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Memorializing Loss

This is a posting I made to the international Classics Discussion list on the internet on January 19, 2004:

For a while now I have been struck by the ways in which cultures honor their dead...I do visit cemeteries for views of private responses (one day I will post my images of the cemetery in Rome where Keats, etc, are buried - the etc includes a son of Goethe) , but I am most interested in public memorials to groups of people lost - soldiers as well as innocents and how the ancient memorials influence modern ones. (In one of my web lectures, I compare Maya Lin's Vietnam War Memorial in DC to the memorial at Marathon).

When I first saw the plans for the World Trade Center memorial ("Reflecting Absence"), I immediately thought of the memorial in the Bebelplatz in Berlin, designed to commemorate the burning of condemned books in the plaza by university students on May 10, 1933, a fire that became a conflagration (in fact, a Holocaust). The Israeli sculptor Micha Ullman designed it in 1994. You peer into it from street level (through plexiglass), and all it is are empty library shelves. Reflecting Absence indeed. Here is my image of that: http://lilt.ilstu.edu/drjclassics/bebelplatz.jpg
But tooling around on the nytimes website I found this article by HERBERT MUSCHAMP
which connects our sense of loss to, believe it or not, the loss felt by Demeter:
"Reflecting Absence puts us in mind of societies where birth and death were understood to be two aspects of life. That is its signal virtue. Though it outlines the specifics of a contemporary tragedy, the design draws deeply upon historical memory.
This gazer into Mr. Arad's pool sees the reflections of a usable myth. Artists like Frank Gehry and Twyla Tharp nudged me in this direction in late 2001.

Mr. Gehry urged me to read Seneca, but Marcus Aurelius proved more helpful. Where have we come from? Where are we going? What is the nature of this place? How does a city find its bearings when East meets West?

Ms. Tharp boxed my ears until I admitted that continuity matters more than rupture, especially at times when rupture isn't hard to find. She suggested reading Carl Kerenyi's "Eleusis," a Jungian study of the religious center of ancient Athens. Subtitled "Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter," the book characterizes the Eleusian mysteries, which were initiated by Demeter's search for Persephone, as a quest for identity."


full article with lots of other classical refs at:

copyright 2001 Janice Siegel, All Rights Reserved
send comments to: Janice Siegel (jfsiege@ilstu.edu)

date this page was edited last: 08/02/2005
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