Near the end of her Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein turns to the power of memory in returning power to the people of Latin America and other places where the shock troops of free-market, privatization ideologies have left disaster in their wake. And one tool of the shock troops has been the "erasure-- of history, of culture, of memory" (p. 589).
All shock therapists are intent on the erasure of memory," she writes. "Memory, both individual and collective, turns out to be the greatest shock absorber of all" (p. 585-86).
This just about sums up the mission I have in arguing for public confrontation with difficult pasts. It is why I am excited about curating an exhibit at the American Academy next January, which will show artist proposals for a public art project in the Foro Italico, one of Mussolini's largest propaganda sites. It is why I believe the Buenos Aires grassroots memory movement is so important, and why the efforts in Berlin to demand the presence of the memory of Nazism in public places is so important.
Many have rightly asked How much power do these memorials really have? It is a good and worrisome question. But I am convinced that good history is invaluable in the struggle for justice, and against destructive political movements. But public memory -- in the form of public art, memorials, innovative informational panels, temporary interventions -- is equally important.