Dr. Dawg

A note on statues

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statue death.jpg

May we finally lay to rest the notion that statues have anything to do with history? Despite the disingenuous squawking about “erasing” it, the current spate of statue-removal does nothing of the kind.

Statues are not pages from a history book; they are statements of triumphalism. If they merely commemorated history, they would not invariably be given a positive gloss: they do not simply speak, but affirm.

Like a distributed pantheon, these representations in parks and squares mimic immortality. After the flesh has crumbled to dust, they press forward into the future, oblivious of tempora or mores. If anything, they are ahistorical, pretending to exist outside time, their creators attempting to deny the very dimension that makes history possible.

But, as Ozymandias reminds us, this is futile. Statues are very much in this world and in this time, and even if their physical substance doesn’t erode, their significance may change. Statues of Lenin were hauled down by their hundreds in Eastern Europe after the collapse of Communism, for example, and statues of the late, unlamented Saddam Hussein were toppled all over Iraq. (As an aside, I didn’t hear any of the Usual Suspects whinging on about the “erasure of history” then.)

In the eddying current of events, meanings are unstable. The first Prime Minister of Canada may have built that railroad (with assistance, one supposes), but he was also a g√©nocidaire who was criticized even in his day for his racism. The statue of Samuel de Champlain in Ottawa’s Nepean Point once included a kneeling, apparently subservient, First Nations scout—that portion of the monument was moved, with little or no opposition. Confederate generals fought for the noble institution of slavery, and for the breakup of the country that now hosts innumerable monuments to them, and even names military bases after them. The fellow in the photo, above, was Edward Colston, an English slave-trader who hailed from Bristol. (A furious local Conservative lauded Colston as a “hero.”)

Pull ‘em down, I say. Damnatio memoriae. Re-name streets, while you’re at it, and those US bases. Make your statement, of the word or of the deed, to counter the triumphalist cheers crystallized in these appalling memorials. You’re not erasing history. You’re making it.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on June 11, 2020 8:58 AM.

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