Damnatio memoriae: Hegemony, memory and the potential incorporation of difference
Damnatio memoriae was a term originally coined in the early twentieth century with regard to memory sanctions in Antiquity. Violent destruction and hostile erasure of memories by authorities and majorities has been, however, a global phenomenon throughout history. Today it is, perhaps, a more pressing issue than before. The twin tendencies of increased globalization and intensified identity politics in the present historical era seem to pit different standards and sensibilities against each other. The destruction of ancient ruins in Palmyra (Syria) in 2015 and the impending demolishing of the Larung Gar Buddhist monastery in Sichuan (China) are only two recent examples of ‘adjustments of history’ by violent means. There are reasons to believe that similar – if less violent – processes are continuously going on without the noise and the media attention: The official framing of past events in particular ways; the destruction or alteration of architecture, sites, and images; the banning or imposing of old and new practices. As pointed out by Flower (2006) memory sanctions, that is deliberately designed strategies aiming to change the picture of the past through erasure or redefinition, can be found in most, perhaps even all human societies. To what extent, and in what sense, adjustments of the past through willful destruction is different from those alterations taking place through neglect and ignorance is one question the workshop wishes to bring up for discussion.
An expression of exclusion in ancient societies, damnatio memoriae can also be assessed in terms of the potential incorporation of difference. Adjusting history and making memory disappear completely are two very different things. If carried out the Larung Gar demolition will certainly be remembered by the people of Tibet; Palmyra destroyed will for long carry the memory of the violence by which it was brought to rubble. Remembrance of banned practices or suppressed cultural identities may be incorporated in new or other forms; repressed memories may find fetishized expressions.