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On Commemoration

Global Reflections upon Remembering War

Edited By Catherine Gilbert, Kate McLoughlin and Niall Munro

How, in the twenty-first century, can we do commemoration better? In particular, how can commemoration contribute to post-war reconciliation and reconstruction? In this book, a global roster of distinguished writers, artists, musicians, religious leaders, military veterans and scholars debate these questions and ponder the future of commemoration. They include the world-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tony Horwitz, the award-winning novelists Aminatta Forna and Rachel Seiffert, and the human rights lawyer and Gifford Baillie Prize-winner Philippe Sands. Polemics and reflections together with poetry and creative prose movingly illuminate a subject that speaks to our common humanity.

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Introduction: More than Stone – Finding Ourselves in Our Monuments (Niall Munro)

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niall munro

The Austrian writer Robert Musil knew a thing or two about ‘monumental’ work. Author of the three-volume novel The Man Without Qualities (1930–43), which has more than 1,000 pages, he once contended that ‘there is nothing in this world as invisible as a monument’.1 In an essay of 1927, Musil argued that monuments simply blend into the background: ‘[e];very day you have to walk around them, or use their pedestal as a haven of rest, you employ them as a compass or a distance marker; when you happen upon the well-known square, you sense them as you would a tree, as part of the street scenery’. But, Musil says, ‘you never look at them’.2 And for a great many people this is surely still true. We can probably all think of a monument, plaque, statue, or marker that we habitually pass on our way to somewhere else – but unless we have a personal connection to it or are part of a commemorative event, do we ever really ‘see’ it? Is what you see the same as what I see? And if we are only attentive to monuments once a year on commemorative occasions, should they really have a permanent place in our landscape? What we see when we look at history defines us, so what we build in memoriam should help to define where we are and where we are going, too.

One of the places most defined by its past...

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