9: Constructions of Memory: On Monuments Old and New F 1999


“Human memory is a marvelous but fallacious instrument.” Thus begins The Drowned and the Saved, Primo Levi’s final meditation on the Nazi death camps, written four decades after his liberation from Auschwitz. “Marvelous but fallacious”—we might well say the same about those artifacts, those products of human memory, built and projected, by which we endeavor to remember what we fear to forget. The essays that make up the feature section of this issue explore the volatile and provocative role that monuments and memorials have played in the politics and culture of this century. Monuments have long been the subject of intellectual debate and artistic anguish; in recent decades both the debate and the anguish have intensified. Most of the essayists here acknowledge what seems an unassailable assumption of current thinking: that the cataclysmic events of this century—the World Wars, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Holocaust and the Gulag—have challenged the cultural value and artistic legitimacy of monuments and have thus proven humbling to those who try to create memorializing works of art. So too has a closely connected phenomenon: the widespread disillusionment with many of the ideas and ideals that have traditionally undergirded the creation of memorials—gods and saints, national destiny and martial glory, the march of progress and the promise of technology. In this debunking age, a monument is just as likely to be a colossal melting popsicle or gigantic window wiper as a bronze likeness of the commander of the latest localized war, a war that probably provoked more protest than patriotism. And yet to read in the growing literature on monuments and memorials is to become impressed by a fundamental contradiction. No matter that we live in a doubting and secular age, no matter that most patriotism is dismissed as naïve or outdated, or that postmodern theory has labored to raise doubts as to whether anything can be commemorated in good faith—the need to remember and honor important and terrible events, and exceptional men and women, remains undiminished.

— Nancy Levinson (excerpted from the introduction)

Table of Contents


Between Rooms 307

Mabel O. Wilson

Crowding the Mall

James S. Russell

Half-Truths and Misquotations

Robert Harbison

Hello…Is Anybody Out There?

Tim Culvahouse

It’s a Mall World After All: Disney, Design, and the American Dream

Tom Vanderbilt

Lives of the Dragon

Jan Otakar Fischer

Make History, Not Memory

Daniel Abramson

Memory and Counter-Memory

James E. Young

Mourning in Protest

Harriet F. Senie

Penn’s Shadow

Stanislaus von Moos

Remembrance and Redemption

Jay Winter

The Past in the Present

Kirk Savage


Cities in Civilization by Sir Peter Hall

Robert Fishman

Le Corbusier, the Noble Savage by Adolf Max Vogt

Daniel Naegele

The Architecture of Science edited by Peter Galison and Emily Thompson

James S. Ackerman

What Gardens Mean by Stephanie Ross

Robert Riley