History and incompleteness

History and Theory 49 (1):104-114 (2010)

Vera Schwarcz's Place and Memory in the Singing Crane Garden examines the moral, philosophical, and historical meanings of a garden built by a Manchu Chinese prince, subsequently destroyed by British imperialists, commandeered by Red Guard radicals, and finally transformed into the grounds of an art museum. Reading Singing Crane Garden in the context of Schwarcz's previous writings on Chinese intellectuals and Jewish traditions, as well as insights provided by critical philosophers and geographers, this essay explores the moral and ethical dimensions of locating history in specific “emplacements”. The argument begins by examining the phenomenology of place articulated by Edward Casey, weaves through discussions of Chinese spatiality, embodiment, and garden aesthetics, and comments on Schwarcz's study of broken monuments and stele through comparisons with Classical Chinese writers and the contemporary American poet Louise Glück. Comparisons are made between the destruction of the garden by the British forces of James Elgin, the murder of the journalist Thomas Bowlby, and the purging, imprisonment, torture, and brutality against scholars and intellectuals by the Red Guards under Mao. The essay closes with commentaries on Schwarcz's reflections concerning continuing global atrocities, and new insights into the ways that understanding landscape architecture as a form of history can bring meaning to questions of memory, loss, and the desire to evoke unrecoverable experiences
Keywords Chinese philosophy  place  space  monument  memory  morality  imperialism  landscape  torture
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DOI 10.1111/j.1468-2303.2010.00531.x
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