american english is the correct english

Did you ever see such a controversial statement? Granted I’m biased, but American English seems to be the preferred (or at least more prevalent) form of English in the world. In the process of writing a bunch of text for work, I’ve been slowly but diligently switching every piece of the gallery’s written material into American English. American English for the win! Hoorah! Go USA!

When I first started, I didn’t want to rock the boat so I tried following the existing standards, but that quickly got confusing. So instead of going back after typing each paragraph to add in extra letters or remove commas, I went ahead and switched it all. Now ‘color’, ‘center’, ‘organize’, and ‘traveled’ are all spelled correctly. Oh, and the biggie: ‘one, two and three’ has become ‘one, two, and three’. Oh yes. Ladies and gentlemen, I have introduced the serial comma and there is no turning back now.

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This is Panel 3 of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., which is hodgepodged from a bunch of different sources. It’s only making an appearance in this blog post to facilitate a transition in topic.

The nearby Panel 1 is a somewhat butchered excerpt of the Declaration of Independence, but as in the official text, it lacks the serial comma. How un-American! The Declaration of Independence famously says “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Capitalization done in the style of the time (with nouns capitalized) and no serial comma. But did you realize that there’s a different version? I quoted from the text of the signed, handwritten version, which is considered the official version, but the printed version has “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” and Jefferson’s rough draft has the serial comma too! He was a patriot!

Regardless, all is forgiven because this was two centuries ago, and the CMOS had not yet been established. Yay American English! Yay Chicago!

monument v. memorial

What is the difference between a monument and a memorial? A monument can be a memorial and a memorial can be a monument. Or can they? Take for example the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, on opposite ends of the reflecting pool in Washington, DC. Why is one a monument and the other a memorial? Each is in commemoration of a past president, each is a popular tourist destination, and each can be considered a visually-impressive work of formal art/architecture in its own right.

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The Washington Monument is a monument to (in commemoration of) George Washington, 1st President of the United States. Washington is not represented via figural form. Instead his monument is an impressive stone obelisk.

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The Lincoln Memorial is a memorial to (in memory of) Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States. Inside is a larger than life-sized marble statue of a seated Lincoln, by the sculptor Daniel Chester French.

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And then there’s the Reflecting Pool, which is technically part of the Lincoln Memorial, but whatever. Positioned between the two and reflecting both structures, it feels more neutral, favoring neither one nor the other. It might seem odd to add value judgments (better, more successful, prettier) to monuments/memorials, but let’s be honest … people visit them because they’re tourist attractions, not to remember the contributions of Washington or Lincoln. You could talk about the memorial aspect of the Washington Monument or the monumental aspect of the Lincoln Memorial, but they’re not called the Washington Memorial and Lincoln Monument simply because those aren’t their names.

The way I always learned it, a monument is an architectural element and a memorial is a memory signifier. So while they may be the same actual object, whether you call that object a monument or memorial depends on what function of that object you’re describing or which takes precedence – the presence of form and physical architecture or the presence of history and transcendent memory. Is that clear? Hm … hope so.

martin luther king, jr. memorial

Sigh. Yes, I know I’m a bit late with this post. Stop harping on me already! So for those of ya’ll living under rocks, yesterday (January 21, 2013, the third Monday of January) was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It also happened to be Inauguration Day, and Barack Obama got sworn-in for his second term as POTUS … ya know, no big.

I wanted to post yesterday because the circumstances of the day would have tied in perfectly with a discussion about the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC. But you’ll excuse my tardiness, won’t you? The memorial faced a wave of criticism when it was unveiled in 2010 and a lot of the points made were quite valid. Yesterday there was an article in “The Atlantic” that tried to defend the memorial, but … did he visit the same memorial I did? I’m not buying a lot of what he says. And the author of the article? A lawyer. Um, yeah. No offense, but I’m going to trust my eye for aesthetics and spatial concerns over yours.

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Personally I don’t like the memorial. I don’t hate it and I’m not going to vilify it, but I found the overall effect to be harsh and cold and alienating – not words I would normally associate with Martin Luther King, Jr. Standing at 30 feet tall, with crossed arms and a stern expression, the figure towers menacingly over visitors. He is carved in white granite (which as a material feels inherently distant and inaccessible) and remains embedded, not fully realized, in the rock.

Certainly it was meant to convey a sense of strength and immovability in the face of adversity/discrimination, but it comes across as if he is stuck but too proud or arrogant to realize his position. He has no feet, they are swallowed by the rock; he cannot stand for himself, the rock goes all the way to his head; he is not free, he is completely attached to a giant chunk of rock. And yet there he is, staring out into the Tidal Basin … all by his lonesome.

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My major issues with the memorial are with the space, the scale, and the sense of the man created. The memorial is set back from the road and away from many of the other memorials, to where you need a sense of what you are looking for and where it is or you’ll overlook it. There’s a weird empty plaza which funnels you through a gap, at which point you see the gigantic chunk of white granite (that was seemingly pushed from that gap), and then only after you finally walk all around that chunk and crane your neck upwards do you see the figure of King, who stares at the water as if annoyed he’s staring at water with his back (er … his chunk-rock-back) to the entrance.

Basically, the amount of empty space is too much, the figure of King is too large, and the presence of rock is too heavy.

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There were other issues, such as an oddly-edited quote inscribed on the memorial (the one seen in the image directly above), but since that’s being fixed, I’ll leave it be. There was also the shoddiness of choosing a Chinese sculptor instead of an American for the representation of such an important American figure, but that’s politics/economics for you.

I appreciate that the memorial has King boldly standing in the open as opposed to being protected in a little house like Jefferson or Lincoln, and I appreciate that there at least is a memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr. in DC. And maybe all that space won’t seem so useless when it’s filled with crowds of summertime tourists, and maybe the stone won’t seem so harsh when there is warm sunlight bounding down, and maybe the figure of King won’t seem so stern when you’re not freezing because it’s cold outside and there’s a cold breeze coming off the Tidal Basin. But I doubt it. In the end it was a poorly executed memorial for a great, important man in US history. It’s a shame.

“let us have peace”

Yesterday I was walking around Riverside Park in Morningside Heights when I came across this building. It’s the memorial/tomb of General Ulysses S. Grant and on it is inscribed “Let us have peace.” Unfortunately the memorial was blocked off, I think I was there too late. Anyway, it was interesting to see.

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