This exists in the larger contexts of teaching and learning what it means to write as our culture moves away from literacy or literate reasoning and into electracy. That is, ours is a “society of the spectacle in which the image and the word have become inseparable” (p. xxxiii). Monumentality, then, is a kind of writing (p. 25). Cultures create or write monuments that reflect the institutional values, and those values can be read or encountered by way of Theoria. EmerAgency works toward the democratization of monumentality to allow a more authentic process of mourning and self-recognition.
Monumentality is a central item in this collection in that it handles the more illusive item of mourning. The psychological function of monuments [are] known as ‘mourning.’ In psychoanalytic terms, “mourning refers to the process by which the person in constituted as a distinctly separate self, yet part of the larger whole of society” (p. 13). Mourning (through monuments), in other words, is the process of becoming part of society, and thus an acknowledged self. It’s also the process of being distinguished as a unique self, and thus cut off from the society. Monuments are entry points into a national identity—a group subject.
MEmorials are monuments built from mourning. A MEmorial is a kind of mourning, but a mourning that is produced through juxtaposition and mood—an unofficial mourning, and one that derives from electracy rather than literacy. That is, mourning is an item that the MEmorial expands or opens for further exploration in a way that the prototypical memorial cannot. Traditional monuments valorize a loss that is recognized “as a sacrifice on behalf of a public, collective value” (p. 130). The process of the MEmorial works to mourn the sacrifice that literate reasoning will struggle to locate because monuments work along a specific chain of reasoning: “behavior, cost-benefit, belief, value, public recognition, ideal, sacrifice, memorial, ritual, forgetting” (p. 130). There is little room on this chain for a mourning that recognizes the excess or peripheral loss. The mourning generated by the MEmorial looks for the peripheral loss. It is a mourning that is at least aware, for example, that our seemingly memorialized freedom to raise our children independently of governmental control necessarily entails occasions of child abuse. In other words, when “you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck” (p. 36). Peripheral mourning teaches us to pay better attention. And because it is a based on mood and juxtaposition of images and information (electracy) rather than the concept (literacy), it can best come to light through the process of a MEmorial.
This is an item that for Ulmer is reminiscent of Lacan’s gaze. It’s also the beginning of the MEmorial process. The punctum is a “distortion precipitating the viewer into looking back at himself or herself, into interrogating what is seen” (p. 103). The punctum is what grabs the back of our neck or rearranges our guts. It is a bodily affect that happens willy-nilly. It has nothing to do with our desire to control or analyze the person, object, or new-item under our gaze. It just happens. The punctum is an item that begins the process of a MEmorial because the punctum is when we are forced to consider ourselves as implicit in the object of our gaze. What do we see when we see the other? What is that mood that comes from something other than a concept?
Does Ulmer impose too much structure on the libidinal act?
Ulmer begins his own MEmorial when he is affected (encounters a punctum) by a news story concerning the death of Bradley McGee, a two-year-old boy. McGee was killed by his father after being repeatedly dunked into the toilet for soiling his pants. This is a painful story in itself. But Ulmer felt something he could not explain. He began to create a MEmorial and recognizes that he participates in this tragedy by adhering to the value that allows him to raise his children without interference. Child abuse is a sacrifice that exists on the periphery of the freedom to raise our children. This is what punctum can do: it leads to a self-knowledge that is deeply connected to a cultural.
The MEmorial is a process that allows a composer or egent to write from the middle voice. Rather than actively or passively addressing an external audience, “The MEmorial is self-addressed, first of all, in the middle voice; the action is reflexive (p. 171). This item is a bit fragile. We have to be careful. The Middle Voice does not correspond to what is often called writer-based prose. It is not strictly a voice intended to communicate the self to the self. It’s more than journaling, more than free writing. And yet the Middle Voice is an item that does represent the I-I, not the I-Other communication method inherent in the MEmorial. What this allows for is an experience of mourning that takes place through the act of memorializing (or mourning) itself. Ulmer could bear witness to the story of the Bradley McGee as well as the sacrifice required for the freedom to raise our children. He could teach himself, through the act of the MEmorial, how he participates an value economy that will always have excess—like Bradley McGee. “I benefit from the circumstances that make possible the murder of Bradley McGee. I am a parent; a father of two sons. My right to have children and raise them in my own way was paid for by Bradley McGee (and all the others)” (p. 174-175). It is this recognition that comes in the form of the Middle Voice that can point to our individual participation in the group that is part of our individuation. The Middle Voice is an item within the MEmorial that is for us, and so, for others.
We want this to work.
This item is taken from a Greek tragedy collection and used here in much the same way, but with a twist of course. In fact, Ulmer would like us to call the item Neo-ATH. What it means is foolishness “when applied to individual actions and ‘calamity’ when applied to collective actions” (p. 215). It is a blindness, a gap, a hole that goes unrecognized for important reasons. For example, we are blind to the fact that the value of driving, the value to be free to go in a vehicle whenever we like, entails the death of thousands of people each year. Car accidents, because of literate reasoning, are deemed a cause of bad drivers or poorly designed roads. That might be true, but they are also a sacrifice to the value of driving, which needs to be seen. The new ATH, or Neo-ATH is updated in this archive “from its original medium (theatrical tragedy) to inquire into contemporary ATH using Internet consulting” (p. 215). The Internet is not staged, consequently a recognition and exposition of ATH is participatory. The MEmorial is a means for this participation.