Making Repulsive Monuments

Barry Jason Mauer & John Venecek

1. Introduction

The repulsive monument, a genre created by Gregory Ulmer, samples heterogenous materials from archives and curates these materials in provocative ways. Such monuments are repulsive because they memorialize the abject: losses resulting from the collective’s behaviors but disowned by the collective. Repulsive monuments provide a platform for ordinary people to become “citizen curators” who investigate personal and collective memory in order to reveal the relationships between our values, behaviors, and losses. Repulsive monuments recognize as sacred those abject losses that result from our behaviors. By accepting and honoring such losses, we make possible the re-configuration of our identity and our values.

Repulsive monuments treat abject losses as sacrifices made on behalf of collective well-being. Thus they re-situate our behaviors and losses from the mundane to the sacred realm. Georges Bataille explains that the sacred realm, which is at the core of identity, is governed by affective forces rather than by reasoned calculation. The sacred is the point “where repulsion becomes attraction” (Bataille & Hollier 103):

What constitutes the individual nucleus of every conglomerate of human society . . . is a set of objects, places, beliefs, persons, and practices that have a sacred character . . . Early humans beings were brought together by disgust and by common terror, by an insurmountable horror focused primarily on what originally was the central attraction of their union (106).

Monuments have the power to transform repulsive materials into their opposite: “the transformation of a depressive content into an object of exaltation” (111). Repulsive monuments propose to transform abject losses into sacrifices that are recognized as essential for maintaining official values and conventional behaviors. Ulmer, for example, points to the abject losses caused by automobile collisions, which result from our collective investment in a transportation system primarily based on the use of personal vehicles (Ulmer “Abject monumentality” 9-15). Though some state governments have created roadside monuments dedicated to individual traffic deaths, the nation does not recognize those losses as a collective sacrifice necessary to sustain its values and behaviors. A repulsive monument to auto fatalities would declare that we are willing to die for the right to own a car and to drive virtually anywhere and at any time. Such a monument is repulsive because it points to our responsibility for these losses and to our own deaths. But this reaction—repulsion—also drives the affective forces of the monument.

The repulsive monument differs from official reports and demonstrations, though it may contain either of these forms. A repulsive monument relates problems in the real world to personal and collective identity. Unlike these other forms, the repulsive monument recognizes that human beings are rarely persuaded by facts and enlightenment reason. Instead, we are persuaded by our identifications, which exist within a psychic field of attractions and repulsions. The maker of a repulsive monument thus undergoes an ordeal by identifying the collective problem in herself by mapping it onto her psychic field of attractions and repulsions and then reporting on the experience.

2. Monuments as Cultural Archives

In addition to their identity-shaping functions, repulsive monuments, like many kinds of monuments, also serve as cultural archives. Monuments “direct us not simply to remember, but to remember in a certain light. They interpret the subjects they honor” and, in so doing, they create a kind of “civic mythology” (Upton 20). Because monuments identify specific deaths or losses as sacrifices on behalf of collective values, they “say more about the people, times, and places of their creation than they do about the people, times, and places they honor” (20). For example, 19th century French historians Michelet and Renan memorialized those murdered in the anti-Huguenot pogrom of 1572 as fratricidal sacrifices necessary for the emergence of the French nation, though this nation would not exist until centuries later and those involved had no understanding of themselves as either “Frenchmen” or “brothers.” Monumentalists like Michelet and Renan turn the victims of history into sacrifices for “the Nation ... even when these sacrifices were not understood as such by the victims” (Anderson 41). Monuments structure collective identity with appeals to identity; reason, when it appears, serves the interests of identification.

Repulsive monuments are unofficial; they are created by ordinary citizens rather than by state agents. These monuments take the form of exhibits that draw connections between heterogenous sacrifices, beliefs, and behaviors of their makers as well as of the collective in which the makers live. They are created using material from a variety of sources including digital archives, fair use photos, pop culture, and materials from personal collections such as scrapbooks and photo albums. We encourage our curators to experiment with their exhibits, to sample and recombine materials about our abject losses with specific information about ourselves. By experimenting with juxtapositions, we hope to create the conditions for our own epiphanies, to find unexpected ways of understanding our problems and of opening possible solutions.

The exhibits in repulsive monuments cross the conventional topoi of archival genres. We base our cross-topic method on Gregory Ulmer’s theory of chora, which he defines as “a holistic ordering of topics into an electrate image system of categories” (2005, xx), “a space or region in which being and becoming interacted” (6), and “the crossing of chance and necessity whose nature may only be discerned indirectly in the names generated by a puncept [1] rather than as a concept (or paradigm), including the qualities associated with ‘core’ terms: chorus, choreography, chord, corral, coral” (39). Topics that might otherwise be considered extraneous are here treated as critically necessary to the project. Using Ulmer’s choral method, we look for associations based upon puns and other forms of resemblance. From the choral method of gathering and arrangement, we make emblems of knowledge that become the basis for possible arguments.

Archival materials, the materials of daily life, and the materials of personal memory exist within a network of discourses Ulmer calls the “Popcycle”:

“Popcycle” refers to the ensemble of discourses into which members of a society are “interpellated” . . .  “Interpellation,” nicknamed “hailing” or “appellation,” refers to the social and psychological processes by which our identity is constructed . . .
The theory of “ideology” . . . classifies our identity into such categories as race, ethnicity, religion, class, gender, sexuality, nationality. We enter into or learn the beliefs and behaviors named by these terms in an interrelated set of institutions. The core or dominant institutions include: Family, Community (History), Entertainment (Ulmer “Internet invention” 24-5).

To these core institutions, Ulmer adds Discipline, which is the discourse that students struggle to accept as their own as they move into Career. These four areas—Family, Community, Entertainment, and Discipline—make up the popcycle, and the repulsive monument is a composition that traces a route through the popcycle. This tracing is aesthetic; it follows the route of the signifier, gathering materials from the four quadrants of the popcycle using puns, homonyms, figures, atmosphere (mood), and analogy. The popcycle tracing that makes up the repulsive monument has the power of epiphany, a surprise similar to the effect of getting a joke, though epiphany is not necessarily funny.

To make our repulsive monument, we draw lessons from remix culture, which commenced with cubist and Dadaist collages. We further sample and recombine materials about our abject losses with specific information about ourselves—called “scenes of instruction” and the “personal sacred”—and with the materials of our popcycle. By experimenting with juxtapositions, we hope to create the conditions for our own epiphanies, to find unexpected ways of understanding our problems and of opening possible solutions.

3. Appropriating an Official Monument

The first step in this process is to appropriate an existing monument, which represents an “official” loss recognized by a state or an established civic entity. We then juxtapose the official loss with an abject loss that serves as the basis for the repulsive monument. For our prototype, we selected the General Jubal A. Early SCV Camp #556 of Tampa, Florida. Billed as the “Home of the Unreconstructed Confederates,” their physical monument is located in “The Confederate Memorial Park,” directly below the I-75 / I-4 interchange. While the site looks unassuming from the ground, the location is clever because the 30’ X 60’ flag towers over one of the busiest interchanges in the state of Florida. Every day, thousands of commuters circle the imposing flag as they head south on I-75.

The site is named after General Jubal A. Early, who served under Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. Early is also credited with coining the term “Lost Cause” in an effort to justify the mission of the Confederacy. His goal was to shift the focus from the South’s defiant defense of slavery to a more heroic fight for state’s rights against the supposed tyranny of the north. While Early wrote about the Lost Cause in a series of articles for the Southern Historical Society, Jefferson Davis fleshed out the idea more fully in his influential, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government. The concept is now firmly enshrined in southern culture, and its rhetoric has been adopted by commemorative societies, such as the Unreconstructed Confederates, and is commonplace in their monuments and ceremonies.

While the Confederacy lost militarily, its ideology and politics have survived as evinced by the Republican Party’s use of the “southern strategy” and in the thousands of monuments inhabiting the physical and cultural landscape. To this point, Chuck Thompson notes that “The Civil War is the only conflict in history after which the losers were allowed to write the history” (Thompson). This has been accomplished, in part, by the proliferation of monuments that litter the landscape. The specific monument Thompson points to is located in the Abbeville, South Carolina, town square, which features an inscription that reads: “The world shall yet decide, in truth’s clear far-off light, that the soldiers who wore the gray and died with Lee were right” (Thompson). Similar declarations can be found on countless other Civil War sites, including the Jubal A. Early memorial, which proudly proclaims:

While the politically correct crowd tries to extinguish all symbols of the Confederacy, we proudly embrace the fact that our ancestors defiantly repelled the invading Yankee armies and honourably endured the tyranny of reconstruction (Jubal Early Camp).

The Confederacy’s power over the American imagination represents an aporia, “which literally means ‘without passage’ or ‘without resource,’ but which in Plato commonly designates a state of confusion, puzzlement, an almost helpless feeling of bewilderment” (Anderson & Osborn 85). [2]  The United States casts itself as an open and democratic society, yet within it, a significant neo-Confederate faction threatens that democracy. It is also difficult to excise this faction without risking the destruction of the nation’s ethos, since Southern exceptionalism is a mise-en-abyme of American exceptionalism. We seek to understand how neo-Confederate apologists transformed the Confederacy’s military loss into an ideological “win” by means of monuments. A century and a half after the defeat of the Confederacy, we ask why new Confederate monuments have continually emerged across the U.S. and why there is so much resistance to accepting the South’s defeat. [3]

It is worth noting that, as we were writing this article, a horrific event occurred that thrust the Confederacy into the national spotlight. On June 17 2015, self-proclaimed white supremacist Dylann Roof entered the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina and killed nine African Americans during a Bible study session. Following this event, intense media scrutiny and public outrage led corporations such as Walmart, Amazon, and Ebay to stop selling merchandise with the Confederate logo. Likewise, NASCAR prohibited fans from displaying the flag at their races and TV Land pulled the Dukes of Hazard from their lineup after Warner Brothers announced they would no longer manufacture merchandise related to the show.

Additionally, the backlash led to the removal of the Confederate flag from the grounds of the South Carolina State House. While many people viewed this result as a victory, Michael Daly notes that the removal ceremony was not carried off as a source of shame. Rather, the flag was treated with the same reverence one would reserve for a fallen hero, with the South Carolina Honor Guard presiding over the event:

Two of the officers took the lowered banner in their white gloved hands. And for a moment, it seemed as if they might fold it as they would an American flag that had covered the coffin of a fellow cop or a U.S. soldier who had made the supreme sacrifice. Instead, they rolled it, presumably an echo of the way Confederate regiments furled their battle flags in surrender at the end of the Civil War (Daly 2015).

Daly adds that, “For a second, truly terrible moment, the ritual was too much like that performed when the flag from a hero’s coffin is presented to a grieving loved one along with the words, 'On behalf of a grateful nation …'” (Daly). The flag was then transported to the South Carolina Relic Room and Military Museum where its future is still to be determined. Not insignificantly, they did not remove the Confederate Soldier's Monument that was adjacent to the flag. The Monument includes an inscription that can only be described as an ode to the Lost Cause (see appendix).  

Those who defend the flag and related monuments often invoke the heritage preservation narrative in their defense. This narrative attempts to recast the racist origins of the Confederacy into more palatable terms of cultural heritage. Confederate soldiers did not die in an effort to preserve the institution of slavery, the revised narrative claims; rather, they died defending the south against the tyranny of the north. In fact, the bill that afforded legal protection to the Confederate flag on the grounds of the South Carolina State House was called the “South Carolina Heritage Act.” The concept of heritage is not exclusive to the Confederate movement. Sommer and Forley state that

History-making begins by opening the past to scrutiny. Heritage … makes the past familiar and consumable. The monument is the medium, and monument-making is the process through which not only to measure the vagaries that exist between history and heritage but also to understand the consequences of substituting one for the other (Sommer & Forley 150).

Histories, they say, “are constantly being amended and are part of the critical process by which democracy is renewed” (155). Further, “these histories illuminate the nation’s unfinished and hard-fought movement toward a more expansive definition of human rights and social emancipation” (155). The shift from history to heritage is an attempt to frame history in more congenial terms and to create a less expansive definition. However, such definitions fail to account for the complexities of historical events, including the racism at the heart of the Confederacy. Instead, the cultural heritage narrative attempts re-frame a contentious historical debate in more friendly terms of a mythic past that exists primarily in the imaginations of contemporary southerners. As Sommer and Forley conclude, “The function of commemorative forms such as a monument or a trail is not primarily retrospective or regenerative, but prospective and contingent, causing us to be mindful of the myriad ways in which history can actually be made” (156). Monuments, then, create an air of fixity and authority to a group’s interpretation of a past, which can be viewed as a form of modern myth-making.

This point recalls one made by Dell Upton, who states that monuments say more about their creators than they do about those they seek to commemorate. Monuments are constructed during times of conflict and transformation and can be understood “as reassertions of values that monument builders believed needed to be reinforced amid turmoil” (Upton 20). Historically marginalized groups have put pressure on white supremacists to yield to demands for social and economic justice. Feeling threatened, white supremacists have sought to reinforce their values and their dominance through their “Lost Cause religion.”

Lost Causers unite around the sacred: rituals that include the display of Confederate flags, uniforms, guns, and songs such as “Dixie,” “Sweet Home Alabama,” and “Free Bird.” The quality of sacredness puts any object, person, place, symbol, or ritual beyond the reach of reason. By declaring their values and rituals sacred, neo-Confederates render themselves virtually immune from argument. Thus our repulsive monument, like Confederate monuments, competes in the realm of the sacred. [4]

4. The Relationship of Abject Loss to Scenes of Instruction and the Personal Sacred [5]

Once we have chosen an official monument to incorporate in our repulsive monument, we choose both an abject loss and a set made up of the creator’s personal sacred. Michel Leiris’s concept of the personal sacred brings seemingly incommensurable places, objects, rituals, legends, spectacles, and events into relation. As I work on the repulsive monument, aspects of my personal sacred that were once trivial now make the Confederacy (officially mourned) and climate change (abject loss) more intelligible as parts of an emblem of knowledge. A poetic understanding, rather than a strictly deductive or inductive logic, governs the process of creating the repulsive monument from these components: the appropriated official monument, the abject loss, and my personal sacred.

Michel Leiris describes how the sacred, which includes both the collective and the personal sacred, awakens a mixture of fear and attachment and that it appears only in bits and pieces made up of particular places, objects, rituals, legends, spectacles, and events of language (Leiris “The Sacred” 24-31). For Leiris, the sacred often resides in places where the meaning of language slips; in other words, the child, believing he has gotten control of language, uses language only to be corrected. The sacred belongs to the material world but also to a mythological world. We usually identify the sacred with official culture, but Leiris distinguishes this official sacred from a personal sacred, held by individuals or by small groups, that creates a private understanding of the world. Childhood is the best place to look for it, Leiris argues; once we mature, we typically lose our connection to the personal sacred in order to conform to the greater society. Within both the personal and the official sacred are the right hand pole, identified with authority, and the left hand pole, identified with the illicit. Leiris identifies the right hand pole with the drawer where his father kept a gun and the left hand pole with the toilet, the site where he and his brother invented secret myths about the underworld.

Leiris’ work implies that if we maintain our grasp on the personal sacred into life beyond childhood, we will be less vulnerable to the pull of the narratives fueling fascism. As Reverend Davidson Loehr wrote, “Fascism is a kind of colonization. A simple definition of ‘colonization’ is that it takes people’s stories away, and assigns them supportive roles in stories that empower others at their expense” (Loehr 88).

My goal is to understand the origins and leverage points in my beliefs. Robert Cialdini, author of Influence: Science and Practice, explains that beliefs “grow legs” (Cialdini 83). We adopt a new belief or behavior for an initial reason, but new reasons can emerge, providing greater resolve. The story of my evolving diet fits Cialdini’s model. Though I grew up eating meat, I have been an ova-lacto pescetarian (meaning I eat plants, dairy and seafood) since I was 18 years old. I began this diet for one reason: my roommate decided to change his diet and asked me to join him.

Comradeship was the only “leg” supporting my belief. In time, I came to see meat as repulsive; I realized it was a piece of animal corpse. As my diet persisted, I justified it in new ways: it was healthier; it addressed the ethical problems I had about killing animals; and it was less resource intensive and thus better for the environment. Once my roommate moved out, the first belief leg supporting my commitment fell away, but the others had established themselves. New belief legs, such as my recent awareness of the link between ruminant livestock and methane-generated climate change, continue to appear and grow.

Despite my liberal politics, I encountered two texts when I was young that make the Confederacy strangely appealing to me: The Band’s song “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and Buster Keaton’s film The General. I heard “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” when I was five years old. I had no idea who “Dixie” was (I thought it was a woman) or why they “drove her down.” Later I learned that the song was written by a Canadian, Robbie Robertson, and sung by his band mate, Levon Helm, who was Arkansan. In the song, a Confederate soldier named Virgil Kane, who says nothing of the Confederacy’s causes, laments its defeat and the death of his brother. But for Kane, the South will not rise again: “You can't raise a Kane back up when he's in defeat.” The song manages to be both mythic and personal at the same time with its narrator’s pledge of loyalty to “the mud beneath my feat.” The feeling of the song—a mixture of grief, anger, and pride—is undeniably powerful, regardless of the politics involved in the historical situation.

Buster Keaton’s film The General promotes heroism, but does little to promote Confederate ideology. The protagonist tries to enlist in the Confederate army because his girlfriend will not speak to him until he is in uniform. I saw the film while in my teens and was enthralled with its daring action sequences, but decades later I could not recall if the hero fought for the North or South; I was confused because the ideology of national history tells us that the South was heroic but the North was good and a protagonist has to be both.

Growing up in suburban Minnesota, I was exposed to racism in a peculiar way. Everyone in my school was “white” except for one Asian kid and one black kid, both adopted by white parents. The white kids in first grade started using the word “nigger.” I had never heard it before and had no idea it historically applied to black people. I thought it was an innocuous insult, like “doofus.” I didn’t realize it was a part of a history, going back hundreds of years, of dehumanizing black people and justifying their abuse and elimination. In that first grade moment, the racist character of the nation was both revealed to me and concealed from me. I was introduced to its terminology, but lacked appreciation of its toxicity. When I used the term “nigger” at home, my parents corrected me about its meaning and forbade me from using it.

Before I moved from Minnesota to Northern Florida in 1992, I knew that many southerners identified with the Confederacy, but I later learned that they claimed to connect with the supposed “romance” of the Confederacy rather than to its politics. Northerners, by contrast, failed to create a romantic myth for their cause, seeing nothing heroic about having to kill their former (former) countrymen. As Keaton said, explaining why his hero in The General is a Confederate, “it’s awful hard to a motion picture audience, for some reason, to make heroes out of Northerners” (Feinstein). Movies taught me to love heroism [6],  but not enough to make me want to die for a cause. Like Keaton’s protagonist, I wanted to survive and to be respected and war puts both desires into stark relief.

As a child, I learned about war through a game. My family lived in Roseville, Minnesota, a suburb north of St. Paul. We were one of the only Jewish families there. (I saw a map, made by an Israeli official who was there to recruit Jews to do Aliyah; travel to Israel. There were two dots in Roseville. One was our family.) The neighborhood kids and I played a modified game of hide and seek called Gestapo, a word I had never heard before but that fascinated me. I knew nothing of the Holocaust, but I had vaguely understood that Nazis were bad, not understanding until much later that their war in Europe was a pretext for carrying out genocide. My brother and I played Gestapo with the other kids. Of course, playing the Gestapo, or seeker, part of the game felt more powerful. Only when we told our parents what we were playing did I learn about the real Gestapo and our family’s escape from them in Europe. Because of their traumatic associations, my parents insisted we stop playing the game or else change its name. Our friends will reject us, my brother and I protested, but we told our friends about our parents’ demand and they agreed to change the name to “Capture the Flag.” In sixth grade, my teacher showed our class Alain Resnais’ Night and Fog. The film haunts me to this day, but one more sense impression would have made it totally real: the smell of putrid bodies.

Putrid bodies belong to the realm of the illicit. As a child, I found nothing so fascinating or so funny as farts and burps. Among adults or in company, they were forbidden, but these taboos made farting and burping that much more sacred. My father’s medical colleague, a gastroenterologist, collected and analyzed farts. His patients farted into plastic bags and then mailed them to the doctor, who analyzed them to determine the maladies each patient suffered. My brother and I found every part of the scenario hilarious to imagine, including the scene at the post office (“anything hazardous or perishable?”), opening the package (“what is this?”), and the lab analysis (“does this smell bad to you?”).

The idea of wind in a bag has been with us for thousands of years. In The Odyssey, Book X, Odysseus receives a bag of wind from Aeolis who lives on the island of Aeoli, to help blow Odysseus back home. But his men betray him.

"They loosed the sack, whereupon the wind flew howling forth and raised a storm that carried us weeping out to sea and away from our own country.”

The wind is also something we sow and reap, as in Hosea 8:7:

“For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind: it hath no stalk: the bud shall yield no meal: if so be it yield, the strangers shall swallow it up.”

Now we must rethink “wind in a bag” again. My personal sacred—the illicit attraction/repulsion with flatulence—connects me to the abject loss caused by greenhouse gases. The meat industry, it turns out, is killing the planet:

According to a report last year by two former World Bank experts, more than half of all carbon emissions come from the livestock industry that supports the meat economy. Those emissions are related to everything from transportation to land use to excretion to petroleum-based fertilizers that generate animal feed. The more meat our society consumes, the more these carbon emissions continue, the more we intensify climate change, and the more we imperil human survival on the planet (Sirota).

Newly compiled information reveals that the flatulence of ruminant livestock, cows in particular, is a major source of greenhouse gas (Ripple et al). The Earth’s atmosphere can be compared to a bag, and we are filling it with cow flatulence. The methane released in ruminant flatulence—human bodies emit little methane—is vastly more potent as a greenhouse gas [7] than carbon dioxide. There is a direct link between human behavior (i.e. meat eating) and its consequence: catastrophic climate change. But meat eating entails the repression of disgust and thus the repression of consequences.

To put it crudely, the current memory stinks just as an actual object may stink; and just as we turn away our sense organ (the head and nose) in disgust, so do the preconscious and our conscious apprehension turn away from the memory. This is repression (Ulmer “Applied Grammatology” 53).  

My awareness of the link between meat eating and climate change is the most recent “leg” supporting my commitment to a non-meat diet. From here, I make a detour to another scene (or scent) of odor, this one taken from the writing of a Confederate prisoner on burial duty:

The sights and smells that assailed us were simply indescribable—corpses swollen to twice their original size, some of them actually burst asunder with the pressure of foul gases and vapors . . . The odors were nauseating and so deadly that in a short time we all sickened . . . most of us vomiting profusely (Williams 228).

What has my repulsive monument process revealed? An epiphany in the form of a bad pun: human ex-stink-shun. Without smelling the “stink,” will we accept that our own extinction is at hand? Unfortunately, methane is an odorless gas, which makes it even more deadly. Gas companies add an ingredient to commercial methane to alert people to a leak. Unless we smell it, we will not ask, “Did he who smelt it dealt it?”

5. Building the Repulsive Monument

Our Lost Cause monument incorporates “whole” the Jubal A. Early monument as its “official” sacred. Because of copyright laws, we are limited to the use of fragments of the online site in our own work, but the link to the website within our project stands for the entirety of the Jubal A. Early monument, both online and onsite. We juxtapose the Jubal A. Early monument with a “peripheral”—bags of methane, accompanied by the odor of cow farts and rotting corpses [8].  These bags will sit by an electronic gas meter that represents the tonnage of methane being released into the atmosphere. Finally, we provide an exhibit of our own archival materials about the Confederacy, meat, climate change, and our personal sacred.

In designing our repulsive monument, we drew lessons from remix culture, which commenced with cubist and Dadaist collages. We sampled and recombined materials about our abject losses with specific information about ourselves—called “scenes of instruction” and the “personal sacred”—and with the materials of our popcycle. By experimenting with juxtapositions, we hoped to create the conditions for our own epiphanies, to find unexpected ways of understanding our problems, and of opening possible solutions.

The repulsive monument project requires space to play with the components of national identity by working with archival material. An Open Source platform or one of many social media outlets will work. Many archives are already using these outlets in innovative ways [9] to allow users to link institutional collections to personal domains and provide members of the community the opportunity to curate their own exhibits. The potential also exists for citizen curators to combine archival materials with artifacts from their personal collections (photo albums, scrap books, etc.) to further link institutional archives to the community.

After experimenting with several options, including WordPress and Omeka, we settled on a platform called Comic Life. Unlike the other options we tried, this program allows any image(s) to be combined with any text(s), but it has the advantage of allowing us to put words in people’s mouths, making the subjects of our work come alive and creating dialogues across subjects. We can also include a narratorial voice that comments on and connects the elements remixed from the archives and from personal experience.

The process of making repulsive monuments creates a liminal space that can transform identity. We usually mark personal transformations with rituals such as marriages, graduations, and retirement parties (Turner), but these types of transformations often have a pre-defined outcome. Designers of repulsive monuments, however, take a more poetic approach without knowing how their components of identity will coalesce. Repulsive monuments provide a metaphorical, or poetic, means to understand a series of relationships linking private responsibility, public memory, and the external costs of personal and collective behaviors. [10]

One of the benefits to this kind of project is that it can be expanded indefinitely. As we expand the archival content in the monument, we will have the opportunity to work with collections at our home institution. The University of Central Florida Special Collections has processed African American Legacy: the Carol Mundy Collection. The collection consists of books, manuscripts, sheet music, pamphlets, journals, newspapers, broadsides, posters, photographs and ephemera, which all speak to the black experience in America. The Mundy collection also provides a natural link to the Confederate monument we have appropriated, not only because of its focus on African American memorabilia, but also because it includes an array of racist ephemera, including Confederate money, slave papers, Civil War documents, and several items related to the KKK. These artifacts contrast with the revisionist narrative promoted by the Jubal A. Early monument, which strives to reframe the racist roots of the Confederate party in terms of cultural heritage [11].  The Mundy collection, then, serves the dual purpose of allowing us to undermine the false narrative purported by modern Confederates and to connect these materials to our personal sacred stories. Just as Dr. Mauer made the unlikely connection between the Confederacy, meat consumption, and climate change, so too will others have the opportunity to curate their own repulsive monuments by selecting an abject loss and elements from their personal sacred narratives. The process accomplishes one of the primary goals of this project: to encourage curatorial pioneers to radically rethink how to remix archival materials in novel ways.

6. Repulsive Monuments

 Click here for  Repulsive Monuments .

Click here for Repulsive Monuments.


[1] A “puncept” is Ulmer’s term for a word that crosses discourses and produces a network of associations.

[2] After the massacre in Charleston by white supremacist Dylann Roof, who adopted the flag of the Confederacy as his symbol, CNN conducted a poll. “About 57% of Americans see the Confederate flag more as a symbol of Southern pride than as a symbol of racism, the poll says. Opinions of the flag are sharply divided by race, and among whites, views are split by education” Jennifer Agiesta, CNN Polling Director July 2, 2015 “Poll: Majority sees Confederate flag as Southern pride symbol, not racist.” Since the massacre, a few flags have come down from statehouses, but a neo-Confederate backlash is under way.

[3] See Louwen’s Lies across America for an overview of the pseudo-historical revisionism promoted by the neo-Confederate movement.

[4] Repulsive monuments may contain arguments, but these arguments are parts of the overall puzzle and not the whole picture.

[5] In this section, Mauer takes over in first person voice.

[6] “In . . . [Ur-Fascism] everybody is educated to become a hero. In every mythology the hero is an exceptional being, but in Ur-Fascist ideology heroism is the norm. . . . In nonfascist societies, the lay public is told that death is unpleasant but must be faced with dignity; believers are told that it is the painful way to reach a supernatural happiness. By contrast, the Ur-Fascist hero craves heroic death, advertised as the best reward for a heroic life. The Ur-Fascist hero is impatient to die. In his impatience, he more frequently sends other people to death” (Eco, 58).

[7] As a greenhouse gas, methane is approximately 80 times more potent than carbon over 20 years.

[8] The “peripheral” need not be at the Jubal A. Early monument itself, but can be located online and in any physical location. We need only declare that our peripheral is to be understood in relationship to the Jubal A. Early monument.

[9] See, for example, U.S. National Archives on Tumblr, the Library of Congress on Flickr, and the New York Historical Society on Pinterest.

[10] Dr. Mauer has been teaching students to make abject memorials since 1993. For a recent example of student work, please see “Teaching the Repulsive Memorial.”

[11] The final episode of Joss Whedon’s television series, Firefly, introduces a sadistic black bounty hunter named Jubal Early. Ulmer’s theory explains the ways in which cultural materials change purpose and meaning as they circulate through the Popcycle.


Bataille, Georges, and Denis Hollier. The College of Sociology (1937-39). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988.

Cialdini, Robert B. Influence: Science and Practice. Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman, 1985.

Daly, Michael. “Confederate Flag Treated Like Fallen Hero.” The Daily Beast. 11 July 2015. Web. 14 July 2016.

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Inscription on the Confederate monument that stands on the grounds of the South Carolina State House:

This monument
perpetuates the memory
of those who
true to the instincts of their birth,
faithful to the teachings of their fathers,
constant in the love for their state,
died in the performance of their duty;
have glorified a fallen cause
by the simple manhood of their lives,
the patient endurance of suffering,
and the heroism of death;
and who
in the dark hours of imprisonment,
in the hopelessness of the hospital,
in the short, sharp agony of the field
found support and consolation
in the belief
that at home they would not be forgotten.

Let the stranger,
who may in future times
read this inscription,
recognize that these were men
whom power could not corrupt,
whom death could not terrify,
whom defeat could not dishonor;
and let their virtues plead
for just judgment
of the cause in which they perished.
Let the South Carolinian
of another generation
that the state taught them
how to live and how to die,
and that from her broken fortunes
she has reserved for her children
the priceless treasure of their memories,
teaching all who may claim
the same birthright
that truth, courage, and patriotism
endure forever.

May 13, 1879


John Venecek is a Librarian at the University of Central Florida Libraries. Prior to his arrival at UCF, he spent several years teaching English at the College of DuPage in his native Chicago and also as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Yekaterinburg, Russia (1996-1998). His areas of interest include curation, preservation, and exploring how digital archives and emerging technologies affect how we interact with historical materials. John also has an awesome record collection and is an avid fan of street art and graffiti.

Barry Jason Mauer is an associate professor in the Department of English at the University of Central Florida, and teaches in the Texts and Technology Ph.D. Program. His published work focuses on developing new research practices in the arts and humanities. His latest research is about citizen curating, which aims at enlisting a corps of citizens to curate exhibits, both online and in public spaces, using archival materials available in museums, libraries, public history centers, and other institutions. He also publishes online comics about delusion and denial, particularly as they affect the realm of politics. In addition, Mauer is an accomplished songwriter and recording artist. Mauer completed his graduate studies at the University of Florida in the Department of English, where he worked under the direction of professors Gregory Ulmer and Robert Ray. He lives in Orlando with his wife and daughter, his dog, and his cat.