Legendary treasure at Conques: Reliquaries and imaginative memory

Speculum 71 (4):884-906 (1996)
Inherent in memory is a paradox. Memory represents an attempt to fix information or an interpretation of it, an effort to freeze time into a crystalline image. But memory itself exists in time; the process of remembering destabilizes the frozen image, changing the contours of what is remembered. This paradox is embodied in the creation and subsequent cultural existence of monuments or memorials, which I define here as physical objects to which a commemorative meaning is attached. A monument is constructed in order to fix a memory and its interpretation, to render them present. But this meaning is hardly fixed; it is destabilized by memory itself, which over time reinterprets the monument to fit present needs. Think, for example, of how the pyramids' significance has been transformed by New Age devotees. Such metamorphoses of a memorial's meaning hardly need a millennial time frame. As James Young has shown so powerfully, the monument to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising erected in that same city has increasingly lost its specifically Jewish referentiality, appropriated not only by the largely non-Jewish population as a reminder of Polish resistance to oppression, but even more ironically by the Palestinians in the context of their own uprising, the intifada
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DOI 10.2307/2865723
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