Friday, April 23, 2010

Virginia is for Lovers...of Confederate History

If you've ever been on them, you realize immediately: roads in Virginia aren't for getting anywhere; they're for not forgetting. If getting someplace quickly and sensibly did enter into the planning of Virginia roads, it was as a drunken afterthought, a "Hey, you know what? People could actually get places on these things. Why not?" kind of thing.

Roads in Virginia serve a higher calling: remembrance art, assurance that the names of Lee and Jackson will not die out. You know that pointless, pointed limestone thing on the lawn downtown that doesn't say anything, but is somehow meant to be associated with one George Washington? Same idea, except the obelisk isn't a vortex of confusion swarming with lost and trapped souls.

DC is downright obnoxious about things we should remember: people and wars, mostly. There's also a flaming sword which I think was stolen from this statue of Turkmanbashi

One the left, a flaming sword in DC, on the right Turkmenbashi, in Turkmenistan

There's also a bridge, dedicated to the memory of memory itself, which leads from DC directly to Lee' weird, peach-colored mansion and a little flame, burning 24/7 to make sure we remember JFK. You'll also find there a million uniform headstones.

Why do we waste such prime real estate on memory?

Those who don't remember the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them. So they say. But what do you get with the manipulation of national memory for present political ends? Has Israel's mantra "Never forget" served them well, as a state? Perhaps. The same historical obsession hasn't served the Palestinians all too well.

A fine model of national mnemonic culture, for me anyhow, is England, where street names serve the purpose of memory, not the purpose of honoring a memory. For example, here's a typically easy-to-remember English street name:

The English get it: a streetsign should help you get somewhere; that's what it's for.


Yerin said...

All I have to say is that I'd like a gold Turkmenbashi cape.

qualia said...

It might be a necessity. To get 10 miles in England, you have to take 100 different roads.

Also, the highways are like MIT buildings: all numbered, with no names attached, whereas the Confederate fans at least have Lee and Jackson. (That's two, but you also get to have, like, Lee Highway and Old Lee Highway, and such.)