Saturday, 18 April 2009

Blog Round-Up/On Visiting Memory Sites

A post on Tim's El Salvador blog about 'war tourism' really got me thinking. I always have a niggling feeling that there is something vaguely unethical about revisiting sites of particular national trauma - especially those which are recent enough to be still memorable and painful to large sections of the population. Whether it's the Shankill Road or Auschwitz, there seems to be an aspect of voyeurism in such trips. Hey guys, let's go shopping in the morning, and then check out where loads of people were horrifically murdered in the afternoon. Do they have a gift shop?

This, of course, makes me the biggest hypocrite in history, since I seek out sites of significant events, memorials, and memorial museums wherever I go - including Dachau, the ESMA, Ayacucho, and others. I may have read more on memory issues than the average person (I think I can guarantee that), but I still sometimes stand and eat my lunch next to the memorial to murdered Jews in my city. I try and do it mindfully. I do not sit on the memorial while I eat - I recently saw a photo of a woman sunbathing on the Holocaust memorial in Berlin, and if you ask me that is a step too far.

I guess the outcome of this musing that I think that 1) there is a difference between delibarately-created commemorative sites, ie museums and memorials - even if they are situated in particularly significant locations - and places where people still just live. It might still be very interesting to visit those places, but you have to bear in mind that the inhabitants are not animals at the zoo. And 2) there probably is a certain amount of ghoulishness in some people's motives for visiting historical sites (and studying historical periods). You can regard this with a pinch of suspicion, but on balance, they are still opportunities to learn, and grow, and remember.

Apart from that meandering aside from me, I've also been reading Mr. Trend on coverage of the Brazilian dictatorship in the local press, and watching a trailer of documentary Oblivion (dir. Heddy Honigmann). I'd seen a clip of this before but the trailer - Spanish with English subtitles - is very interesting and led me to seek out a review of the film.

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