Ernst Thälmann Memorial, Prenzlauer Berg, East Berlin (a commonly defaced memorial of a communist leader tortured by Nazis).
First, I’d like to thank our guest blogger this week Jordan Andrew for his intriguing post “The Architecture and Infrastructure of Memory (MAI),” which was a new topic to me.
Second, the picture in his post was original, he revealed in comments later on, which makes Jordan one of our best guest bloggers we’ve ever had.
So, my post follows-up on the original. Close readers will notice that my title is identical, with one exception, the “?”. The question mark has to do with a discussion that ensued after the post appeared. Deliberation ensued regarding whether or not “MAI facilitates (and limits) possibilities and creates complex connections between these possibilities” or if “what connects them is actually” Jordan’s post? That discussion is here; however, the sticking-points include that “there are no actual/infrastructural networks” (per Jordan’s opening line of paragraph 1) and that “memory is a thing we do and not a thing in the world right” (per Jordan’s closing line of paragraph 1).
Now, the opening line reads: “What is the connection between the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) and the National Holocaust Monument currently being built in Ottawa, Canada?” which was rejected, essentially whole cloth, by our longest time commenter, dmf. Now, while I am admittedly sympathetic to the vision of the world encapsulated in MAI, dmf makes a good point with regard to this particular case in that identifying an observable, material link between the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) and the National Holocaust Monument (currently being built in Ottawa, Canada) is remarkably difficult to locate outside of the landscape of the mind. My read of the opening line was not so much a challenge with regard to literally mapping an infrastructural connection between these two explicit, seemingly exclusive, objects situated in separate geographic locations; I saw the opening line more as a thought experiment — an invitation to imagine the linkage more generally, applied perhaps tentatively between things massive, steeped in memory on the same scale as the aforementioned infrastructure and memorial. The way the first line is phrased frames the image for the reader in a particular (and possibly unanticipated way): it seems to imply that a literal, material network connection linking two material sites of infrastructure or memorial can be identified, traced, or mapped. The point, to my mind, simply cannot be to establish, in an academic fashion, that it is merely possible to connect the sites. That is, though it became the subject of considerable debate, an academic claim that I find underwhelming (in fact, dmf’s concern “there are no actual/infrastructural networks” between two sites could be answered by googlemaps).
Next, the closing line reads: “This is because MAI is intricately bound up in both remembrance and sovereignty,” which links to the remark: “MAI facilitates (and limits) possibilities and creates complex connections between these possibilities.” The concern is that memory is non-material, it is “a thing we do and not a thing in the world right,” and, as such, the literal making of connections (the actual networking, in the active sense) seems all but impossible. However, as I read this, it was precisely that memory and sovereignty, as un-material as they may at first appear (given that they are conceptual in form and function, and, to many thinkers, concepts do not exist in the proper sense of the term “exist”); however, memory and sovereignty do apparently have a kind of agency (or force to intervene or shape) in our world. It may be nonhuman and, crucially, uninhabited agency; however, per Jordan’s statement, now-standing examples of memorial architecture and infrastructure (such as Ernst Thälmann Park above) seem to be memory put to material, shaping the expression of memory through designs (accepted and rejected), decisions about what materials to use (or not use), and infrastructures (some which capture the memory more effectively than some competing arrangement), all happen through material practices at a particular time with a particular set of skills, decision-makers, and concerned (or disconcerted) publics, and so on, so that when we look into these particular moments in time, memory and materialized get bound together into a portmanteau that makes “memorialized” seem so reasonable.
I look forward to continuing this discussion …