University of Sussex
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Using monuments

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posted on 2023-06-09, 01:13 authored by Thomas Houlton
This thesis examines monuments as cultural objects, and repositions them as points of intersection between psychoanalysis, society, art, remembrance and politics. Building on psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott’s work on object use, this thesis maps the disruptive nature of monuments, and their propagation of difficult or irresolvable questions. The first chapter is a research trip diary which details a journey through Poland, Austria and Germany in search of Holocaust monuments. It is a piece of critical self-­reflexion, a point from which the subsequent chapters stem, forming the point of interaction with the monuments as physical objects. Chapter two examines the elusive presence of Rachel Whiteread’s Memorial to the Austrian Jewish Victims of the Shoah. Using Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok’s formulations on cryptonymy, this chapter explores the possibility that Whiteread’s work is a false archive that disguises a hidden centre. This, it is suggested, could parallel a similar characteristic within Holocaust discourse. The third chapter uses Winnicott’s work on antisocial behaviour, object use and fear of breakdown. It looks at monuments that are used non-­ritually (transgressively, playfully, sexually) and questions how much of our relationship with the monument is based around anxiety, rather than a legitimate protection of society from antisocial elements. Chapter four examines the relationship between plants and remembrance. It focuses on Paul Harfleet’s The Pansy Project, looking at the etymology of the word ‘pansy’ alongside its alliance to queer politics and history, and how the radical excess of queerness becomes, through its performance as a flower, a means of propagating remembrance beyond conventional forms. The conclusion to the thesis makes a case for the necessity of a re-engagement with Winnicott’s psychoanalysis, and an approach towards our monuments that is rooted in their thing-ness: public objects that can be truly public, with all the questions and difficulties that brings.


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University of Sussex

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