Polyphonic memory

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Polyphonic memory

Understanding the cultural memory of totalitarianism through Bakhtin’s concept of polyphony

Kayleigh de Vos 13431668

Master’s Thesis Comparative Literature Supervised by Dr. Boris Noordenbos

17 June 2021



1. Introduction……….……… page 3 2. Chapter one: Guernica’s ambiguity……….... page 12 3. Chapter two: The plurality of the Bronze Soldier ….……….... page 25 4. Chapter three: Narrating polyphony in the European House of History.…. page 40 5. Conclusion……….………….. page 51 6. Bibliography……….……..…… page 55



Introducing polyphonic memory

A plurality of distinct voices, always present, always in dialogue with each other. Mikhail Bakhtin, the Russian literary critic, introduced his concept of ‘polyphony’ in Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics in 1929. In the novels of Fyodor Dostoevsky, Bakhtin found that for the first time in literary history, characters were ideologically independent from their author.

Dostoevsky would, in Bakhtin’s reading, not impose his artistic view on them. Instead, there was a sincere dialogue between the characters, the author and the reader that filled the pages of the novel.

The term ‘polyphony’ stems from a musical technique in which multiple melodies form a complex play of independent voices. Edward Said used the same musical technique to describe the experience of exile. Being forced to move from your home to an entirely new country, from now on your thoughts are split, in what he called a “contrapuntal awareness”.

The twentieth century brought on a new scale, all kinds of new existences for Europeans.

Ranging from the oppressor and the oppressed, but also the bystander and the implicated, remembering the atrocities of the twentieth century has remained a process of negation. Both the Nazi occupation and the Soviet occupation have covered a wide range of cultures, with the result that the memory of both these totalitarian regimes differ in each nation. This transnational remembering complicates the notion of the earlier conception of cultural memory, in which there is a direct and linear connection between memory and identity.

Instead, recent research in memory studies has shown that memory exists in dialogue, not exclusively following national contours. Different academics have coined new terms, ranging from ‘multidirectional’, ‘dialogic’, ‘traveling’ and ‘transnational’, all to grasp this post- nationalist type of cultural memory.

However, until now no one has looked at Bakhtin-studies, to shed light on this type of dialogic memory. This is a pity, because Bakhtin has been essential in understanding dialogue in other field of inquiry. In this thesis, I will add to this discourse, by applying the matured concept of polyphony to the studies of cultural memory, specifically the memory of the totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century. I will argue throughout this thesis that this concept can help to further understand the contemporary dynamics between different voices and perspectives within the cultural memory of Europe’s twentieth-century totalitarian past

Ultimately this serves to explore the question:


How can Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of polyphony contribute to cultural memory studies, specifically the memory of totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century?

Many ‘voices’

While Bakhtin uses a vocabulary of ‘voices’ and ‘consciousnesses’ to describe the wide range of characters in Dostoevsky’s novels, this is not easily translated into the field of memory studies.

The word ‘voice’ implies a sort of naturalness and self-evidence, while remembering the past is not naturally given at all. Nowadays, cultural memory is seen as something that is created in the present, rather than retrieved from the past (Rigney 14). This makes remembering an activity, in which memory actors play an important role. Thus, before turning to the field of memory studies and the uncharted territory for polyphonic memory, I will first address this practice of remembering both the Nazi occupation and the Soviet occupation. As we will see, these memories have been intrinsically linked, shaped through their dialogue.

In the wake of the atrocities of the Second World War, Europe rebuilt itself with the promise never to repeat this kind of violence again. The Netherlands, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy, all used their disapproval of the Holocaust as prove of their ‘restored humanity’ and hold new European Union applicants to the same standard (Judt 804). However, in the years immediately following the war, the events were first historicised and located in their specific timeframe (Macdonald 192). This meant that the Jewish Holocaust was part of a broader narrative of the two world wars. Eventually, with the public trials of Nazis in Israel in the sixties, European countries started to confront their own violent pasts, with the extermination of the Jews as the central crime in the Second World War (Judt 814). This new framework of interpretation, also dubbed the ‘Holocaust boom’, coincided with a general increase in interest for the past, in what is often referred to as the ‘memoryboom’ (Macdonald 3). This meant that the past increasingly became a source to take lessons from, something which the symbol of the Holocaust especially became suitable for (Levi and Snyder 88).

However, this applies for many of the Western European countries, as a generalization of their shared experiences after the war. Central and Eastern Europe had soon found itself on the other side of the Iron Curtain, experiencing yet another totalitarian regime. Here the Second World War was often framed in terms as ‘the Great Patriotic War’, which offered a new impulse for the Soviet Union and essentially became the founding myth, that would ultimately outlive communism itself (Lehti, Jutila, Jokisipilä 404). Many Red Army monuments were placed in the new Soviet states, commemorating the liberation of Europe, which thus became one of the most important sites for creating Soviet identity (Lehti, Jutila, Jokisipilä 402).


experiences of the war was hardly possible, ‘freezing’ this debate until after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 (Mälksoo 658).

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, this parallel remembering of the Second World War, broke down. In many post-Soviet countries, new national histories were written, often depicting the Soviet Union, and its successor state Russia, as the absolute evil (Torbakov 214).

This disrupted the earlier consensus around the singularity of the Nazi occupation (Judt 826).

Recognizing Stalinist crimes as equally horrific as that of Hitler’s regime, would challenge many Western European narratives. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, many East European archives opened up. ‘As new evidence documenting collaboration or indifference towards this crime against humanity ushered in heated debates, the clear and simple structure of dominant national narratives had to become more complex and inclusive’, writes Aleida Assmann about the dialogic feature of memory (202). The Western European acceptance of the Yalta order, and with that the acceptance of the Soviet occupation in the east of Europe, is one event that complicates such national narratives of suffering (Mälksoo 662).

This raises the stakes for remembering both the totalitarian regimes in the Europe of today. With the eastern expansion of the European Union, many post-Soviet states felt obliged to insert the memories of Western Europe of the Holocaust in their national narratives (Mälksoo 654). This makes the Western European perspective on totalitarianism hegemonic in Europe. However, this hegemonic memory discourse is still challenged. Especially the Baltic States and Poland have taken up the uncomfortable position of both following the lead of Western European’s Holocaust-discourse, while at the same time resisting their hegemonic position within the European cultural memory (Mälksoo 655).

This makes the European memory of both the Nazi occupation and the Soviet occupation, a contested space. Ultimately, the future of European cultural memory is not decided by who the bigger villain in history was, but by how we create space for the voices of contending experiences under totalitarianism. It is for the sake of recognition of these differing voices, that I will now turn to Bakhtin’s concept of polyphony.

Bakhtin’s polyphony

According to Bakhtin, Dostoevsky was the first one to ever write a polyphonic novel, in which characters are not just mouthpieces of the writer, but ideologically independent. Dostoevsky showed all these differing ideologies, without imposing his own opinion on them (Bakhtin 85).

The character is treated ideologically authoritative and independent; he is perceived as the author of a fully weighted ideological conception of his own, and not as the object of Dostoevsky’s finalizing artistic vision. (Bakhtin 5).


Because of this, Dostoevsky’s writing was fundamentally different from that of his European colleagues, who belonged to the ‘monological’ or ‘homophonic’ tradition (Bakhtin 8). In the polyphonic novels the different voices stay unmerged, and each gets the agency to have their say in the great dialogue that the novel entails.

As Peter Burke writes in his handbook What is Cultural History? (2008), Bakhtin’s ideas have had – until now – little influence in cultural history studies, something that he calls

‘a pity’ (54). While post-modern thinking in the humanities has taken a liking towards Bakhtin, it has had a difficult time placing his ideas in a wider ideological framework (Makhlin 90).

Bakhtin would have been a part of the paradigm shift in the 1910’s and 1920, that witnessed a

‘global tendency towards the dialoguation of reason itself in Western philosophy, with its revolutionary discoveries of the ‘other’ outside and beyond purely theoretical constructions’

(Makhlin 90). Besides this more philosophical paradigm shift on subjectivity, there is also a linguistic turn found in Bakhtin’s work, starting from Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics (1984) which he finished around 1928 (Hirschkop 23). His focus on linguistics has remained throughout his writings, but his thoughts on the nature of dialogue shifted.

Even though it is hard to limit Bakhtin’s thinking to just one core, much of Bakhtin’s writing are centred around the idea of dialogue. Later dubbed as ‘dialogism’, Bakhtin approaches epistemological problems by underlining differential relations (Holquist 17).

Objects, but also ‘the self’, are in Bakhtin’s thought all realised through their relations, writes Michael Holquist, a known Bakhtin commentator (18). This places dialogue at the core of existence and explains the many interpretations of Bakhtin on the subject. Bakhtin was anything but unified in his views on dialogism and not at all clear in the relations between his formulated concepts. In Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics (1984), Bakhtin introduced the concept polyphony, at first exclusively reserved for Dostoevsky’s work. In his novels characters could, for the first time in literary history, talk back to their author. In the 1930’s Bakhtin did not further develop this theory, but instead coined the term heteroglossia. This can be explained by his new interest in the rising of the modern novel (Hirschkop 32). Modernity had brought about a world in which time was always speeding and the European novel became the medium that could address this ever-changing social reality. Thus, in the modern European novel, characters show this social movement, by speaking differently according to their unique social position in their time. These different types of speech are what Bakhtin called heteroglossia. Thus, Bakhtin came to view dialogue as dependent of ‘the ceaseless forward movement of modern historical life’ (Hirschkop 33).

Holquist saw the concept of heteroglossia as the primary condition for Bakhtin’s other concepts, like polyphony, and thus the fundament of Bakhtin’s thinking (Bakhtin Dialogic Imagination xix). I would however agree with Ken Hirschkop, professor specialised in Bakhtin-studies, who sees dialogism as the core. However, he also sees heteroglossia as a more


plausible rationale for dialogism, than polyphony. Thus, at this point is it important to explain why this thesis uses polyphony specifically, instead of heteroglossia, even though the latter has been used in literary studies extensively. Both concepts consist of characters with distinct ideologies, that have their own worldviews and are brought together on the level playing field of the novel. The most important difference in the context of this thesis, is how these concepts interpret dialogism. While heteroglossia shows a diversity in ideologies because of the historical movement of time, polyphony shows diversity in ideologies because they were placed there by the artistic qualities of the curator. This makes diversity, dialogue and agency, a conscious decision by the creator, and not the result of historical developments. As we have established, cultural memory can best be defined as a practice, with active actors who can determine which story is remembered, thus making polyphony a much more suitable concept.

The link between Dostoevsky’s polyphony and cultural memory has been made earlier by Diane Thompson in her book The Brothers of Karamazov and the poetics of memory (1991). Even though she pinpoints memory within Dostoevsky’s work, unlike this thesis that applies Dostoevsky’s polyphony onto other media, it does tell us something about the intuitive relationship between polyphony and memory. ‘Words are carriers of cultural memory, of ideas, images, events and traditions from the past’, writes Thompson, drawing on Bakhtin’s ideas about the contextuality of words (8). Dostoevsky’s The Brothers of Karamazov (1880) would be unique in its way that it juxtaposes ‘old words’ with ‘new words’, thus putting an older carrier of memory into a new context, creating a dynamic interaction (Thompson 9). Dostoevsky would do this by personifying the ‘old words’ through his characters. With this, Thompson touches upon important facets of polyphonic memory, namely the juxtaposition, the interaction, and the personification of different memories. However, Thompson discusses a textual source in her book, a novel, while I will argue that these aspects of polyphony are needed the most in a field in which materials play an important role.

Polyphonic memory

‘Memory is not what it used to be’, write Lucy Bond, Stef Craps and Pieter Vermeulen so aptly in their introduction to the book Memory Unbound (2017). While traditionally memory was seen as something that happened in the past, brought back to the present through historical objects, nowadays memory is perceived as more fluid, active and mobile (Bond, Craps and Vermeulen 1). Because of globalization, memories have crossed borders, complicating the more nationalistic framework that was often used by memory scholars in the 1990’s (Erll 6).

The conflicting memories of the totalitarian past that became visible with the eastern enlargement of the European Union in 2000’s, can now be studied as a part of this new interest in transcultural studies within memory studies. For this reason, Astrid Erll formulated cultural memory as ‘travelling’. ‘I claim that all cultural memory must ‘travel’, be kept in motion, in


order to ‘stay alive’, to have an impact both on individual minds and social formations.’, writes Erll (12). Thus, movement becomes the requirement of the existence of a specific memory.

However, in her plea for more research on the reception of cultural memory, Erll also notes that in order for memory to travel, it must travel somewhere (Törnquist-Plewa, Andersen and Erll 3). This works differently in polyphonic memory, because in polyphony the dialogue is open-ended. In Dostoevsky’s novel this meant that the plot was the result of the dialogue between the characters, not the result of certain events or the unifying vision of the author (Holquist 132). When polyphony is applied to memory studies, that would mean that the dialogue is of more importance than the wide reception of one of these viewpoints.

By focusing on the dialogue between different memories, we move towards the concept of multidirectional memory, as formulated by Michael Rothberg. Instead of viewing memory as a zero-sum game, in which memories compete for space, we should, according to Rothberg, instead see memory as ‘an open-ended field of articulation and struggle’ (21). Only in dialogue with other historical events, can certain memories come into being. This exact formulation of the concept of memory, makes the absence of Bakhtin’s ideas on dialogue in Rothberg’s texts especially noteworthy. In Dostoevsky’s novels, the ideas cannot be separated from their characters, because these ideas are created through dialogue (Bakhtin 86). However, while in polyphonic memory the dialogue is open-ended, the field is not. The Dostoevskian novel was a confined space onto which the characters played out their differences, an important reason why Bakhtin was reluctant to compare the novel with real life (Bakhtin 12). Similarly, the polyphonic memory object is restricted in a physical sense, locating the dialogue within the object. Nevertheless, the polyphonic memory object is layered, with room for contending voices on different levels, but always referring back to the same space.

Polyphonic memory in three objects

To research the possible manifestations of polyphonic memory, I have selected three case studies. The three objects that are discussed in this thesis vary in shape, location and age, showing how polyphonic memory can be forestalled in different contexts. Because polyphony has a unique structure, the application of the concept works differently for every type of material. That is why I have chosen to investigate polyphony in more self-evident memory objects, like a monument and a museum, but also in a less obvious memory object, like painting. By using polyphony as starting point, it is possible to review the way a memory object facilitates different memories. All three objects show this potential to show conflicting, interacting, and independent memories of the totalitarianism.

Every chapter discusses one particular memory object, thus what follows is also an overview of the chapters. Because there are only three case studies, there is a risk of appearing


memory, in an attempt to continually and critically review the concept’s benefits and limitations. All three objects can be viewed as an example of the polyphonic memory of the totalitarian past, but that does not mean that every aspect of je object matches polyphony perfectly. To better understand polyphony in its entirety, every chapter has a specific focus.

Polyphony has many facets, so every chapter will zoom in on one or two unique features of polyphonic memory.

The first memory object I have chosen is Pablo Picasso’s Guernica (1937), a case study of early totalitarian memory, painted immediately after the bombing of the town Guernica, during the Spanish Civil War. By choosing such a famous painting by an even more famous painter, I want to show how the memory of totalitarian regimes can take on different forms, not excluding objects which we predominantly know as art objects. Caught between the upcoming communism and fascism, Spanish citizens became a target in a transnational conflict, and witnessed the first arial raid on a civilian town in twentieth century. This way, the object speaks to us about the way the totalitarian present was memorialised in its infancy. We will see how Picasso’s cubism perfectly expresses both the fragmented nature of trauma and the artistic manifestation of polyphonic memory. In this chapter, polyphony will be explored with a focus on the fragmentation and motion.

The second cultural object discussed in this thesis, is the Bronze Soldier, the monument formerly located in the city centre of Tallinn in Estonia. I have chosen this object because it has been at the intersection of Estonian discussions about the memory of both the Nazi occupation and the Soviet occupation. Because monuments have often been used in a nationalistic context, it would be easy to read the monument in a monological way, underlining the single interpretation that the nation intended. However, as we will see, the monument facilitates multiple interpretations of the past. Placed during the Soviet occupation in Estonia and dedicated to the victorious Red Army in the Second World War, the monument became disputed in the early years of 2000. Several days of unrest in the country’s capitol started after the removal of another monument, dedicated to Estonian soldiers who had fought at the side of the Nazi Army. The case study shows how in Estonia the memory of the Nazi occupation and the Soviet occupation are interlaced. With special attention for the concept of space in polyphony, the two locations of the Bronze Soldier will be analysed. Besides the spatial aspect of polyphonic memory, the Bronze Soldier will also be deconstructed, separating different

‘speaking’ elements, who all tell a different story about the monument.

The third object is the section about totalitarianism in The European House of History in Brussels. While the unrest surrounding the Bronze Soldier can be described as a bottom-up reaction to (former) government policy, the House of History is a perfect example of a top- down type of memory. Also, while Guernica (1937) and the Bronze Soldier are both examples of memory at a national level, the House of History is an effort to transcend national borders.


Opened in 2017 as a ‘reservoir of European history’, the museum is the most official form of European cultural memory, because it is entirely funded by the European Parliament. With a special focus on dialogue, polyphonic memory is mobilized to better understand the way that narration works in the museum. While it is the museum’s mission to facilitate different point of views and even memories that contradict each other, the question remains whether this has been achieved in the section concerning the totalitarian regimes. This chapter will specifically focus on the role of narration and the different levels of dialogue.


Figure 1

Picasso, Pablo. Guernica. 1937.

Museo Reina Sofia


Guernica’s ambiguity

Cubist ambiguity, memory in motion and constellations

Screaming figures, stretched across the landscape of the canvas,

both ripped apart and re-added again into a whole, as a

constellation of suffering. It had not been the intention of Pablo

Picasso to paint the town Guernica when he first started

sketching in the early months of 1937. He had been

commissioned to create something for the upcoming world fair

in Paris and had – somewhat dispassionately – begun the

process. But then the news reached him that Guernica, a small

town in Basque Country, had been under attack. Quickly he

changed his subject and eventually painted the most famous

anti-war painting in history. The painting became more than

just another submission for the World’s Fair: it became an icon,

a beacon of memory for universal suffering of victims of abusive

regimes (Kopper 444). While often used in a specific art historic

context, this chapter will look on to Guernica (1937) as a

memory object. Memorializing the bombing of the town just a

few months after it happened, Picasso’s painting proves to be a

unique point of departure to understand the memory of the two

totalitarian regimes. I will argue how Picasso’s cubism would

prove to be a very fruitful form to facilitate the polyphonic

understanding of the rising ideological tensions that found

ground in the thirties of the twentieth century.


Total war and totalitarianism

As the famous story goes, a German officer would have seen Guernica (1937), during the Nazi occupation of Paris, a while after the Spanish Civil War, and asked Picasso if he ‘had done Guernica’. Picasso would have replied: ‘No, you did’. This story was reason for Benjamin Cousen to write in his article ‘Memory, place, power: Where is Guernica?’, that for Picasso, ‘the deed, the event and, by extension, the place were absolutely linked to the painting; that they are one.’ (48). While Picasso was free to understand his painting as a direct reflection of the event, it is most important to separate the event and the memory of the event, when discussing cultural memory. Bakhtin was extremely critical of Dostoevsky commentators, who would transfer their interpretations of the novel, directly to the plane of real life (20). Similarly, in polyphonic memory it is important to separate totalitarianism from the memory of totalitarianism. Before exploring memory in the rest of the chapter, this section will discuss why Guernica (1937) became a memory object of totalitarianism in the first place.

One of the reasons for the fame of Guernica (1937) is the global attention that the Spanish Civil War got. The war was highly documented, with journalists using photographs to report back to the rest of the world because they all wanted to see how Europe’s first Republican war would turn out (Kopper 449). An important site of the civil war became the small-town Guernica, in Basque language called Gernika. The town was victim of the first arial bombing that resulted in such a loss of innocent lives (Cousen 49). The bombing was the result of a complex play of ideologies that had started to become increasingly important in Europe.

In the conflict between the Spanish Nationalists and the Spanish Republicans, wider European clashes between fascist and communist movements loomed over the conflict and fuelled the reproaches of each side. For example, Franco would often blame Spanish domestic problems on a Judeo–Masonic–Bolshevik conspiracy (Brenneis 4). As Sara Brenneis and Gina Herrmann write in their book Spain, the Second World War, and the Holocaust (2020) ‘the de facto alliance and ideological proximity of Franco, Hitler, and Benito Mussolini would shape the course of world politics for almost forty years.’ (5). This ideological proximity of Franco and Hitler would eventually result in the bombing of Guernica because the latter was instructed by the former to bomb this town. Thus, on 26of April, around 4:30 in the afternoon, for two hours on end, the little town suffered through air raids, causing the death of more than a thousand inhabitants. Thus, while Spain is often seen as neutral in the Second World War, the rising of fascism across Europe was definitely palpable on the Spanish countryside, even before the actual fighting commenced.

It has been established that Picasso positioned himself in the clash of the Spanish Civil War with Guernica (1937), in which he chose the side of the Republicans (Cousen 48). Whether Picasso addressed fascism and communism specifically, has been up for debate. Picasso was known to be an anarchist, with fleeting sympathies for the communist movement


(Afinoguénova 324). In her article, Eugenia Afinoguénova argues that Picasso’s Leftist sympathies should sway the common interpretation of Guernica (1937), especially considering the days in which he painted it. The painting should not exclusively be seen as a depiction of the bombing, but also as a reflection of the experience of the European Left (Afinoguénova 321). In the earlier sketches’ Picasso had, besides multiple hammers and sickles, also added clenched fists, which were a symbol of the Popular Front’s fight against fascism (Afinoguénova 321). The Popular Front was a collaboration of left-wing parties that had gathered to compete in the 1936 elections as a response to fascism. However, this served only a short-term goal and shortly after the elections, the Communist Party of Spain, loyal to Stalin’s Comintern, accused the Marxist Workers party, loyal to Trotsky, of fascism. This resulted in fighting in the streets in Barcelona in May 1937, right at the time of Picasso’s period of painting Guernica (1937). For Afinoguénova this was one of the reasons to believe that his erasure of the fists, meant that Picasso no longer believed in the cause of the Popular Front, now that they had fallen apart (321). This rebukes Rachel Wischnitzer statement about the absence of fascism in Guernica (1937). ‘Picasso does not refer to the Fascists, the Nazi’s, or to Franco at all’, writes Wischnitzer about the painting (165). However, I would argue that even though there is no direct reference to fascism, Picasso’s erasure of the fists can still be interpreted as a way of distancing himself from the Popular Front, which in turn has been an anti-fascist initiative. Both fascism and communism have dictated the life span of the Popular Front, making Picasso’s decision to distance himself from the Popular Front, a statement against both Stalinism and fascism.

Thus, I conclude that in order to understand Guernica (1937), we have to understand the powerplay of the two totalitarian regimes that were gaining prominence in the rest of Europe. The object is a testimony to the reach of totalitarianism, far outside the borders of the actual regime. Both the bombing of Guernica and the painting Guernica (1937) are a direct response to these totalitarian regimes. As we will see in the polyphonic analysis of the next section, the erasure of the clenched fist, left room for other memories to enter the conflict on the canvas.

Cubist ambiguity

Many of us are familiar with Picasso’s artistic qualities; his Cubism being one of the most prominent ones. In this paragraph I will show how polyphony materializes through Cubism.

While Picasso’s Cubism changes significantly over the many years of his career, we can nevertheless place Guernica (1937) within this style, even though it is a late representation of it (Thompson 3). Cubism has been one of the artistic answers to the question of how to show a subject’s elements, without reducing the painting to a flat pattern (Gombrich 573). Ernst Gombrich writes in his famous book about the entire history of art, titled Story of Art (2017),


Cubist painters transformed the objects of their paintings into geometrical shapes, which they then showed as three-dimensional objects. This means that Cubist painting essentially means showing multiple perspectives of a single subject. Thus, Picasso’s unique artistic style has the ability to facilitate more than one conscious onto one canvas, because it can literally show more than one perspective. While many commentators have written about the feature of Cubism to show multiple perspectives, so far it has not been linked to Bakhtin’s concept of polyphony.

Jamie Hilder came close in his analysis of Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons but limited the concept by writing that Stein’s work was closer to the musical definition of polyphony. With this Hilder means that the writing shows the sensory experience of polyphony but not the ideologic dimension of it (68). This is unfortunate because in the next section of the article Hilder writes about the ambiguity of the Cubist painting, which has major implications for the ideological interpretation of a painting. The article quotes Marjorie Perloff, to state that the showing of different perspectives of one object, prevents a singular interpretation of it because there are always contradicting views visible (Hilder 69).

I would add to this observation that this leaves a discrepancy, a space for the observer of a Cubist painting to doubt the narrative of the painting, in anticipation of another voice, another perspective. This ultimately shapes the interpretation of the painting because it has become an open-ended discussion with the viewer, in which there are multiple outcomes possible. I will argue that it is the Cubist multi-perspectivity that makes it possible to both facilitate agency for the characters and invite the audience to participate. These two aspects are central to the concept of polyphony, both bringing forth the dialogue.

In Figure 1, we see a person laying on the ground, who both looks at the observer of the painting, and looks away, into the painting itself. Picasso could achieve this expression by dividing the face in two sides, with each side an eye that looks the other way. In the painting the soldier is the only figure with a double expression, interacting with both the figures in the painting and the observers of the painting itself. With one eye he looks at his audience directly.

In art history, the direction of the gaze of the subject is an important indication of this person’s agency within the painting. When a subject ‘looks back’ at the observer, it shows that is more than an object. This reading of the soldier is backed up by the way how he has an opened mouth, as if he is calling out. Thus, the soldier is literally given a voice, making him a vocal character.

However, another reading of the soldier would again turn him into a passive object.

Wischnitzer has shown in her article that in the earlier sketches the soldier’s body was intact, until the second to last version of the painting. In this version he is literally decapitated, turned into a bust (Wischnitzer 157). Because Wischnitzer does not comment on this contradiction, I would want to add that this decapitation makes the soldier an ambiguous character in the painting. Noteworthy to say that Picasso turned the soldier into a bust by literally adding another dimension, the black square, which turned the until now two-dimensional soldier into


a three-dimensional object. This makes this person in Guernica (1937) ambiguous. It shows that the Cubist style can show two different sides of the same object, evoking agency for the characters.

The soldier’s gaze towards the observer, is not only a way to grant agency to the character itself but also a way of inviting the observer into the painting. The observer is no longer a non- participator but has become implicated in the scene of chaos and violence. The relationship between the object and observer is an important indication of the dialogic ability of the object and with that, an important indication of polyphony. As Caryl Emerson, known Bakhtin critic, has pointed out, the relationship between reader, character and author is fundamental to Bakhtin’s concept of polyphony. In the example of the Dostoevsky-novels, the reader is unconsciously drawn into the conversation with the characters because in the ‘dialogue of ideas’, everyone can participate (Emerson 5). ‘Readers can participate actively in the narrative

— which is to say, non-vicariously, on an equal plane, with the same equipment’, writes Emerson (5). Although Emerson speaks about a novel, I would want to argue that this works in the same way in Guernica (1937). Because of its size, the ambiguous subjects and dynamic composition, the onlooker is pulled into the painting. It is the dynamic composition that I will now turn to.

Circulating signs

Picasso’s ambiguity was only possible by his use of separate elements, that once brought together, show a heterogenous whole. Picasso’s work shows a great interest in juxtapositioning, which is visible in his many collages. After the Great War, Picasso’s Cubist route took a different turn and he ended up making paper collages, in ‘what can be seen as the earliest visual system of freely circulating signs’ (Krauss 20). By composing different pieces of newspapers into a dialectical whole, he developed skills in composition and in journalism. Rosalind Krauss sees Bakhtin’s polyphony reflected in Picasso’s collages, specifically in the way that he circulates signs (47). Although Krauss spoke of his collages, such a reading of symbols can also be applied to Guernica (1937), as I will now show.

By painting Guernica (1937), Picasso commented on recent events and used specific symbols to convey his message. While he often insisted that his work was open for interpretation, he did include many symbols in his work. Much debate has been centred about the meaning of the bull in the painting. While Picasso himself said that the bull symbolized the

‘dark forces’ that threatened the Spanish people, no one believed him (Witschnitzer 153). This fact alone points to polyphony because the creator’s interpretation of the painting did not prevent other interpretations, and so Picasso’s views have not been imposed onto the object.


> Figure 2

Detail of Guernica (1937): The laying soldier.


The painting is made up of separate elements, who all represent, or may be read as representing, opposed ideologies. As Witschnitzer writes, the woman on the right side of the painting, holding the kerosine lamp, would symbolize the Soviet Union, helping the Spanish cause, but with outdated means (160). The sun would symbolize England and France, lacking commitment to the Spanish Civil War, visible in the ‘shrunken’ state of the sun in the painting (Witschnitzer). However, when considering polyphony in this painting, it is less important what the ‘correct’ interpretation of these signs are, but it is more important to understand the role of the signs in the composition.

As shown in Figure 3, all the elements in the painting that draw the eye of the observer are found along the fringes of the painting. The struggle in the centre of the painting is shaped in a triangle, visible in Figure 4. Here we also see that this triangle seems to dictate how the entire canvas is arranged. All the separate elements shown in Figure 3 seem to dance around this triangle, while the triangle itself does not show any momentum. While in many paintings the centre is an important space to place the most important subjects, in Guernica (1937) it is a light grey mess, in which nothing holds any particular significance. However, as shown in Figure 5, the bull and the woman with the lamp are shown on either side of this triangle. This composition evokes an opposition between the two characters, because they are placed on opposing sides of the apex. With this placement, Picasso puts to use his signs to create a dynamic play between the characters, forcing them into a dialogue.

> Figure 3

Highlights in Guernica (1937): elements of the painting that draw the eye.


> Figure 4

Highlights in Guernica (1937): triangle shape that forms the painting.

> Figure 5

Highlights in Guernica (1937): triangle shape with the two figures on each side.


Memory in motion

Before addressing the movement within Guernica (1937), we must revisit Bakhtin in order to understand the importance of movement in polyphony. In an attempt to resolve the issue of the difference between the subject and the world, as introduced by Kant, Bakhtin wrote about relational differences. The experience of the ‘I’ and the experience of ‘the Other’ are significantly different and unbridgeable (Hirschkop 31). Thus, defining yourself must be done in relation with the other. This dialogue between the self and the Other must be done through language in motion. Language that is static and frozen cannot show this dynamic that comes with this process. ‘There is language that moves, and language that doesn’t; the former is dialogical, the latter monological’, writes Hirschkop about this language in motion (32). The next paragraphs will cover how this language in motion resembles both the Cubism as shown in Guernica (1937) and introduces another layer of the painting: memory.

Cubist painting shows unique characteristics of an object by showing the object from those specific angles. According to Cubist painters, this is also how we remember an object in the first place: we think of specific elements of the whole, zooming in on all the unique facets of the objects, but all simultaneously (Gombrich 574). That is also why they choose to paint easily recognizable objects, like a violin, enlarging the most notable parts of the instrument like the snares, the f-hole, and the scroll. The idea that we remember unique parts of a whole and that we constantly shift between details, in a dynamic movement, instead of remembering a static and orderly whole, is important for the memory aspect of the style. If indeed we remember in movement, then Guernica (1937) offers a specific flow of remembering, as I will now argue.

When observing the painting, we constantly shift our gaze between the bull, the horse, the laying soldier and the woman in the window, mimicking the actual recalling of an event, like the Cubist argued. As we can see in Figure 6, the elements that were discussed in the previous section, all point to each other. Most of the figures of Figure 3 look at other figures or act out these visual lines with their body. Figures 7 and 8 show a character which is stretched in such a way that it redirects our gaze to the kerosene lamp, the shrunken sun and the horse head. This visual line is further emphasized by the different colour areas, demarcated by the line of the kerosene lamp. This is an important visual line in the painting, forcing dynamics, for two reasons. First, it is a diagonal line, which gives of the impression of movement.

Secondly, when viewing a painting we tend to start from the left and work our way to the right, similar to reading. As we can see in Figure 8, almost all lines in the painting move from the right side of the painting to the left, thus bringing back the gaze to the bull on the left side. This starts a circling movement in the painting, in which we constantly shift our gaze between the separate element, but always start anew. Thus, in Guernica (1937) we are not just watching the


> Figure 6

Highlights in Guernica (1937):

directions of the figures.

> Figure 7 Detail in Guernica (1937):

woman figure that looks at the sun.

> Figure 8 Detail in Guernica (1937):

woman figure that looks at the sun.


Memory constellations

So far, we have looked at Guernica (1937), focussing on the ambiguous elements, its ideologies behind them, and the dynamic movement between these elements. But in the end, all these separate elements came together on Picasso’s canvas, forming a heterogenous unity. The same can be said about Dostoevsky’s novels. According to Bakhtin, the unmerged consciousnesses were carefully constructed into a whole (13). This paradox of both unmerging voices and a unified whole is something inherently linked to the concept of memory. ‘The relationship between trauma as a devastating disruption and the subsequent attempts to translate or assimilate this disturbance is a fundamental tension between interruption and flow, blockage and movement’, writes Roger Luckhurst about this paradoxical feature of memory (79). Thus, in distilling a useful concept for the memory of totalitarianism, there should be space for contradiction, tension, and paradox. In this section I will argue how Guernica (1937) has become the heterogenous constellation, fit for remembering the totalitarian past.

In her book The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), Hannah Arendt wrote about the way we should remember totalitarianism. In this work Arendt has the everlasting paradoxical pursuit of both trying to grasp the events of Holocaust, while still insisting on the incomprehensible amount of violence (Rothberg 41). Arendt saw her historical work as describing the ‘elements’ that eventually crystallized into Nazism (Rothberg 43). Importantly, Arendt saw totalitarianism, not as a deliberate political system, but a ‘chaotic, nonutilitarian, manically dynamic movement of destruction’, writes Margaret Canovan in the Cambridge Companion to Hannah Arendt (2006) (26).

Metaphorically, one might say that if the dominant picture suggests the rigidity, uniformity, transparency, and immobility of a frozen lake, Arendt’s theory evokes a mountain torrent sweeping away everything in its path, or a hurricane levelling everything recognizably human (Canovan 26).

Similar to how Arendt defines totalitarianism in a new way, a new type of memory had to be built to formulate the Holocaust specifically. Arendt suggested that in order to conceptualise the atrocities of the war, the current understanding of the Holocaust had to be deconstructed and new ‘constellations’ had to be built. As Rothberg has pointed out in Multidirectional Memory (2009), another famous philosopher of the twentieth century, also wrote about understanding the past as a constellation, further developing this idea of paradoxical memory (43).

Walter Benjamin, the German philosopher and cultural critic, has coined the term

‘dialectical image’ in his unfinished book The Arcades Project (1927-1940). The dialectical image is the moment a viewer comes to face the past, by the constellation of fragments of historical memory (Thompson 2). This constellation is fraught by tension and differences.


Important to note is that for Benjamin, dialectics did not mean a unified end result. ‘His is a dialectics at a standstill’, writes Friedlander (13). Benjamin was able to ‘stop’ dialectics in a specific time frame, because he viewed this as an integral part of movement.

To thinking belongs the movement as well as the arrest of thoughts. Where thinking comes to a standstill in a constellation saturated with tensions— there the dialectical image appears. (A, 475) (Friedlander 13).

Thus, for Benjamin the standstill is an important part in the constellation of tensions, that ultimately forms the historical memory. It is this stopping of time, like a cross-section of space at a specific moment, that ultimately leads us to Guernica (1937) as a polyphonic memory object. For that, we must return to Bakhtin’s ideas about Dostoevsky’s use of time.

‘Dostoevsky’s visualizing power was locked in place at the moment diversity revealed itself – and remained there, organizing and shaping this diversity in the cross-section of a given moment’, writes Bakhtin about the limits of Dostoevsky’s abilities (30). This idea of a cross- section is also visible in Guernica (1937). The painting can be described as a snapshot of the chaos that ensued the bombing. Although the composition shows dynamics and dialogue, the actual characters themselves are not involved with each other. Each of the characters are experiencing the atrocity in their isolation, showing a wide range of experiences. It therefore captures the chaotic and manically driven dynamic of totalitarianism that Arendt mentioned, but also the standstill in which tensions are revealed, that fits Benjamin’s dialectical image.

Concluding, Guernica (1937) is a constellation of differences and therefore very suitable to convey the diverse experiences of totalitarianism, in its chaotic and dynamic way. We can now also conclude that the cross-section that the painting shows of the bombing, that presents possible focal points for memory. The dialectical image then appear the moment time freezes into space, writes Howard Caygill in his book Walter Benjamin: The Colour of Experience (1998) (140). The same can be said about polyphonic memory, as we will see in the next chapter.


Figure 9

The Bronze Soldier in Tallinn


The plurality of the Bronze Soldier

Heroes in dialogue, multivocality and simultaneity

In the night of 26


of April in 2007, Tallinn witnessed the most violent

night since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The upcoming removal of the

Bronze Soldier monument in the city centre evoked riots between

supporters and protesters and resulted in more than three hundred

arrests in the first night alone. The ‘Bronze Night’, ‘Bronze War’, ‘April

Unrest’, or ‘April Events’, caused a commotion, not just in Estonian

politics, but also in post-Soviet memory studies. Although the Estonian

transition from a country under totalitarian rule to a successful

democratic state has often been celebrated, the dispute concerning the

monument revealed underlying tensions as a result of this transition

(Astrov 67). Many monuments had been erected under Soviet rule, like

the Bronze Soldier, celebrating the victory over Nazism. After the

Estonian Independence in 1991 the Bronze Soldier became a symbol of

Soviet totalitarian rule, but for the Russian speaking minority of Estonia

the monument is still seen as a symbol of the victory over Nazi’s. The

Bronze Soldier thus became the focal point of the debate about the

totalitarian past of Estonia. The relocation of the monument to the

military cemetery in the outskirts has often been described as the end of

the debate. However, in this chapter I will show that the relocation did

not put an end to the dialogic abilities of the monument. As of today, the

Bronze Soldier still forms the space onto which different memories of the

two occupations compete.


Relocating conflict

Before analysing the final resting place of the Bronze Soldier, I will first address the long history of alterations to the monument. As we will see in this section, the monument was already placed in different compositions, in an attempt to ‘de-sovietise’ the soldier. Keeping polyphonic remembering in mind, we see how certain traditions within heritage practice already follow the logic of dialogue. The efforts of the Estonian government to reduce the ideological imprint of the Bronze Soldier, are telling examples of the way heritage is interpreted: not in isolation, but with regards of its surroundings. Similarly, polyphony also relays on spatial juxtaposition.

According to Bakhtin, Dostoevsky has a distinctive usage of place in his novels to tie all the differing consciousnesses together. To write a novel in which ideas co-exist without them merging into a unity, juxtaposition is used and not evolution (Bakhtin 28). ‘Dostoevsky strives to organize all available meaningful material, all material of reality, in one time-frame, in the form of a dramatic juxtaposition, and he strives to develop it extensively’, writes Bakhtin about Dostoevsky’s use of space. Thus, in polyphonic memory, this spatial aspect is important for the dialogue.

The Bronze Soldier was erected in 1947, shortly after the Second World War, by the Soviet officials in Estonia. At first there was only a wooden memorial, but this was blown up by two young students, in a protest against the Soviet occupation (Ehala 140). After that, the bronze statue was placed, in the small park called Tõnismägi, with a wall framing the contours of the soldier and an eternal flame placed just in front of it. The soldier symbolically protected the graves of twelve Soviet soldiers, who died defending Tallinn from the German Army and whose names were written on the plaque, next to the monument. Placing monuments in the newly acquired states was a common strategy for the Soviet Union to build a common identity (Lehti 402). This raised the stakes for post-Soviet societies, members of which occasionally turned to these monuments to symbolically dismantle this system of oppression.

The shift in ideology after 1991, and consequently of memory, had to be worked out in public space in Estonia. However, many Soviet monuments that commemorated the Second World War were not initially removed (Smith 422). They underwent small changes that undermined the Soviet ideology, the Bronze Soldier being one of them (Ehala 141). After the Soviet Army had left Estonia in 1994, the site was changed so that the Soviet ideology was

‘reduced’ (Ehala 140). The plague was rewritten, changing the accompanying text from ‘Eternal glory for the heroes who have fallen for the liberation and sovereignty of our country’, to ‘For the fallen in the Second World War’ (Ehala 141). The paths leading up to the monument were redrawn, now creating diagonal lines across the square, therefore decentralising the monument. However, not all Soviet signs were removed. The hammer and sickle were still very visible behind the head of the statue.


Until 2004 this had been enough. In the months of the unrest, public discourse became polarised in such a way that the monument became ‘re-Sovietised’ (Smith 426). The Bronze Soldier was moved to the military cemetery in 2007, as a way of solving the national uproar about the monument. The Estonian government had first tried to remove the monument with legal procedures, but with the deeply divided parliament, the exhumation was ultimately done under the pretext of threats to national security, framing the monument in an international context (Astrov 75). According to David Smith, the monument at Tõnismägi was ‘always going to be particularly contentious’ because of its central position in the city (422). Francisco Martinez writes that the relocation to the periphery of the city actually disrupts the dialogue between the marginal and hegemonic parts of Estonian society (105). However, I would argue that both the statement of Smith and Martinez miss the insights of the dialogic character of the Bronze Soldier, within the site of the monument, regardless of its location in the city. The relocation did not ‘cut-off’ means of communication of the monument because it has an intrinsic dialogue. This chapter continues by analysing the monument at Tõnismägi and Filtri Tee, separately, to show how the Bronze Soldier produced different dynamics in both locations.

After that, we will see how we can still detect the Tõnismägi monument working through in the Filtri Tee monument.

> Figure 10

The Bronze Soldier on Tõnismägi- square, before the alterations of 1994.


Tõnismägi – Intersections

To help us understand the importance of space in polyphonic memory, we briefly return to Bakhtin. According to Bakhtin, Dostoevsky conceived his world primarily in terms of space (28). This helped him to dramatize differences between characters, but also to dramatize internal struggles of the main characters (Bakhtin 28). ‘This stubborn urge to see everything as coexisting, to perceive and show all things side by side and simultaneous, as if they existed in space and not in time, leads Dostoevsky to dramatize, in space, even internal contradictions’, expands Bakhtin (28). This dramatization in space might have worked for Dostoevsky, but in the case of the Bronze Soldier, we will see that space can also be used to deescalate a site.

Figure 9 en Figure 10 portray the redrawn paths, as part of the alterations made to the Tõnismägi square in 1994. From then on, visitors of the park would not automatically walk straight up to the statue, but instead move sideways across the square, encountering the statue in an uncomfortable angle. Visitors would have to choose to walk up to the monument, by making a sharp turn, instead of the previous ceremonial straight paths leading up to the monument. This choice for visitors to interact with the monument, or not, disrupts the former authority of the Bronze Soldier in the park. The removal of the eternal fire in front of the statue further attributes to the de-ritualising of the monument, making the Bronze Soldier less of a monumental assembly and more of a disconnected figure.

As seen in Figure 11, the Bronze Soldier became connected to the street and the National Library of Estonia, to the west side of the park, because it is aligned to the path that leads directly to the street. This makes the park more incorporated into the city because it facilitates the movement of visitors to the library. Instead of the earlier straight lines, the park is now cut up by diagonal lines, which suggest movement. All of this together changed the entire purpose of the square, from a monumental park to a green intersection. Thus, we can see two opposing dynamics: the Bronze Soldier became less connected with its surroundings, while the entire park became more integrated in the city’s infrastructure.

The choice to use the sidewalks to shift the balance on the square, without altering much of the object itself, is an example of the way that juxtaposition can introduce another dynamic. In this case, the existing voice is not muted, but is restructured into another composition. Using the space of the square to show ideological shifts can thus be seen as a polyphonic solution, because the dialogical potential is used, instead of simply destroying the statue. However, the restructuring of the park would sooth the public for roughly a decade.

After that, the square became witness of one of the most known examples of a memory war in in post-Soviet society. To pick up where many academic articles about the ‘Bronze War’ leave off, we will now relocate our focus to the military cemetery on Filtri Tee.


Figure 1 – Tõnismägi square before 1994

> Figure 11

Tõnismägi-square, with the paths before 1994.

> Figure 12

Tõnismägi-square, between 1994 and 2007.

> Figure 13

The Bronze Soldier on Tõnismägi- square, with the diagonal path crossing the monument, a few days

before excavations.


Filtri tee – Multivocality of dead bodies

The Bronze Soldier shows an entirely different dynamic with the new ‘resting place’, in the military cemetery on Filtri Tee. In this paragraph I will address this new dialogue. To illustrate the importance of dialogue for polyphonic memory, we will have to investigate Bakhtin’s ideas about Dostoevsky’s heroes. Every Dostoevskian hero has an idea, that gets such prominence in the novel that ‘the idea really does become almost the hero of the work’, writes Bakhtin (78).

Since Bakhtin’s views always depart from this notion of relational difference, ideas can only be fully realised in dialogue. That is why Dostoevsky embodied these ideas through a character, so that in their conversations with other characters, these ideas could come into existence. That is why Bakhtin writes that ‘the idea’ in Dostoevsky cannot be separated from its character in the novel. ‘We see the hero in the idea and through the idea, and we see the idea in him and through him’, writes Bakhtin about Dostoevsky’s heroes (87). When applying this dialogic principle to the field of memory studies, the embodiment of ideas comes into focus. In this paragraph we will see how different elements of the Bronze Soldier communicate different messages.

Initially it was thought that when the monument was placed in a military cemetery, the Soviet ideological weight would be reduced because it would be surrounded by all kinds of fallen soldiers (Smith 427). The reburial of bodies became an important part of post-socialist memory politics (Verdery 19). As a part of what the historian Katherine Verdery calls ‘the multivocality of dead bodies’, the remains could still function within the monument, although in a new political framework. ‘A body’s symbolic effectiveness does not depend on its standing for one particular thing, however, for among the most important properties of bodies, especially dead ones, is their ambiguity, multivocality, or polysemy’, writes Verdery (28). Thus, according to Verdery, dead bodies have the unique vantage point of being able to be used in multiple contexts and can acquire new relations with other elements, depending on their changing symbolic and spatial positioning. Because humans often live complex lives, full of contradictory virtues, their dead bodies can be interpreted in multiple ways (28). Verdery calls this ‘multivocality’, thus, using the rhetoric of ‘voice’ to describe a monument. Paradoxically, she then continues by pointing out that because the dead cannot speak, it is easier to attribute another political stance to them (29).

The relocation of the Bronze Soldier to the military cemetery thus resulted in another dialogue. Verdery’s statement about the multiple contexts of dead bodies perfectly fits the case of the Bronze Soldier, in which the relocation evokes another voice within the monument. As visible in Figure 11, the Bronze Soldier is now surrounded by the graves of all kinds of soldiers, not exclusively fallen during the Second World War. The military cemetery itself is filled with graves of soldiers ranging from Estonian Independence, the German Army, and the Red Army.


> Figure 14

The Bronze Soldier located in the military cemetery on Filtri Tee, surrounded by military graves.

> Figure 15

The Bronze Soldier in the military cemetery, again placed at the end of a

long straight path.


Calling back and forth

In order to understand the relocation in polyphonic terms, we will swiftly take a look at Bakhtin’s ideas about utterances. According to Bakhtin, Dostoevsky’s characters would reflect the intonations of other characters. For example, when in Crime and Punishment (1866), the main character Raskolnikov has a monologue, in which he tries to define himself, he uses phrases of other main characters, like his mother, his sister and his friends (Bakhtin 75).

Raskolnikov does not simply copy words but incorporates the visions of these characters in his self-image, only to respond to these visions himself. ‘These voices are not self-enclosed or deaf to one another. They hear each other constantly, call back and forth to each other, and are reflected in one another’, writes Bakhtin, about what he calls a ‘micro-dialogue’. This is the dialogue within a character, materialized through the contradictorinary accents of the words spoken (Bakhtin 40). ‘Dialogue has penetrated inside every word, provoking in it a battle and the interruption of one voice by another’ (Bakhtin 75). Applying this to memory studies means analysing the ways that ‘other’ voices are materialised through heritage. In the case of the Bronze Solder, we will see that even though the monument has been relocated, there are still voices from Tõnismägi ‘calling out’, disrupting the the new status quo.

Originally the soldiers buried underneath the monument were named, making the monument a grave monument (Astrov States 77). After the exhumation of the bodies on Tõnismägi, the bodies were taken to labs to identify the remains. This resulted in several requests of the Ministry of Defence, for possible relatives to bring forth DNA (MoD 02/05/2007). Eventually the ministry reburied the bodies on the third of July 2007, accompanied by a military ceremony with chaplains reading a prayer (MoD 29/06/2007).

Although the Bronze Soldier has always been a grave monument, during the April Unrest the monument did not become contested for the actual remains but rather the ideological message of the statue. This renewed attention for the bodies underneath the Bronze Soldier that came with the relocation to Filtri Tee, thus points to an earlier voice within the monument, brought to daylight by the removal to a military cemetery. In polyphonic terms, I would argue that this renewed presence of the remains is actually the voice of Tõnismägi, the original burial location, calling out to the present monument.

Another way that the Bronze Soldier of Filtri Tee ‘hears’ the voice of Tõnismägi, disrupting the present set-up, is the lay-out. As we have seen in the earlier paragraphs, Tõnismägi square was ridden of the straight paths that gave the Bronze Soldier its status in the park. With the relocation of the monument, the soldier again gained its prominent space within the park, with straight paths leading up to the monument. Thus, instead of the estranged statue in a green intersection, the Bronze Soldier has regained its central space.


Speaking back

Now that we have established the polyphonic relationship between the Bronze Soldier on Tõnismägi and the Bronze Soldier on Filtri Tee, we will turn to the intrinsic polyphony of the monument. Similar to how the location of the monument provokes a certain conversation, the separate elements of the monument also form a dynamic interplay, in which different voices can be distilled. These ‘voices’ do not necessarily have to be textual but can just as likely be three-dimensional. This is essential to polyphonic memory. The application of Bakhtin’s linguistic concept to the material-orientated thinking of heritage can feel awkward (Burke 67).

However, there has been a new paradigm within heritage studies. Laurajane Smith, who is advocate of this new paradigm, wrote that all heritage is intangible and thus has, besides a material side, also a discursive side to it. Heritage practices, as selecting, preserving, and restoring, are all constructed by discourse, in which values are established. ‘These practices, as well as the meaning of the material ‘things’ of heritage, are constituted by the discourses that simultaneously reflect these practices while also constructing them’, writes Smith on the nature of discourse (13). For Smith viewing heritage as a cultural process is important because it would include the communities that do the remembering, making it a more inclusive practice (12). For polyphonic memory, the intangibility of heritage is important because it opens the door for a textual analysis of a material object.

However, we must be careful not to confuse discourse with the inscription of the monument. Inscriptions on a monument can change much more easily than the constructive discourse that Smith writes about. In an effort to understand the relationship between textual and material memory, Alexander Etkind distinguishes two types of cultural memory. ‘Soft memory’ consists of texts, whereas material objects like monuments, can be seen as ‘hard memory’ (Etkind 39). The idea is that most forms of cultural memory are a combination of the two. ‘In memory, monuments without inscriptions are mute, whereas texts without monuments are ephemeral’, writes Etkind (40). However, this has not been the case with the Bronze Soldier. The alteration to the inscription in 1994 did not prevent the uproar in 2004 because the soldier has a voice on its own, contradicting the new plaque.

‘For the fallen in the Second World War’, says the text next to the soldier. All the words that would have attributed some glorification to the word ‘fallen’, have disappeared in this new text. In the previous text the soldier could have been read as a martyr, by the usage of the words

‘eternal glory’, ‘heroes’ and ‘liberation and sovereignty’. This portrayed the soldier as an active agent, sacrificing his life for his country. Contrary to this, the new text embraces the meaning of victim, without balancing this with any agency for the fallen soldier. The reference to the sovereignty of the country has disappeared, and with that, the reason why these fallen have fallen. This text would not have fitted the original context of the Bronze Soldier, since the commemoration of individual deaths during the Second World War, were suppressed with




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