounds they heard on entering the hall come from the eighty-one black mirrors, hanging in a row along the two walls of the hall that are not taken up by windows (Figure 7.5).

Figure 7.5:  The gallery of black mirrors.

Behind every black mirror there is a hidden loudspeaker that diffuses the sound of a recorded voice, each one different from the next: men, women, children. All whisper different words. Only when you go up to each mirror can you discern the individual phrases and grasp their meaning. These are snippets of conversation that passengers might have exchanged during the flight, or thoughts they might have had before the crash, sometimes banal and unimportant, sometimes dramatic, sometimes light-hearted. It is these voices that constitute the true aesthetic and pathemic nucleus of Boltanski’s installation: the invisible victims come back to us through their voices. The artist has given speech back to all eighty-one victims, by

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imagining for each of them a phrase that is then spoken by a professional actor or actress and recorded on a tape that runs on an endless loop. All the phrases are correlated with the passengers’ possible worries or experiences: everyday chat, more or less profound reflections, but above all plans, thoughts about the future, be it near or distant. Some are thinking about what they will wear the next day, others about the week’s holiday that awaits them, some about the results of medical tests, others about houses to refurbish or everyday commitments, and others again about life that is running through their fingers. Hopes, worries, reflections and plans for an imagined future that will never come to pass. Here are some examples: I didn’t close the front door properly. I hope Palermo beats Catania 3 nil. I can’t stand school any longer. The teacher is an idiot. I really like Sicily. Grandma’s cakes are fabulous. I’m afraid to sleep at my grandparent’s house. There are mice in the attic. If it’s really hot tomorrow I’m going to wear the white outfit. The notary is dishonest. I must be careful. Antonio is a shit. As soon as I get there I’m going to dive into the sea. For eight days I’m not going to do anything but sleep, eat and rest. I’d rather go on holiday in Turkey and meet new people. When I get back to Bologna I’ll have the results of the tests. Elena needs me so much. If not what’s going to happen to her. Lord protect my children. I can’t do anything for them anymore, I’m too old. What a sad day. Let’s hope tomorrow is better. Now that dad’s dead I feel so alone. I’ve worked so much I forgot to live. How can I tell him I’m leaving, that I’m going to live in Milan? I’m forty already. Life goes by too fast.

Let us now see how the oppositive system we outlined previously is enriched with new correlations, obliging us to re-articulate some dimensions of meaning. In the first place this concerns the temporal level, where to the simple past/ present opposition we have to add an aspectual articulation which opposes the punctual nature of the air disaster, a “catastrophic break in continuity” par excellence, with the iterativity and the circular continuity

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of the recorded voices, which incessantly repeat the same phrase. The form of repetition characterizes the voices as well as the rhythm of the lights, but it also characterizes the circular movement of the visitors that permits a sole repetitive movement, thus creating a compulsory path around the wreck and never towards it, or its interior. This establishes a kind of rhythmic rhyme among the repetitive circularity of the voices, and the lights, and the movement of the visit itself, which constantly turns in on itself, outside any linear path. In this movement there is no proceeding from one space to another, nor any path forward or any real shift, but only the retracing of one’s steps, in a circularity that seems to allude to the repetitive re-presentation of the traumatic experience we discussed in Chapter 1. A second significant opposition is then established between two different modes of segnic production. Following Eco (1975), we could differentiate the wreck which is an imprint, or more exactly a trace, according to what I suggested in Chapter 2, hence a sign by recognition, and the voices, linguistic enunciations, hence signs produced by replica. In a less technical form we might say that here we find an opposition between two modes of signification, one of which is traceable to indexicality (the wreck) and the other to discursivity (the voices). A final opposition concerns the possible worlds of reference: that of the wreck, which reminds us of the unescapable reality of the event, and that of the voices, a fictional possible world where the forms of narratives imagined by Boltanski take shape. So there are three new correlations (Table 7.2) to be added to the previous schema, which concern forms of aspectuality, modes of signification and the relation between reality and fiction. Table 7.2:  Schema of correlations Punctual event

Circular continuity

Indexicality

Discursivity

Reality

Fictionality

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Victims and witnesses But the voices introduce a further dimension of the temporal division, making the opposition between the spectator’s present and the past of the wreck denser and more stratified. The voices, in fact, talk to us in the present, a durative and circular present, but they come from the past: the present of their enunciation is the moment before the disaster, a past time for those moving in a circle around the wreck. The gallery thus becomes the place where tension is created between diverse temporal dimensions: the past of which the voices speak, their ahistoric present and our ongoing present. A first short circuit is produced between the past as staged by the wreck and the endless present of the voices, “condemned” to repeat the same phrase forever. But the voices are also whispers projected onto possible future scenarios, fragments of a broader life project in which all of us are always immersed, a future interrupted forever for those on board the Itavia flight. In this complex web of different times – the past from which the voices come, the present of their enunciation and the future of their interrupted plans – a sort of temporal breach begins to materialize. This is the punctual moment of catastrophe as it happened, absent from the words of the victims since their enunciation is set in a time previous to the crash. It is the visitor, and only them, who bridges this gap, by connecting through the immediacy of her presence diverse temporal dimensions: the projection of the voices of the dead in future lives that will never come to pass and the knowledge of the disaster, the definitive closure that puts an end to all futures. As happened in Tuol Sleng, here, too, the particular positioning of the visitor within the installation functions as a sense device that re-actualizes and re-presents the victims’ experience. But the differences are certainly enormous. First of all, in the Ustica Museum there are no images or photos, and we shall get back to this shortly, and in the second place the visitor has a competence on the cognitive level that the victims do not have: we know what they still do not know. On listening to their subdued voices

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our awareness of a fate that the passengers are still unaware of enormously intensifies the pathemic effect. In this way visitors become, rather than spectators of a represented trauma, witnesses to a tragedy that re-presents itself endlessly. Many other elements suggest this “testimonial” interpretation of the installation, in which visitors find themselves occupying a central position. In Chapter 2 we discussed how in every museal space we can distinguish between enunciation and enunciate, where the enunciation refers to the modes and the paths of the exposition and the enunciate is constituted by the object of the exposition. In the Ustica Museum this distinction seems to open up towards a third virtual dimension, where the enunciation enunciated by the voices is anchored to the present of the temporality of those who visit the museum. The here and now of the voices creates a short circuit with the here and now of the spectators and obliges them to project themselves into that fictional present, whose future is the wreckage of the disaster that has already happened. Something similar also happens on the level of space, where it is also possible to identify a sort of third virtual space, intermediate between the space of the wreck and the space of the visit. This virtual space is that of the mirrors and their reflected images, an ambiguous space of vision lying between being unable to see and being unable not to see. In order to understand this point better it is necessary to pause to consider what is perhaps one of the most important characteristics of Boltanski’s aesthetic choice, namely the apparent absence of the victims. In the Ustica Museum the victims are never represented: their names are not mentioned, there are no photographs and no visible traces of their existence. The counterpoint to the total visibility of the wreck, which can be seen from every angle and position, is the invisibility of the victims. They occupy the locus of absence, they lie beyond the realm of representation, they are the non-representable side of the disaster. A precise aesthetic decision, but an ethical one, too, and in the final analysis a political one as well, it precludes any direct representation. Nonetheless, despite their absence, the victims are constantly made present through various devices of rhetorical displacement and substitution; in a certain sense the entire museum

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can be interpreted as a sophisticated device for the creation of a displaced re-presentation of the traumatic event, rather than a representation of it. The first of these progressive rhetorical shifts is the fictional substitution of the nameless victims with their whispered voices that bring to our present sound fragments of their imaginary life stories. As I have already said, this also drives a gap between the real world and the fictional one created by the artist: we are not told who the victims were, or what their names were, but we are constantly prompted to imagine the thoughts or worries that they might have had in their last moments of life. The shift in sense is produced on the level of visual representation. As I have said, there are no photos of the victims to be found in the museum, it is the voices that speak for them, and the voices come from behind the eighty-one black mirrors, the same number as that of the victims aboard the DC-9. The mirrors are evidently meant to substitute for images of the victims, and in their material and chromatic consistency they refer figuratively to gravestones, but also the darkened windows of an aeroplane. But at the same time they are real mirrors that reflect the image of the visitor who looks into them. What visitors see, cannot fail to see when they are in front of them, is not the image of a victim, but their own face looking back at them. All psychologism apart, it is the very device of vision that triggers a powerful effect of identification with those who were chance victims of a senseless massacre, and causes the thought to arise that any one of us could have found ourselves in their place. Not only this, but every visitor sees his or her own face and is therefore called upon to make an absolutely unique and individual replenishment of meaning. This dynamic between the aesthetic device in its generality and its translation into individual experience is a point that Boltanski often makes: Everyone completes the work of art with his own life. His own memories. We always work on something common, but it will always be the visitors to the exhibition who will complete what they see in relation to their own experience. (Boltanski 2013: 877)

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It can be interesting to compare this effect of meaning with what happens on the level of the visual imagination in the Tuol Sleng museum. Here the visitors who look at the photos of the dead prisoners find themselves in an ambiguous position that had previously been occupied by the photographer-executioner. In the Ustica Museum the space of the representation of the victim is an empty space, an absence filled by the reflected image of the spectator. Another short circuit seems to occur here, no longer on the temporal plane, but rather on the spatial and visual ones. The visitor is situated in exactly the same space in which the image of the victim “should” be, framed in his or her absence. At the same time, on looking at their own face reflected in the mirror, visitors also see behind them the reflected image of the imposing bulk of the wreck, which reminds them of the reality of what happened. In the space of vision between our gaze and the reflected image, many diverse temporalities come together: the terminative past of the wreck and the iterative present of the voices, but also the ongoing present of our being there, in that moment, as visitors and witnesses to the tragedy that has occurred. The mirror reveals its nature as a complex enunciational device: its dark reflection inscribes the here-and-now of the visitor and superimposes it on the recorded present of the narratives in their endless durativity, and at the same time it constantly reminds us of a tragic past that is no longer modifiable. Thanks to the particular effect of their blackness, which permits the reflection of images but blurs their contours by amalgamating them, the dark mirrors conjoin two spaces, creating an unstable tension between them – that of the wreck and that of the visitor; two phases – the past of the tragedy and the present of the ongoing enunciation; and finally two actorial roles – the victim and the visitor, which in the moment of the reflected gaze overlap each other. In this virtual space of the reflected image the visitor takes the place of the absent victim, making him or her present at the same time. Finally, a third shift occurs in the metonymic substitution of the persons with the objects that belonged to them.5 As I have said, and as 5

The personal objects are genuine synecdoches here, in which the part (a dress, a sandal, a pair of glasses) signifies the totality of the absent person.

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explained also in the leaflet handed to visitors at the entry to the museum, beside the wreck there lie nine large black wooden boxes (nine being a submultiple of eighty-one) which hold the passengers’ personal effects found in the sea, which the visitor will never see directly. A choice of this kind seems to extend to objects the same sacrality, and the consequent impossibility of seeing, attributed to the bodies of the dead, something we are forbidden to see, at least in our culture. Both are too intimate, too personal, too unbearable to be shown. This is what Boltanski had to say in an interview: I said to myself: “You cannot show the found objects behind glass panels” – even though that would have been far simpler for me. But these objects are too sacred, I couldn’t show them in a window. That’s why the objects are present, but hidden as if in a tomb, in a ciborium. (Boltanski 2013: 878)

In this case, too, we are in the presence of a device of substitution that makes it possible to approach the victims only indirectly, through the symbolic mediation of traces, images of things accessible to us only after our visit is over.

The voice of things At the end of their visit, as they leave the museum, visitors are handed a white booklet titled: List of the personal effects belonging to the passengers aboard flight IH870 (Figure 7.6). It contains the images in the form of a list of all the objects recovered from the sea and now contained in the nine black boxes in the museum.

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Figure 7.6:  The white booklet.

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The images are preceded by a text by Beppe Sebaste, which expands in six short paragraphs the terms that make up the title of the booklet: “List”, “Objects”, “Personal”, “Belonging”, “Passengers”, “Flight IH870”. Each of these paragraphs is a list in itself, starting from the very term “list”, as in a kind of mise en abîme. The first text is followed by sixteen pages of images subdivided into categories, two pages for handbags, five for clothing, two for shoes, as well as various kinds of objects: books, wallets, diaries, cameras, toilet articles, a doll, flippers, masks, snorkels, pencil sharpeners, keys and glasses. All the objects were carefully photographed before being closed up in the boxes and are reproduced in the booklet in lots of small black and white photos resembling police identity photos and without any accompanying captions. The list of objects on the one hand reminds us of the classification of exhibits found at a crime scene, and on the other it evokes the bureaucratic, police-style inquiry into the lists of persons killed in air disasters or natural calamities, only in this case the identity photos of the victims have been substituted metonymically by their personal effects. Thus decontextualized from their normal functions and classified in a quasi-“scientific” form of lists and sub-lists, the objects lose their usual, familiar everyday nature to strike us as extraneous and mournful, producing a powerful effect of cognitive alienation and, at the same time, of empathic involvement (Figures 7.7 and 7.8).

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Figure 7.7:  The white booklet.

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Figure 7.8:  The white booklet.

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Visitors can keep the booklet when they leave the museum, and it comes to represent a metonymical substitution for the victims, and their photos, with the images of their personal effects, the feeble trace of a trace. It has been observed (Salerno 2010) that the booklet is reminiscent of the practice, current in Italy, of distributing at the end of a funeral a photograph of the deceased to all those present as a memento and as memorial testimony, and the analogy confirms our hypothetical interpretation of the Ustica Museum as one great funeral rite. At the same time it brings us back to the centrality of the scopic dimension and the dialectic between seeing and not seeing: the dead are those who have been removed from sight forever and no visual reproduction of them is possible. The mirrors reflect our faces that seek them, the materiality of their personal effects is too unbearable to be looked at. It can only be represented to us in the anonymity of a list that classifies them by categories and not by significant singularities, an accumulation of poor things that no longer have any meaning or colour.

Beyond the museum: “Art as living memory” Starting in 2009, the Association of Relatives of the Victims, still led by its Chair, Daria Bonfietti, began a project of great interest and artistic quality, Il giardino della memoria [The garden of memory],6 a series of shows, concerts and recitals that has grown ever richer over the years and has now become a fixture and a great attraction every summer in Bologna.7

6 7

For documentation of the project and its activities see: . The project was set up and inspired by the Association and its Chair, and is financially supported by local institutions, the Regione Emilia Romagna, the Province and Comune of Bologna, as well as various foundations. I thank Daria Bonfietti and Andrea Benetti for all the information they kindly provided.

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In reality, since the 1990s the association has developed, in parallel with the idea of the museum, a series of theatrical and musical initiatives in order to carry on a work of memory that might succeed in opening up to new themes and new audiences. As from 2001 we have the inauguration of the biennial prize “Scenario di Ustica per il teatro” [A scenario of Ustica for the theatre], in collaboration with the theatres of the Romagna, which makes awards to theatre productions that are not necessarily connected with the memory of the Ustica disaster, just as the various events that make up the summer festival programme have no necessary connection with the event. Right from the title “Arte memoria viva” [Art as living memory] the emphasis is on a free and open relation between the memory of Ustica and various forms of artistic expression, from music to theatre and from poetry to dance. As the title suggests, art becomes the means of keeping memory alive, connecting it to the present and not only the re-evocation of the past, overcoming the view of a museum as a static archive of the event. The interest in this operation, from the standpoint of the reflections we have been making throughout this work, seems to me to consist in the attempt to forge a connection between memorial themes with a more wide-ranging artistic discourse, capable of involving new audiences, especially among the younger generation. Museums of memory, like monuments to the fallen, often become places for forgetfulness rather than remembrance, places of the past rather than the present. We find here the tension between two exigencies: the duty owed to memory and the opening to the future that characterized the debate in Argentina around the possible restoration and re-use of the ESMA; albeit with all the obvious differences between the two cases, the initiatives of Il giardino della memoria also try to effect an interaction between two value systems, and two collective needs that differ but are not contradictory, by putting them in contact. Starting from the space and times. In fact, the festival unfolds within a temporal framework that in itself is significant and not accidental: the start, on 27 June, coincides with the anniversary of the massacre, and the end is on 10 August, the Night of San Lorenzo (“The night of the shooting stars”), with an initiative devoted to poetry that refers explicitly to Giovanni Pascoli’s poem “X August”. Two symbolic dates have

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therefore been chosen for the beginning and the end, one directly connected with the memory of Ustica, the other bound up with Italian culture almost as if to signify through this choice the link between the specific event of Ustica and the broader horizon of the culture that is its background. The chosen places also put into an ideal correlation the spaces of the city and its centre with the decentred ones of the museum. The opening always takes place in an official building with the participation of the city dignitaries and with an institutional initiative explicitly connected to the memory of Ustica, while the artistic events and the shows take place in the garden facing the museum. In 2010, on the thirtieth anniversary of the massacre, a highly particular kind of installation was realized in the centre of Bologna, in Piazza Maggiore. This was the “Itavia Aereolinee” project conceived by the artist Flavio Favelli. After measuring the remains of the aircraft, Favelli constructed an outline of the same size, about 37 metres long and 33 across, made out of light-coloured, lightweight technical canvas fabric, cut and sewn to the measure and shape of the wreck of the DC-9, with ITAVIA printed in red on both sides of the fuselage.8 The model was set up first in Piazza Maggiore and later in Piazza VIII Agosto. The various festivals that followed have had the most varied programmes and have attracted the participation of artists such as Patti Smith and Judith Malina, with total thematic freedom with regard to the tragedy of Ustica. In recent years an additional feature has been the publication of a series of small books of poetry, edited by Niva Lorenzini and distributed free of charge. The experiment of Il giardino della memoria suggests the possibility of using memorial sites capable of renewing the memory of the past in original, open ways, as is already happening in many places in Latin America. And I think it is no accident if among all the sites I chanced to visit the ones most capable of innovation and openness are those where memory is 8

Favelli’s project also called for the creation of a series of gadgets for an imaginary production of merchandising for the Itavia airline: postcards, head scarves, models and various objects reproduced in the form of fake prototypes intended to be produced for and sold in a hypothetical Itavia shop.

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not entrusted to the management of state institutions but led by members of civil society, such as the associations of relatives, who are more capable, or perhaps simply more interested, in not remaining closed in a traumatic past. These subjects seem to be the preferential addressers of a memory that is open and able to renew itself, a memory capable of looking at the future as well as conserving the past.

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Williams, P. 2007. Memorial Museums. The Global Rush to Commemorate Atrocities. Oxford and New York: Berg. Winn, P. (ed.) 2004. Victims of the Chilean Miracle: Workers and Neoliberalism in the Pinochet Era, 1973–2002. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Yates, F. 1966. The Art of Memory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. It. trans.: 2007. L’ arte della memoria. Turin: Einaudi. Yoshida, T. 2006. The Making of the “Rape of Nanking” History and Memory in Japan, China, and the United States. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Young, A. 1995. The Harmony of Illusion: Inventing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Young, J. E. 1993. The Texture of Memory. Holocaust Memorials and Meaning. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Zelizer, B. 1998. Remembering to Forget: Holocaust Memory through the Camera’s Lens. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Zevi, A. 2014. Monumenti per difetto dalle Fosse Ardeatine alle pietre d’inciampo. Rome: Donzelli. Zevi, L. 2011. Conservazione dell’avvenire. Macerata: Quodlibet. Zunzunegui, S. 2003. Metamorfosis de la mirada. Museo y semiotica. Madrid: Catédra.

Index

Adams, R.  122 Adorno, T. W.  43, 301 Agamben, G.  43, 119, 301 Alexander, J.  27, 49–52, 55–56, 68, 91, 301 Alfonsin, R.  254, 256 Allende, S.  208, 225, 250 Andermann, J.  93, 257, 301 Anderson, B.  92, 116, 316 Antze, P.  11, 301 Apothéloz, D.  101, 301 Appadurai, A.  116, 301 Arnold-de Simine, S.  301 Arrieta, J.  208 Assmann, A.  19, 61, 86, 155–156, 302, 310 Assmann, J.  21, 62–63, 302 Aylwin, P.  209–210 Bachelet, M.  225, 240, 244, 250 Baer, U.  124, 302 Bähler, U.  301, 305 Bakhtin, M.  69, 302 Barkan, E.  54, 302 Barthes, R.  129, 165, 302 Bassanelli, M.  93, 302 Baxter, V.  210, 212, 302 Benetti, A.  6, 296 Benigni, R.  36 Benjamin, W.  35, 118, 302 Bennet, T.  92–93, 302 Berlusconi, S.  275 Bertrand, D.  117, 302 Boltanski, C.  105, 119, 271, 277, 279, 284, 286, 288–289, 291, 302 Boltanski, L.  142, 164, 303 Bonifetti, D. 

Brandi, C.  97–98 Breuer, J.  26, 306 Brodsky, M.  128, 258–265, 303 Brothers, C.  124, 303 Brown, A. D.  70, 307 Buelens, G.  303, 309 Busch, W.  25, 303 Butcher, J.  303 Calabrese, O.  101, 303 Callari Galli, M.  303 Caruth, C.  25, 29–31, 33, 42, 44, 51, 64, 125, 303 Cavarero, A.  129, 303 Cervelli, P.  101, 307, 313 Chandler, D. P.  149, 303 Chang, I.  166, 177, 187, 303 Ciorra, P.  101, 303 Clinton, B.  25 Coquet, J.-C.  40, 304 Courtés, J.  307 Cubitt, G.  10, 93, 304 Damish, H.  101, 304 David, L.  107, 305 De Bonafini, H.  256, 260, 264, 268 De Luna, G.  10, 59, 93, 130, 304 Deleuze, G.  126, 304 Demaria, C.  6, 23, 25, 147, 210, 304 Demnig, G.  230 Deng X.  178 Denton, Kirk A.  176, 178–179, 204, 304 Derrida, J.  95, 304 Drake, P. W.  210, 304 Durrant, S.  303, 309

320 Index Duszenko, F.  141 Eaglestone, R.  303, 309 Eco, U.  27, 74, 79–82, 88, 110, 171, 173, 202, 286, 304 Erikson, K. T.  48–49, 305 Erll, A.  11, 57, 305, 309 Eyerman, R.  301 Fabbri, P.  101, 305 Farmer, S.  41, 77, 305 Fassin, D.  25, 305 Favelli, F.  298 Fei Fei, L.  177, 305 Felman, S.  31, 43, 44, 305 Figley, C. R.  143, 305 Floch, J. M.  105, 258, 305 Fogel, J. A.  177, 306 Foley, M.  113, 310 Fontanille, J.  67, 113, 306–307 Foucault, M.  101, 120, 306 Freud, S.  24, 26, 27–29, 34, 46, 51, 55, 160, 306 Fusaroli, R.  302, 306 Fyfe, G.  93, 306, 311 Geertz, C.  112, 113, 306 Giannitrapani, A.  13, 306 Giovanardi, C.  275 Giuntini, S.  306 Gómez-Barris, M.  210–211, 216, 217, 223, 306 Granelli, T.  22, 306 Greimas, A. J.  13, 81, 114, 306 Gries, P.  178, 307 Gutman, Y.  70, 307 Habermas, J.  58–59, 307 Halbwachs, M.  20, 49, 52, 175, 307 Hammad, M.  13, 101, 103, 111, 118, 307 Hartman, G.  31, 44, 131, 142, 307 Haupt, A.  141

Hein, H.  129, 307 Herman, J. L.  34, 36, 307, 315 Hirsch, J.  21, 44, 62, 131, 133, 155, 223, 226, 307 Hirsh, M.  308 Hobsbawm, E.  9, 308 Hoppe, A.  207, 308 Hoskins, A.  308 Hughes, R.  132, 148, 152, 160–161, 166, 168–169, 172, 308 Huyssen, A.  121, 308 Illanes, M. A.  210, 308 Isnenghi, M.  308 Jaksic, I.  210, 304 Janet, P.  34 Jedlowski, P.  58–59, 75, 308 Jingtang, H.  178 Jones, P.  25 Kabir, A. J.  159, 160, 309 Kang, Q.  178 Kansteiner, W.  30, 48, 309 Kaplan, A.  131, 309 Katriel, T.  6, 11, 130, 309 Ketcham, K.  35, 310 Klüger, R.  86, 155, 309 Kolk, B. van der  29–30, 309 Koselleck, R.  10, 57, 75, 168, 202, 309 Laarse, R. van der  15, 309 LaCapra, D.  10, 25, 30–31, 33, 35–36, 37, 38–40, 42, 45, 132–133, 309 Lambek, M.  11, 301 Landowski, E.  111, 113, 310 Landsberg, A.  21, 47, 129, 133–135, 310 Laplanche, J.  139, 310 Latour, B.  23 Laub, D.  23, 310 Lazzara, M. J.  212, 216, 218, 222, 310

321

Index Le Goff, J.  10, 310 Lennon, J.  113, 310 Leone, M.  310, 316 Levene, M.  177, 310 Levi, P.  43, 57, 106, 134, 166 Lévi-Strauss, C.  106 Levy, D.  11, 33, 310, 312 Leys, R.  25, 30, 32–33, 34, 40, 310 Libeskind, D.  178 Lim, J.-H.  54, 310 Loftus, E.  305, 310 Lorenzini, N.  298 Lorusso, A. M.  6, 13, 137, 311, 313, 316 Lotman, J. M.  9, 13, 60, 74, 101–102, 311 Luckhurst, R.  23, 25, 311 Lyotard, J.-F.  43, 311 Macdonald, S.  93, 306, 311 McFarlane, A.  309 Maleuvre, D.  93, 311 Manetti, G.  67, 311 Marotta, A.  101, 311 Marrone, G.  13, 31, 311 Marsciani, F.  311 Marstine, J.  93, 312 Martini, M.  124, 127, 312 Matta, P. A.  211, 222, 312 Mauss, M.  106 Mazzucchelli, F.  6, 13, 68, 88, 97, 100, 312 Meade, T. A.  210, 211, 223, 312 Message, K.  93, 312 Meyrowitz, J.  91, 312 Minuz, A.  115 Moeller, S. D.  142, 312 Nardelli, G.  115 Nath, V.  147, 150, 157–160 Nora, P.  9, 12, 74, 312

Odin, R.  124, 312 Olick, J. K.  57, 312 Orwell, G.  71 Paley, J.  210, 312 Panh, R.  22, 147, 150, 155, 157, 170, 312 Panosetti, D.  313 Paolucci, C.  6, 22, 306, 313, 316 Passerini, L.  10, 313 Pauer, G.  121 Penny, R.  177, 310 Pethes, N.  77, 313 Pezzini, I.  13, 93–94, 101, 103, 307, 313 Phillips, K. R.  58, 116–117, 146, 313 Pinochet, A.  23, 208–210, 224–226, 317 Pirazzoli, E.  302 Pisanty, V.  10, 36, 313 Pol Pot  1, 22, 150–152, 170–174, 303 Pomian, K.  10, 19, 313 Pontalis, J.-B.  139, 310 Portales, F.  210, 313 Portelli, A.  313 Postiglione, G.  93, 302 Pozzato, M. P.  13, 31, 313 Prieto, L.  88, 313 Priore, R.  273, 276 Rabe, J.  176, 191, 314 Radstone, S.  10, 57, 135, 308, 314 Rampazi, M.  58, 308 Ranger, T.  9, 308 Rechtman, R.  25, 305 Reyes, G. M.  15, 116–117, 146, 313 Richard, N.  210, 216, 225 Ricoeur, P.  10, 75, 169, 314 Rojek, C.  314 Rossi, P.  74, 314 Rothberg, M.  57, 95, 120, 147, 172, 314

322 Index Ruchatz, J.  77, 313 Ryle, G.  113

Urry, J.  314 Uspenskij, B.  311

Sabella, R.  177, 305 Safdie, M.  143, 314 Salerno, D.  6, 272, 276, 296, 314 Santoro, M.  315 Schlögel, K.  73, 315 Schulz, M.  101, 302, 305 Schwarz, B.  9, 57, 314 Sebeok, A.  82, 305 Sherman, D.  76, 315 Sodaro, A.  70, 307 Sontag, S.  57, 126, 142, 315 Sophera, C.  161 Sosa, C.  109, 315 Sozzi, P.  18, 315 Spielberg, S.  36, 44, 137

Vassallo, E.  208 Vergo, P.  93, 316 Vinitsky-Seroussi, V.  312 Violi, P.  13–14, 52, 81, 113, 128, 154, 249, 313, 316 Volli, U.  13, 31, 316

Tamm, M.  10, 315 Taylor, D.  130, 315 Tchou, D.  101, 303 Terr, L.  35, 315 Tobagi, B.  315 Togay, C.  121 Tota, A. L.  58, 314 Tramontana, A.  13, 315 Tumarkin, M.  315 Turnaturi, G.  274, 316

Yates, F.  74, 317 Yoshida, T.  177, 317 Young, A.  25, 317 Young, J. E.  76, 116, 317

Wagner-Pacifici, R.  168, 316 Wakabayashi, B. T.  177, 306, 316 Walker, J.  131, 316 Weilnböck, H.  48, 309 Weisath, L.  309 White, H.  40, 316 Williams, P.  54, 76, 120, 125, 317 Winn, P.  210, 317

Zelizer, B.  124, 317 Zevi, A.  317 Zevi, L.  140 Zilberberg, C.  306 Zunzunegui, S.  101, 103, 107, 317

C U LT U R A L

M E M O R I E S

SERIES EDITOR Katia Pizzi Director, Centre for the Study of Cultural Memory Institute of Modern Languages Research, University of London Cultural Memories is the publishing project of the Centre for the Study of Cultural Memory at the Institute of Modern Languages Research, University of London. The Centre is international in scope and promotes innovative research with a focus on interdisciplinary approaches to memory. This series supports the Centre by furthering original research in the global field of cultural memory studies. In particular, it seeks to challenge a monumentalizing model of memory in favour of a more fluid and heterogeneous one, where history, culture and memory are seen as complementary and intersecting. The series embraces new methodological approaches, encompassing a wide range of technologies of memory in cognate fields, including comparative studies, cultural studies, history, literature, media and communication, and cognitive science.The aim of Cultural Memories is to encourage and enhance research in the broad field of memory studies while, at the same time, pointing in new directions, providing a unique platform for creative and and forward-looking scholarship in the discipline.

Vol. 1

Margherita Sprio Migrant Memories: Cultural History, Cinema and the Italian Post-War Diaspora in Britain 2013. ISBN 978-3-0343-0947-9

Vol. 2

Shanti Sumartojo and Ben Wellings (eds) Nation, Memory and Great War Commemoration: Mobilizing the Past in Europe,  Australia and New Zealand 2014. ISBN 978-3-0343-0937-0

Vol. 3

Cara Levey Fragile Memory, Shifting Impunity: Commemoration and Contestation in Post-Dictatorship Argentina and Uruguay 2016. ISBN 978-3-0343-0987-5

Vol. 4 Vol. 5 Vol. 6 Vol. 7

Katia Pizzi and Marjatta Hietala (eds) Cold War Cities: History, Culture and Memory 2016. ISBN 978-3-0343-1766-5 Renata Schellenberg Commemorating Conflict: Models of Remembrance in Postwar Croatia 2016. ISBN 978-3-0343-1901-0 Stephen Wilson and Deborah Jaffé (eds) Memories of the Future: On Countervision 2017. ISBN 978-3-0343-1935-5 Patrizia Violi Landscapes of Memory: Trauma, Space, History 2017. ISBN 978-3-0343-2202-7

C U LT U R A L

M E M O R I E S

Praise for the Italian edition: ‘A lucid and highly articulate semiotic inquiry of trauma sites … Violi records what she sees and hears, recounts her own responses and those of others, photographs the places, describes them, reconstructs their historical background, and at the same time she interprets them with great acumen, using categories borrowed from Memory and Trauma Studies, as well as from the semiotics of Eco and Greimas. At the heart of her analysis is the complex relationship between the sites of memory and the visitors to whom they are addressed … ’ — Valentina Pisanty, University of Bergamo, Il Manifesto Since Auschwitz, and more and more frequently today, places that were theatres of mass suffering and other atrocities are becoming common features of our cultural landscape. What should we do with these places? Keep them as they were, to remind us of what actually took place there, as ideal museums of past evils? Or should we transform them and, if so, into which forms and according to which principles? Which pasts do these places transmit, and how? This volume uses an innovative semiotic methodology to analyse selected key trauma sites. The author demonstrates that these places can become, once properly interrogated, privileged observatories capable of throwing light upon the many different conflicts, forms of social control, and power relationships that underlie any politics of memory. The selfsame notions of trauma and memory become, in this way, rewritten in quite a different light: far from any kind of naturalistic definition, they emerge as painful ‘knots’ within which many of the most crucial questions in the contemporary world are intertwined. Patrizia Violi is Full Professor of Semiotics in the Department of Philosophy and Communication and Coordinator of the PhD Program in Semiotics at the University of Bologna. She is Director of the School of Advanced Studies in the Humanities and Director of TRAME (Interdisciplinary Centre for the Study of Memory and Cultural Traumas; www.trame.unibo.it) at the University of Bologna. Her main areas of research include text analysis, language and gender, and semantic theory. She is currently working on cultural semiotics and traumatic memory, in particular on memorials and memory museums.

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