Construct Page

Construct an abject electronic monument for understanding a personal/cultural loss.

The structure of the web monuments involves the following four linked projects --

1. Juxtapose cultural values with a loss or sacrifice. The purpose of this juxtaposition is to create an association between values and losses. For example, Ulmer might juxtapose an image representing the sacrifice of 55,000 annual auto deaths with an image of a consumer driving to the store to buy a pack of smokes. The right to own a private car and drive anywhere at anytime is considered a basic American right for all adult citizens -- yet thousands die every year for the rights of all to drive.

2. Present your personal sacred. Recent monuments (the Aids Quilt, or "Names Project," and the Vietnam Memorial Wall) bring the personal into relation with the cultural. The theory for the personal sacred is to be found in Michel Leiris' essay, "The Sacred in Everyday Life," which I discuss on the "personal" page.

3. Write a museum guide. A student in one of my classes gave a presentation in which she recounted visiting a civil war monument and seeing first the battlesite, then a statue memorializing those who died there, and then a museum, where she saw photos and other historical evidence, along with historical narratives and statistics about the events. The class incorporated this "museum" component into the project. Basically, a museum guide is an expository essay, perhaps broken into parts, providing all the necessary background a visitor needs in order to understand the historical dimensions of the monument.

4. Write a set of rhetorical instructions describing how to make an abject electronic monument for understanding a personal/cultural loss. I wanted my students to understand that rhetoric is invented and that it must be re-invented for the electronic environment. Since monuments are highly rhetorical, I wanted to remove as much mystification as I could from monument-making and I think nothing works better than having students write about the process in such a way that others could follow their instructions. Furthermore, I think the best pedagogy is show and tell -- show what you've done and tell how you did it; the result is that students can join exposition and aesthetics, description and method.

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Finally, students linked their projects to one another. These links were to be poetic and associative rather than strictly thematic, or to use more theoretical language, the projects linked by Eisensteinian montage principles, principally along the lines of the signifiers rather than the signifieds. For example, at the time of the OJ trial, I wanted to draw attention to the enormous sacrifice our nation makes by imprisoning millions of black men. This sacrifice was rendered abject by OJ's publicity.

I imagined a monument called "The Cell of the Unknown Black Prisoner." When one of my students wanted to do a monument to victims of sickle cell anemia, I knew that we could link our projects along the lines of the word "cell" even though the word meant two different things, depending on the context. I found that once I started thinking about the two monuments together because of their poetic link, I started to find other connections between them. For example, both prison and sickle cell anemia affect blacks proportionally ten times more than whites. Now the two topics are indelibly linked in my mind; I cannot hear of black prisoners without thinking of sickle cell anemia and vice verse.