Friday, June 12, 2009

Monumentalizing Exclusion

There’s a park I frequent with a memorial that perplexed me for a long time. It is a sturdy iron cage, maybe fifteen feet to a side, inside of which are several wire statues of bears. One of the bears is covered in ivy, giving it a soft, full exterior; the other bears are empty and spectral. They are all about four feet tall and proportioned to a kind of “teddy bears picnic” cuteness. Footlights illuminate them at night. A plaque reads “In Loving Memory [some guy’s name].”

All this made a lot more sense after I learned from an old lady that there used to be a small zoo in the park with bears among its occupants, until a kid climbed in the bear cage and was killed by them.

How does this memorial arise, in its specific form, from its tragic original, and why would it make sense to deal with this event through such a structure? Agamben’s notion of the inclusive exclusion begins to shape an interpretation. If animals are not bare life, which they certainly are not, they can at least be connected to the analysis of homo sacer by the shared process of inclusive exclusion. Animals, as they exist for the Western experience since the 18th or 19th century and (not coincidentally) for rights discourse, are usually confined. Otherwise they are part of “the environment.” They are locked out of political consideration by being locked up inside the polis or by being driven into the wilderness.

The memorial marks the disturbance of this balanced equation, the moment when the physicalization of social division failed. Thus it cannot be memorialized simply as the remembrance of the deceased, but must be a re-enactment of the violated process. The bears are again inclusively excluded qua their bear-ness. The two aspects of the bear statues display the dual movement of power: the bears are either hollow, ideal forms, made of the same material and techniques as the cage, or they are covered over in the ivy leaves, sedimented by the slow growth of time.