tag : bright yellow-green apples: to bear in mind

"I see little point in persisting in a discussion with one so obstinate as you" Martin White

Saturday, September 17, 2005

to bear in mind



figure 45.8. none may go yet

The main road south from my town passes through a very windy and steep valley, at times pressed in on either side by trees. Because so many tourists pass through, complacently going at high speeds, we get a lot of accidents - of which a fair few have been, unfortunately, fatal. Apart from front page coverage in the Matlock Mercury, I've noticed in recent years a tendency for various memorials. Often a bunch of flowers and card, there have been the odd plaque or longer lasting token - there's a poignancy to it, when we see police helicopters flying overhead throughout the summer weekends.

Thus my eye was immediately drawn to this comment in the Guardian recently. It seems quite brave, in a way, to question the ad hoc shrines to grief. Because private mourning is not dealt with lightly. And because of the rising propensity to shared public emoting is becoming quite a force, even if people were eventually embarrassed post-Diana. I find his central point - about how easily this could slip into emotionally claiming our public spaces - quite convincing. The most vital element of public spaces, be they countryside or urban, is that there's a sense of ownership with all who use and pass through it. Connection with a wide variety of different people can be difficult if meaning and resonance is pared-down so dramatically, as can easily happen with the sharpest of emotions.

I'd like to think there were a way of opening up the shrines, of making them less of a prison built unwittingly by private need and emotion. There must be some lesson in acts like Holocaust Memorial day, with it's wider themes and resonances that play beyond the specific cause for remembrance. For at least ensuring against the common disenfranchisement, of all but a few concerned with the totems placed at the centre of the space, from our shared ground. I certainly think it's possible, and might happen with a bit of creativity. I found this picture (see above) of a roadside shrine in Japan. And though it wouldn't be absolute personal and specific like you could get from a personally-placed bunch of flowers in a place of resonance, be it mourning or celebration, there would at least be that shared meaning in a locus. When so much public religion seems to be in change, with new things developing ad hoc, this kinda example might be good to bear in mind.

9 Comments:

Blogger Sarah said...

I suppose theres something of the "They were here, don't forget" in leaving a shrine. I think, if anything the importance is that the shrine is temporal, that it won't last.

What makes the subject so difficult is that you are dealing with someone's grief- or peoples collective grief, and it can be less lonely to know that other people give a damn. Its a very tricky issue

7:38 PM  
Blogger hatchris said...

I thought it was an excellent article....to be honest, I don't understand why people feel the need for such memorials, espceially those at the site of death (which surely will just remind them of the pain and general awfulness of how they felt at the time each time they visit)....when surely most people will be marked with some kind of tombstone or plaque in a cemetry, where it is appropriate to remember that persons life, and is the appropriate place to lay flowers etc.
It's almost strange to see mass public outpourings of grief become so common in what everybody thought was restrained, private Britain.

11:12 PM  
Blogger postliberal said...

A few letters got sent into the paper, in response. Thanks for your replies, together they’re helpful in trying to work out what to make of all this.

4:20 PM  
Blogger postliberal said...

Sarah -

“I suppose theres something of the "They were here, don't forget" in leaving a shrine. I think, if anything the importance is that the shrine is temporal, that it won't last.”

It’s a notable public statement, and perhaps does us all good in making us reflect for a while on the life that was. I think what most concerns the original writer, and in some ways myself, is how that can easily become an act of possession by a few people – and because flowers are rarely moved, becoming gradually desiccated or putrefied, there’s no end. It’s almost a quiet stranglehold on a place, with nobody having the heart to sweep them away. And in the case of plaques, it’s even more set.

“...or peoples collective grief, and it can be less lonely to know that other people give a damn.”

This is partly why my thoughts suddenly alighted on these permanent shrines – they seem to have the potential to balance personal grief with some notion of collective witness. If there were a more organised and fixed structure, with some ‘recognised’ sites along the way, this might allow people to come and show their devotion in such a way as to allow collective memory to happen easier. We might all be able to enter into their story, a little, through shared ground (which is less possible through ad hoc droppings)

4:21 PM  
Blogger postliberal said...

Chris –

“It's almost strange to see mass public outpourings of grief become so common in what everybody thought was restrained, private Britain.”

A lot of people have noted how much public emotions seems to break out at intervals – almost as if they provide a lightning rod, the excuse we need to express our deeper selves in public. This needs to be more recognised, so that it might be encouraged in healthier ways than leaving tonnes of flowers outside royal gates.

“...when surely most people will be marked with some kind of tombstone or plaque in a cemetry, where it is appropriate to remember that persons life, and is the appropriate place to lay flowers etc.”

Grief and loss is not something easily controlled and compartmentalised – it can associated with all sorts of reminders. Not least locations and events that spark off emotional recall. I don’t think it’s dysfunctional to try and work through this with the help of such markers – in a way it’s better to claim them for memory than to allow them to stick pins in our head every time we go past them. Loosely made shrines are just one of the fumbling ways many of us try to cope with pain at all sorts of scales. So it cannot be condemned per say – I just think it needs to bear in mind our social situation, and allow a wider inclusion on the situation (which is not so much of a concern in a front room as a hillside or popular path).

4:29 PM  
Blogger Barnabas said...

Good blog!

I wonder about Shrines to, but I guess it's a human need to have somewhere to go, to greave a loved one, I'm reading a good book at the moment about how other faiths look at breavement it's very intresting.

11:52 AM  
Blogger postliberal said...

Why thankye.

Actually, I should temper my aparent skepticism a bit because I have a lot of time for shrines in general. I think they have a lot of potential for devotional life, and for making it acessible in everyday situations. Little roadside holy places, alters and boxes, it's all sitting in my head and picking at my imagination. I hope something more becomes of them.

That book does indeed sound interesting, on the related issues around deaht and loss, I might ask you for more details in due course...

4:08 PM  
Anonymous Donna said...

Roadside shrines are causing quite a fuss in the US, as this article points out - http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2005-07-11-roadside-memorials_x.htm

8:59 PM  
Blogger postliberal said...

Ta for the link - some of those stories show just how easily fractious it can get, with the emotions involved.

What struck me as most strange was the spokesperson for frredom against religion. She seems to miss the point that shrines are religion in themselves, without any notable established affiliation.

2:49 PM  

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