Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Memorial to Nothingness

Candace de Russy has discovered yet another reason to be angry at postmodernists:

Academic postmodernism has profoundly influenced the arts, including memorials such as that long, black, unadorned sculpture in a hole in the ground, the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, created by a college student a quarter of a century ago.
The Memorial is adorned, of course...with the names of 58,000 dead people.

The design seems to me to be pretty respectful, not least because it avoids needless editorializing. My understanding is that many of the hundreds of thousands of people who visit it each year find it to be emotionally overwhelming, if not devastating. There are probably people who'd rather see a 200-foot statue of Richard Nixon planting his boot on Hồ Chí Minh's neck while running Jane Fonda through with a bayonet, but I think the majority of visitors would find that sort of pseudopatriotic kitsch somewhat...distracting.

The ability to create a monument that moves people from across the ideological spectrum is pretty impressive, I'd say, whether postmodernism inspired it or not.

For de Russy, though, art exists solely to indoctrinate. Thus, the absence of any overt flag-waving or hippy-bashing renders the Vietnam Memorial a "memorial to nothingness" that serves "merely to note the reality of death."

The moral vacuum is in the monument, y'see, and not in the spectator whose instinctive response to it is frivolous ideological bellyaching.

In our next installment, de Russy travels to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and complains about the postmodern aestheticization of ruins.


Anonymous said...

An interesting aspect of the memorial is that surface reflects the people looking at the memorial, searching for names. Gave me the chills. And was deeply moving.

olvlzl said...

Isn't this the most visited memorial in DC? More than the Lincoln Memorial?

The Memorial is adorned, of course...with the names of 58,000 dead people.

Very well put, it reminds me of the eleventh verse of When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed

O what shall I hang on the chamber walls?
And what shall the pictures be that I hang on the walls,
To adorn the burial-house of him I love?

Pictures of growing spring, and farms, and homes,
With the Fourth-month eve at sundown, and the gray smoke lucid and bright,
With floods of the yellow gold of the gorgeous, indolent, sinking sun, burning, expanding the air;
With the fresh sweet herbage under foot, and the pale green leaves of the trees prolific;
In the distance the flowing glaze, the breast of the river, with a wind-dapple here and there;
With ranging hills on the banks, with many a line against the sky, and shadows;
And the city at hand, with dwellings so dense, and stacks of chimneys,
And all the scenes of life, and the workshops, and the workmen homeward returning.

The American People have voted, de Russy has lost in a landslide. About the only thing I've got to say is that the Vietnam Memorial has spawned too many imitators and the memorial movement which has gotten way out of hand. Great works of public art can do that, get people thinking.

charley said...

An interesting aspect of the memorial is that surface reflects the people looking at the memorial...

what i said at exchaton the other nite. or precisely, "the thing about the wall is you can see yourself in it."

and pie responded "which is probably why they don't understand."

then there is the whole beating on postmodernism thing, which is even more boring than trying to describe postmodernism. or as i like to say, "it's not art unless it pisses someone off." which is easy enuf to do, and not necessarily art. but when it is art, that's beautiful.

it's a a very moving memorial.

roger said...

i don't know if it's art but i know what i like, or more precisely, what moves me deeply. the other some thousand(s) at the wall when i was there seemed to feel the same.

who is candace derussy to blow against the wind?