Landscapes of Memory

Trauma, Space, History

by Patrizia Violi (Author)
Monographs X, 324 Pages
Series: Cultural Memories, Volume 7


Since Auschwitz, and more and more frequently today, places that were theatres of mass suffering and other atrocities are becoming common features of our cultural landscape. What should we do with these places? Keep them as they were, to remind us of what actually took place there, as ideal museums of past evils? Or should we transform them and, if so, into which forms and according to which principles? Which pasts do these places transmit, and how? This volume uses an innovative semiotic methodology to analyse selected key trauma sites. The author demonstrates that these places can become, once properly interrogated, privileged observatories capable of throwing light upon the many different conflicts, forms of social control, and power relationships that underlie any politics of memory. The selfsame notions of trauma and memory become, in this way, rewritten in quite a different light: far from any kind of naturalistic definition, they emerge as painful «knots» within which many of the most crucial questions in the contemporary world are intertwined.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of figures
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: Remembering trauma: From compulsion to traumatic heritage
  • Chapter 2: Spatializing trauma: From the trace to suffering as spectacle
  • Chapter 3: Re-presenting the horror: The Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide Crimes in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
  • Chapter 4: The rhetoric of nationhood: The Memorial Hall in Nanjing
  • Chapter 5: The difficult memories of Latin American dictatorships: The case of Chile
  • Chapter 6: The difficult memories of Latin American dictatorships: The case of Argentina
  • Chapter 7: When trauma meets art: The Museo per la Memoria di Ustica in Bologna
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index

← vi | vii →


Figure 1.1:A view of Oradour-sur-Glane.
Figure 1.2:Oradour-sur-Glane, detail.
Figure 2.1:The bomb crater.
Figure 2.2:The breach in the wall.
Figure 2.3:Commemoration of the dead in Iraq.
Figure 2.4:The Risiera di San Sabba.
Figure 3.1:Tuol Sleng, exterior.
Figure 3.2:Individual cell. Painting by Vann Nath.
Figure 3.3:Communal cell. Painting by Vann Nath.
Figure 3.4:Barrel torture. Painting by Vann Nath.
Figure 3.5:The map of human skulls.
Figure 3.6:Photos of prisoners.
Figure 3.7:Photos of prisoners.
Figure 3.8:Photos of prisoners, detail.
Figure 4.1:Model of the Memorial Hall.
Figure 4.2:Map of the Memorial Hall.
Figure 4.3:The Sculpture Square outside the Memorial Hall.
Figure 4.4:The Wall of Calamity.
Figure 4.5:The large cross monument.
Figure 4.6:The Bell of Peace monument.
Figure 4.7:Inside the museum: Technological devices.
Figure 4.8:The Graveyard Square. ← vii | viii →
Figure 4.9:The Mass Grave of 10,000 Corpses, interior.
Figure 4.10:The altar in the Memorial Square.
Figure 4.11:The Meditation Hall, interior.
Figure 4.12:The Peace Park, detail.
Figure 5.1:A view of the Peace Park.
Figure 5.2:A view of the Peace Park.
Figure 5.3:The mosaics in the park.
Figure 5.4:The mosaic inscriptions.
Figure 5.5:The rose garden.
Figure 5.6:The wall with the names of the victims.
Figure 5.7:The monument to the victims from the Chilean Communist Party.
Figure 5.8:The monument to the victims from the MIR.
Figure 5.9:The monument to the victims from the MAPU.
Figure 5.10:The pavement in front of Londres 38 with its “stumbling stones”.
Figure 5.11:The pavement, detail of the “stumbling stones”.
Figure 5.12:Londres 38, the entry.
Figure 5.13:Londres 38, the offices.
Figure 5.14:Londres 38, detail of gunshots.
Figure 5.15:Casa Cañas before its demolition.
Figure 5.16:The remains of Casa Cañas, detail.
Figure 5.17:The remains of Casa Cañas, detail.
Figure 5.18:The monument at the entry to Casa Cañas.
Figure 5.19:Mural in Casa Cañas.
Figure 5.20:The space behind Casa Cañas. ← viii | ix →
Figure 5.21:The space behind Casa Cañas.
Figure 5.22:Nido 20, exterior.
Figure 5.23:The interior of a cupboard in Nido 20.
Figure 6.1:Photos of the disappeared at the entrance to the ESMA.
Figure 6.2:Photos of the disappeared at the Faculty of Architecture.
Figure 6.3:The main façade of the ESMA.
Figure 6.4:Plan of the complex.
Figure 6.5:Diagram of semantic relations.
Figure 6.6:Diagram of various actors’ positions at ESMA.
Figure 7.1:The adjacent tram station.
Figure 7.2:The exterior of the museum.
Figure 7.3:The wreck, Museum for the Memory of Ustica.
Figure 7.4:The boxes beside the wreck, Museum for the Memory of Ustica.
Figure 7.5:The gallery of black mirrors.
Figure 7.6:The white booklet.
Figure 7.7:The white booklet.
Figure 7.8:The white booklet.

All photos courtesy of the author. ← ix | x →

← x | 1 →


A few years ago I was in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, on a trip through Southeast Asia. It was on that occasion that I made my first visit to Tuol Sleng, the museum of the Cambodian genocide, situated in the very place where, during the Pol Pot regime, 17,000 Cambodians were imprisoned, tortured and killed. Traces of their blood are still visible on the tiled floor of what was originally an elegant high school for the city’s upper middle classes, and their motionless faces gaze at us from the countless ID photos that cover the walls of the museum. And we know that right there, in the place we are visiting, those persons suffered and died.

A visit to Tuol Sleng is a very powerful experience and unforgettable in its way, an experience that leaves you distraught and horrified, but also a little disoriented and puzzled: you “feel” a great deal but you understand very little. Why were all those people slaughtered so barbarously? What really happened in Cambodia in those years? How could it have happened? The museum shows us a horrific event that occurred, but it does not help us understand the causes, or to decipher the rationale behind them.


X, 324
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2017 (November)
memory places trauma semiotics memory mass suffering Auschwitz
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2017. X, 324 pp., 61 b/w ill., 2 tables, 2 fig.

Biographical notes

Patrizia Violi (Author)

Patrizia Violi is Full Professor of Semiotics in the Department of Philosophy and Communication and Coordinator of the PhD Program in Semiotics at the University of Bologna. She is Director of the School of Advanced Studies in the Humanities and Director of TRAME (Interdisciplinary Centre for the Study of Memory and Cultural Traumas; www.trame.unibo.it) at the University of Bologna. Her main areas of research include text analysis, language and gender, and semantic theory. She is currently working on cultural semiotics and traumatic memory, in particular on memorials and memory museums.


Title: Landscapes of Memory