James E. Young: Memory, Countermemory

In James E. Young’s Memory, Countermemory, and the End of the Monument he looks the monument problem that Germany faced after WWII, and addresses the way that classical monuments can only aid in forgetting. The first example that Young uses is the artist Horst Hoheisel’s “memorial to the murdered jews of Europe” proposal. The artist proposed that instead of building some new edifice to add to the landscape of Germany, that instead they should destroy it. Hoheisel proposed to demolish the Brandenburg Gate and allow the empty space to serve as a permanent reminder of the missing Jews. Hoheisel argued that creating a place for memory only served as a way for Germany to permanently end this chapter of their history. Thus encouraging people to forget.

From this radical proposal has come a rethinking of the purpose of monuments and their role. While many monuments are meant to serve as place for remembrance, they instead become “figurative icons of the late nineteenth century celebrating national ideals and triumphs to the anti-heroic”. While a monument to celebrate the victory of a war in one country rises triumphantly, it ignores the destruction of the other country.

While this idea of a different style of monument feels new, Lewis Mumford argued for this idea in the 1930’s. Mumford argued that the style of all monuments needed to be that of modernism architecture. “Believing that modern architecture invited the perpetuation of life itself, encourages renewal and change, and scorns the illusion of permanence.” While this idea is starkly planted in the modernist ideology, it is becoming clear that monuments nor their meaning is everlasting. Further using the same methods of creating a monument was counter to the new ideals and meanings of art after the Great War.

While all monuments are created to preserve memory and offer consolation, by creating large classical monuments they allow people to move on. While this can be important for the healing process, in many cases it allows for people to move forward without allowing the mourning process to be completed.


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