By: Daniel Sheerin  

Iconokathairesis is the removal of monumental images. The past has seen a lot of iconoclasm, both spontaneous, when images are toppled and smashed in angry spurts at the onset of social upheaval, and programmatic, the systematic smashing of images, also violent, but planned and routine in execution of religious or political policy. Contemporary America is experiencing not widespread iconoclasm, but individual cases of iconokathairesis, e.g. the removal of targeted images from public view by civic authorities. This is not done by pre-determined policy, but in response to the specific demands of interested minorities, the general population being ineffectively opposed or, more often, indifferent to the removals that are taking place usually before their eyes. I want to raise some questions about the removal of controversial monumental images in contemporary America, for example, Does the preservation of monuments to the heroes of the past now found objectionable or even abhorrent necessarily imply our approval? Or should we try to expunge our past by hiding images in museums and warehouses? Isn't some respect due, if not to the figures memorialized, at least to the culture, the institutions, designers, and artists that erected these obsolete monuments? Or is the real target of resentment not so much the images but the ideologies and values, still to a degree current, of our predecessor societies that erected the monuments? Should the removal of monuments require a general consensus, or should affected minorities be allowed to redirect general consciousness by deleting what grieves them from collective history?

Monuments, Public Art, Removal of Images
The Arts in Social, Political, and Community Life
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Prof. Daniel Sheerin

University of Notre Dame

D. Sheerin works in Patristic and Medieval Literature, Liturgical Studies, and Erasmian Studies. Forthcoming publications include a study of medieval commentaries on mass propers and an essay on the eucharistic liturgy for the Oxford Introduction to Early Christian Studies. In collaboration with Martin Bloomer, he is preparing an article on the Disticha Catonis for the Catalogus translationum et commentariorum, and in collaboration with Ronald Begley, is completing work on the volume of the Collected Works of Erasmus that is to contain Erasmus' replies to Pierre Cousturier.