Continuing Down the Streets of Paris: Memorialization, Representation, and Silence

Continuing Down the Streets of Paris: Memorialization, Representation, and Silence

Julianna Kirschner (Claremont Graduate University, USA)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9728-7.ch011
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As a result of the two world wars, the memorialization of traumatic events saw an exponential rise in the last one hundred years (Koshar, 2000). Many debates have been sparred as a result, and each one has a resonating theme of representation and silencing of voices. At what point does conversation end and creation begin? In this paper, two areas are explored: “vandalism” of cultural sites, and the reshaping of the narrative by those who visit these sites without prior knowledge of their meaning. These two areas bring forth the notion of what voices are represented in the memorial creation process and how one might define an intended and unintended public. Using Michel de Certeau's (1984) example of walking the streets of Paris, the author presents new conclusions about memorials and the fluidity of their meaning.
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It is October 2014. The streets of Paris are damp, but not slippery; it is a space that is used to the elements. Stepping out from Hotel de France on Rue Monge, a street parallel to the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3, the rain comes down steadily, but those already on the streets seem undeterred. Some pedestrians mask their faces from the precipitation with umbrellas, while others walk freely down the streets with soaked hair. The smell of baked bread from the café across the street is strong, and many gather at its entrance. The Quartier Latin is a bustling place, moving with life and conversation. It has a language that moves. As de Certeau (1984) describes, “The act of walking is to the urban system what the speech act is to language or to the statements uttered” (p. 97). The performative function of the speech act can be seen through constant movement.

Walking to the south, one encounters Starbucks, a common meeting place of college students, as evidenced by their backpacks piled near the exterior window. Without even entering, it is apparent there is not an open seat. Patrons drink coffee from glass mugs and vibrantly use their hands while speaking with others. It is a cultural dance of drinking and speaking all at once. When crossing the street to reach the other side of Rue Monge, the whimsical gesturing and engaged nonverbal communication is still apparent even as the distance grows. The flow of conversation is not yet disrupted by a silencing of free speech, particularly those of the victims of the Charlie Hebdo shooting. The melody of voices has not yet been interrupted by a cacophony.

However, the interactive environment veils a history of conflict that many would like to forget. The world wars have wounded this place and the country as a whole, and in its architecture, the scars are only beginning to fade with fresh paint. The refurbishment of century old buildings modernizes the aesthetic, while also maintaining a sense of neighborhood consistency and architectural white noise. These buildings continue to tell stories despite their respective facelifts. However, it is in the spaces that are untouched where one can gain a better sense of history.

These Paris streets have seen different intervals of ethnic conflict, and each one has subtly marked the space in both tangible and intangible ways. Caton (2008) remarks: “Social theorists generally agree that such work [ethnic conflict] depends on a concept of distributive justice for under-represented ethnic peoples, and that type of group justice will not happen simply by guaranteeing individual rights” (p. 1033). Although walking these streets represents only the beginning, it serves as a means to map out points of contention and areas that warrant further exploration. Walking the streets of Paris represents a new form of cartography, one that allows the spaces to speak for themselves.

Continuing north on Rue Monge, cafes are aplenty, and those that line the northern part of the street are local institutions. These gathering places are busy, while other fixtures are vacant. To the right, several local farmers set up display stands for their fresh fruit and vegetables. A bookshop opens after the lunch hour, and other souvenir shops turn their lights on. The businesses awaken again after the owners and employees have had a filling lunchtime meal, and the rain begins to subside. However, one area still appears to be vacant; it is an open park space on the western side of the street.

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