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A Line or Two: Memorial Mania

I've long been interested in public art, and in the course of doing some writing and editing in that area, I've noticed—it's hard to miss—a fundamental change in the nature of public monuments in our country. Today, a piece of public sculpture or landscape architecture designed as a monument is more likely to commemorate victims than heroes. The "bronze statue in the park" of the victorious general or successful local politico is in decline, as memorials proliferate that mourn the passage of people who, in many cases, were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The looming archetype of this sort of monument, of course, the 9/11 Memorial in lower Manhattan, with its reflecting pools and inscribed names of the dead. But there are many others, from the monument to Timothy McVeigh's victims in Oklahoma City to works that commemorate executed witches, lynching victims, and cancer survivors.

Noted University of Notre Dame art historian Erika Doss--who earned her PhD right here at the U of M--will explore this trend and other aspects of what she considers to be an explosion of American memorial-making, and its surprisingly complex implications, in a lecture at Macalester College this Thursday, October 18.

History, Memory, Mourning

Doss's recent book Memorial Mania: Public Feeling in America (University of Chicago Press) looks at the growth of memorials with a broad focus, taking in everything from the 9/11 memorial controversy to the informal, temporary memorials that spring up at the sites of traffic deaths, shootings, and other local tragedies. For Doss, the impulse behind the creation of these new memorials is a relatively new obsession with questions of memory and history and an urgent need to make this obsession public.

"Driven by heated struggles over self-definition, national purpose, and the politics of representation," says the promotional material for the talk, "memorial mania is especially shaped by the fevered pitch of public feeling in America today, including grief, gratitude, fear, shame, and anger."

Expect Doss to talk about how memorials make citizenship claims for once-excluded people (The Martin Luther King monument on the National Mall, for example), how public controversies over memorials mirror the political and social polarization that seems to be growing among us, the issue of memorials to loss and victimhood (like the 9/11 and Oklahoma City instances), and maybe why she used the rather inflammatory "mania" in her title.

Erika Doss will speak at 7 PM
Thursday, October 18
Hewitt Hall
Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center
130 Macalester Street, St. Paul, MN 55105
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