Building memory: practices of memorialization in post-holocaust Berlin
Kerry Whigham (Binghamton University)
Paper short abstract:
This presentation will take the form of a walk through Berlin that examines a handful of memorials to the Holocaust and World War II. Observing, analyzing, and contextualizing these spaces demonstrates a marked shift in practices of memorialization from the mid-20th century until today.
Paper long abstract:
Memory scholar Andreas Huyssen writes, "Berlin as text remains first and foremost historical text, marked as much, if not more, by absences as by the visible presence of its past…" (2003, 52). Some of the most present absences with which Berlin is concerned are the voids that were created by the death and destruction of World War II, most especially through the Nazi plot to annihilate European Jewry. This presentation will take the form of a walk through Berlin that examines a handful of memorials to the events of World War II. By observing, analyzing, and contextualizing each of these physical memorial spaces, each of which was created in a different period after WWII, this presentation will demonstrate a marked shift in practices of memorialization from the mid-20th century until today—a shift characterized by an increasing distrust of traditional monumentality and permanence, a move away from literal representation towards abstraction, and an amplified focus on the subjective, emotional experience of the individual visitor. This increased focus on the visitor's emotional life and the facilitation of embodied practice to engage with the past highlight an increasing recognition that the resonant violence of genocide is an affective force felt within and through the body. Through creating spaces that recall the past affectively in the present, new memorial spaces seek to transform the present effects of past violence into an entity that can be experienced and productively manipulated by and for the contemporary subject.
Conflict as cultural heritage