Guide Memory is the Weapon

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Perhaps it was the waving and calling, the tears of mixed feelings. Excitement and expectancy. And laughter and disappointment.


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A group of student protesters marched down Bertha Street. They were surrounded and quickly hustled into a police van. Journalists from the world over had come for the revolt. They were disappointed, as lorries rode westward free of incident. A smile of victory must have crossed the face of Dr Verwoerd, wherever he was. The exodus to Meadowlands was a long and tedious affair.

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The authorities must have wondered where all the people came from, because the more they moved, the more people there seemed to be. Shrewd politicians and businessmen who owned properties induced rural Africans to inhabit the vacant houses. The numbers swelled until the government authorities and the police introduced a permit system. When Klopper the Vicious stepped in, the night raids resulted in mass arrests. Bribery and corruption usually followed because the people always offered money.

Those who could not pay were jailed. I have vivid recollections of those raids, when families scurried like squirrels and slept in the open veld and the broken-down buildings. Some took refuge in our yard. We were Coloured and thus temporarily immune to this one form of hardship. But it was inevitable that we too, would be forced to sell and move. It was just a matter of time.

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For the best FunDza experience, login to FunDza. Amagama eNkululeko. Extract 2: Memory is the Weapon by Don Mattera. And so, the people sang… … Are we not leaving behind the rusty tin shacks and crowded hovels? The fall of socialism was followed by a change in the symbolic capital of memory. By the end of the 20 th century, when the national suppressed the class issue, national public monuments became dominant symbols of memory in the new states.

Public spaces were marked by churches and monuments to national figures in every corner of the new re-nationalized post-socialist countries. Since a public monument is always an expression of collective piety set in stone, a particular sacrifice made for the collective requires a regular ritual of memory conducted over the grave.

After the fall of socialism and the break-up of Yugoslavia, new national monuments were raised, but in some areas Croatia, Kosovo old multiethnic monuments were also widely demolished. Memories of national victims and the victims of communism swiftly and abundantly took over the public spaces. New states and new value systems had to be fed by a grand monumental symbolic capital. In order to make it more plausible, the erection of monuments to the victims of the civil war of the s was diligently followed by a widespread search for the victims of communist violence.

This article is an observation of new monuments as important weapons in the contemporary civil war of memory in the region.

Robin Rhode. Memory Is The Weapon

They do not carry the messages of the dead, but rather help those who are alive speak to the living. They awaken memories, and politicize emotions. It is an instrumental resistance against oblivion. All graveyards are spatial symbols of the continuity of a social group, and a monument is a material symbol of the dead individual.

Monuments are erected by the government. In order to be plausible, their monumental symbolism has to suggestively express the power of the government. They are not places of grief but a source of newfound power. Although European rulers had for centuries been depicted in paintings in the images of Apollo, Hercules or Odysseus, the most prominent symbol of public monuments was the horseman.

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The Middle Ages inherited the invincible warrior riding a powerful horse from Antiquity, but this monumental symbol was often impersonal. They were erected to French kings and German princes. The next phase came in the 19 th century, when, according to historian E. Hobsbawm, this tradition evolved into a statue-mania: monuments were erected to fathers of the nation in the USA and South America, and to general political symbols in France.

The state used the horseman as a symbol of its power in our region as well. A similar monument was erected to King Tomislav of Croatia in , also in Zagreb. A monument to Alexander the Great, also on horseback, was erected in Skopje in Monuments to Skanderbeg riding a horse were erected in the city centers of Tirana and Prishtina. A monument to King Peter riding a horse was erected in Bijeljina in , and renewed in As a rule, there are no monuments to communists on horseback.

Standing statues of communist figures in overcoats were symbols of class liberation as well as state and party power. The sculpted figure of Tito in a single block was a monolithic expression. The Enlightenment and the Revolution utterly destroyed the representative role of monuments to absolutism, and established the nation. Deprived of the Christian and dynastic frameworks, the people became great, instead of the individual rulers who had been placed at the center until then.

Monuments to tyrants were demolished, Voltaire and Rousseau became new ideological paragons. Allegorical statues dedicated to a nation, like Marianne — a symbol of freedom and reason, ensured the authority of the new republican political culture and served as an antithesis to the authority of the previous government, which was upheld by the grace of god. With the expansion of civil national myths, monarchist monuments were being demolished. The civil was slowly overpowering the dynastic culture of memory, to the same extent to which the government relying on the grace of god retreated before the expansion of republican culture.

The nation, as a new homogenous unity, began successfully distinguishing itself from others through public monuments in the 19 th century. Moreover, monuments became a symbolic capital not only of the nation, but parts of its elite as well. The working class began collectively remembering itself through monuments to its own leaders and communists only in socialism. The symbol of the socialist hero facing death was not a horseman.

Socialism imposed a different sort of class symbols set in stone. But then after the fall of European socialism the explosion of national restoration immediately renewed the monarchist monumental symbol of the horseman.

Memory is the Weapon

The evolution of the European monumental public memory is cyclical precisely due to the societal and ideological shift between revolution and restoration. In spite of the expanding criticism towards war, with the restoration of the nation in the late 20 th century, national public monuments became dominant symbols of memory in the new nation states. A public grave as a unity of life and death carried new symbolic messages.


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In the new re-nationalized post-socialist states, public spaces became marked by churches and national monuments. A particular emblem of the modern culture of nationalism is the monument to the unknown hero. These are empty graves without remains, but full of national imagination. Adding that a grave to an unknown Marxist or liberal is unheard of. Memorials to fallen heroes were mediators between politics, trauma, collective memory and public art. Simply put, a battle for the meaning of death is taking place.

As a means of stopping events, public monuments shape a selective past for the use of the present, so they are, naturally, highly politicized places of memory, demonstrating power and military dominance. This is the message of all imperial monuments whose aim is to inspire awe at the power of the state and its military, not to awaken pity towards the dead or to stir doubt in senseless killing. Are the new national monuments in our region not a spatial expression of an armed past?

Here too are nations homogenized through the aesthetic of death. Monuments are a reminder of transcendental immortality. After each major upheaval the living quickly choose new important dead, take down the old and build new glorious graves. The grave is mute, dead men tell no tales, so dead bodies have a great advantage as symbols.

In Croatia, after that, the graves of S.

Stepinac became symbolic capital. Similar things happened in other countries after the fall of socialism. Just as history is written by them, important monuments are erected, remembered, but also forgotten by the victors.