Monument Page

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


The day will come when "Monument 101" appears with "Argument 101" in the course schedules. Argument has provided the model for organizing and presenting information in literate culture for 2500 years. Argument has a memory function, a persuasion function, and an organization function. Our culture retains its accumulated wisdom in books written as arguments. Arguments persuade, and they organize information. Monuments also serve these functions. Think of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This monument reminds people of the sacrifices made by their predecessors, and thus it reminds people of their connection to a social body with a preferred set of values (the highest of which is to die for one's country -- and thus live forever). The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier also persuades; every time the U.S. sends soldiers to war, the government appeals to pathos by claiming that to fight our enemies is to honor our fallen soldiers from previous wars. Fighting a new war makes good on an old debt. Lastly, monuments organize information: how much and what kind will be discussed throughout this web site.

1. Monumentality means selecting as significant a particular set of deaths or losses and ascribing to them a value and purpose. For historians of the French Revolution such as Michelet and Renan, this meant putting words in dead people's mouths and claiming to speak for their "true" desires. Victims of wars became sacrifices for "the Nation" or some other set of values, "even when these sacrifices were not understood as such by the victims." [quote by Benedict Anderson, emphasis his]

2. Monuments recognize these deaths or losses, within a narrative framework, as sacrifices on behalf of shared collective values.

3. The members of a society become indebted to those who have sacrificed. (At the very least, that debt is to mourn them, to retain their memory).

4. This mourning allows institutions (like nations) to transform the contingencies of life into continuity (through narrative) and to pass the values of the collectivity to the next generation.

5. By "writing" monuments, we can bring into view the values of the culture. Gregory Ulmer's essay "Abject Monumentality" recognizes repressed categories of loss. Ulmer proposes two monuments, one for auto deaths, one for pet deaths, calling for recognition of sacrifices on behalf of our right to drive cars and own pets.

Abject monumentality is perfectly suited to the electronic environment, where a new writing that is both collective and personal is taking shape. This monumentality differs from more "traditional" architectural monuments, but monumentality itself is far from dead.

Ulmer, in his essay, "Abject Monumentality," argues that the electronic sphere needs its own practices of monumentality. He answers the claims

made by modernists (especially in architecture) that electronic technology was largely responsible for the decline of the public field. The monumental function of architecture included mourning, understood as the collective version of the psychology of identification -- the formation of the superego in an individual through the internalization (introjection) of ego- ideals. Monumentality was responsible for maintaining a sense of national identity from one generation to the next (hence the mourning by one generation for the loss of the previous generation, back to the Founding Fathers).

The response of those teaching monumentality in the NWE is to invent new practices of monumentality, bringing students into the invention process. Just as the textbook and styles of textbook learning were invented (by Peter Ramus in the 16th century) so do we need learning practices for our information technologies.

Pedagogy is a practice of monumentality within education (involving the reading of cultural "touchstones") just as tourism is a practice of monumentality within leisure (Disney theme parks are part of national identity), but though the practices of monumentality developed over centuries of literacy and architecture have come under assault from electronic media, new practices of monumentality for the electronic have not yet been found. Finding, or inventing, these practices is the challenge we face.

When the class began the project, we looked for existing web monuments and found some, which I have linked below:

The AIDS Mosaic

The Vietnam Veteran's Memorial Wall