Sunday, 9:30 – Voice, Imagination, and Argument in Commemorative Sites


Keynote Address 4

Carole Blair and William Balthrop, University of North Carolina

“Voice, Imagination, and Argument in Commemorative Sites: Fleury-devant-Douaumont”

Annenberg Forum, Carswell Hall

William Balthrop

Images play a key role in many types of argument. Arguments employ both images and words. Material objects may have an even greater force.

Commemorative sites of war are exemplars of the political collective response to triumph, defeat, unity, disunity, sacrifice etc.

The most often encountered critique of commemorative sites is that they cannot justifying, sanitizing or aestheticizing the war.

To aestheticize may mean:

  • to depict as being pleasing or artistically beautiful; represent in an idealized or refined manner
  • to make a subject of aesthetic consideration; view or judge with regard to an aesthetic

Fleury-devant-Douaumont is one of the 9 destroyed villages in the Verdun region in France during World War I (villages designated “Morts Pour la France”).

What does the preservation of such a site mean?

The rhetoric of Fleury-devant-Douaumont opposes a sanitization of the war

The Battle of Verdun can hardly be called a victory, even if it was not a loss

  • Verdun is a symbolic site of the struggle for the liberation of France and French soldiers
  • Verdun had strategic implications for all of France
  • Verdun is a metonyme for the war

The 9 villages received military decorations; they each have a mayor and hold annual commemorations. Each of the 9 villages has a small mourning chapel and a Monument-aux-Morts. There are, however, differences between the villages: the extent to which they commemorate individuals or the ammount of “relics.”

Carole Blair

Why focus on Fleury?

  • It is the most visited of the 9 villages
  • It is marked as a memory site, more than the others

How can it represent war without aestheticization? Fleury forces the visitor to imagine the not has happened.

Bizzare topography, even with the restoration of flora. A deeply wounded terrain. It is hardly imaginable as a result of a natural process.

Fleury’s three main streets were remapped recently, and markers of the church, blacksmith shop, town hall or the school were set throughout the place.

We can only imagine the destruction and the horrors of the war.

The chapel is tiny, but it has all the elements of a church. The monument is the same size as other monuments. They stand out because they are ordinary, but the setting is anything but ordinary.

Its remmaping implies the counter-factual: Fleury as if it had not been destroyed. Fleury has not been truly brought back to life.

It is impossible to imagine Fleury being destroyed without imagining Fleury not being destroyed or before being destroyed.

What can Fleury teach us, in its silence, about war comemoration? Its landscape is ugly and the placement of its markers portrays the war as destructive, even though the village is worthy of honor. Visitors are invited to attend not only the destruction, but also what was destroyed. That is Fleury’s rhetorical power.