‘Making possible… reappropriation and redirection’

From beginning to end of the funeral of the American Unknown Soldier, indi­viduals and groups intervened in its rites in deed as well as in word. The initial interventions were unwelcome and unwanted, and the later ones not only unforeseen by the army’s planners, but also very different from what they intended. These actions of course, took place in space (where else would they take place?) and are surely therefore to be counted as spatial practices. It was therefore spatial practices that were, recalling Sullivan, responsible for some of the ‘contradictions, paradoxes and rough edges’ with which the rites were filled, and because of that, they were contradictory, radically challenged expectations about behaviour. We have shown that the spaces in which they occurred were themselves rough-edged: the city of Chalons was war-damaged; Pennsylvania Avenue, ‘blighted’ and hybrid; Georgetown, ‘unattractive’; and even the Capitol’s Rotunda was a no-man’s land dividing the Senate and the House. If the relationship between space and ritual is, as Sullivan believed, causal, then it is likely, although unprovable, that the rough – edgedness of the spaces played the role of enabling or facilitating the radical changes that occurred within them. Be that as it may, the effects of the changes were sufficiently radical to count these ‘ways of using’ as ‘another production’ and their product as a misprision of space, at least for the short time of 11 November 1921. More generally, they suggest that historians of places are especially well situated to take up Chartier’s charge and to redirect our view of viewing within space from emphases on the ‘delimiting’ effect of its regulation by ‘institutional apparatuses’ to the practices of the users of space, for it is only in their practices and their practical mastery of the uses of space that the possibilities lie for ‘reappropriation’ and ‘redirection’, as in this case, and of ‘defiance or resistance’ in others.

Updated: 3rd October 2014 — 1:37 pm