Pierre Nora claims that if we could live in memory that we would not need to consecrate (or inscribe) lieux de memoire. Nora’s word choice of ‘consecrate’ immediately triggers an association to the valuing of space through a religious framework. The rise of modernity has accompanied a radical shift in the world-view of the west. As Foucault in Heterotopia (1984) has highlighted, this shift of the human perception of space has moved from a bounded and hierarchical one to an unbounded teleological one. Spaces were considered more or less important in relation to established traditional political and religious bounds, and, therefore, the heritage or history of a place was not as centrally important as a place’s “sacredness”. Here we have a sense of monumentality arranged in terms of proximity to eminent the power structures of church and state (ratified by divine right, thanks Louis XIV). One immediately thinks towards the great medieval pilgrimages, these places were renowned – shrouded in mystery – and would remain completely unknowable without travel until the rise of the printing press.
Technology, particularly the rise of the printing press, had a treble effect on Medieval European conception of space and relationship with the monumental. Firstly, it disseminated Galileo’s ideas of infinite space (destroying Euclidean bounded space), Secondly it allowed Reformation critiques of the dominant Catholic cosmology, and Thirdly it brought previously separated groups of people together in terms of a “social imaginary” (Benedict Andersen/Charles Taylor) and firstly nationalism by creating a mass unifying consumption of media and subsequently an identity that transcends the national into the unspoken rules and identity common to all modern liberal nation states.
Nevertheless, we do not consecrate space in the Medieval way, and the spatial arrangements are now considered in terms of relative value and therefore their importance fluctuates. But as self moving agents, grounded on a seemingly permanent earth, there is a fundamental need to have landmarks that are relatively true and unchanging in the vast and quickly changing human affected built environments by way technological process/development. We need wayfinders, we need some sense of grounding identity, it is very unsettling to leave a hometown to come back and find everything and place entirely changed. But, Technology is both the culprit and solution, after all, Machluan has pointed out that new technology destroys older ways of doing things but enables new way of doing things, and in that process changes the actions and perceptions of the tool user. Senses of community identities are transcending nationalities which are bolstered by faster platforms of group interactions. I have often questioned what will replace that sense of total inclusive community that churches, now being converted into exclusive lofts, proffered… Facebook so far seems to be our answer, while many other people are delving more deeply into their niche professional or amateur organisations that are becoming increasingly internationalised in scope.
So we consecrate space, even though notions of the sacred are no longer bound or hierarchical, and we do it now to anchor a sense of identity in material reality. Even though we know that these places are relational and shifting, that the material is inconstant and ever changing, we do it as an offering. It is as if these lieux de memorie are life preservers, an oasis of reflection, relief, or sanctuary.