Badges and scripts

‘Because of people like you who want to forget this, we will have it again’ ?

This is a choice. Why not? If the moko or the tribal ttaooo or the religious sign can be worn, why not this? It is identity, a reminder to ‘be’ something and to carry it on. Note that not every descendeant has to be marked, nor should it be imposed. It is chosen, by a few, of a tribe.

This is a larger general debate than the wisdom of memorializing and of preserving heritage. Museums and artifacts are not unassailable. But the body is still considered somewhat private property, a site of some individual will and intention, although about as evanescent as most human imprints on the planet (and therefore more truthful?). Using it as a site of history and memory is quite ethical, if that’s the word I’m looking for. I think this is fitting for these times of intense faith and intense doubt with its sense of fluid borders and unsettled histories and futures, when the large appears as unstable as sand, and reliance on the body, the self, the one sole canvas faithfully present in the human life cycle, seems a relatively secure strategy.

The question of giving offense to others is different: it is precisely people’s ‘ewww’ response that screens out much of the negative that exists in this world.  In particular: given the state of the world and its political and religious cross-currents, I think it is important to remember what happened at the Holocaust and why, to teach how belief in glory is built on ruin, and therefore what is ‘sacred.’ And one must distinguish along that finest line of ethics, the fisted freedom of one and the nose of the other, i.e. what one may do because it is right and good, and what the other may resist because of equal right and good or to avoid mere discomfort.

Even in this increasingly digital and virtual world, and perhaps because of it, there is a trend to embrace the transience and messiness of the body and to use it as canvas and banner. Some things cannot be represented adequately or even proportionately without the cost of pain or what the body can offer. The symbol needs to create as much impact as possible; in this case, the mark of honor is chosen as heritage by later generations, somewhat like a tribal tattoo or a religious symbol. Yet, this particular symbol cannot encompass the original horror (how many of us have seen any pictures of the mountains of living skeletons that were the camps? do any of us know real hunger, real cold?). So, no, it does not create the same impact, because it cannot, but it creates enough to be difficult and demanding for both bearer and witness.