A Place of Ordinary Suffering
My research focuses on the memory of a place whose history has mostly gone unwritten and whose value as a heritage site is being disputed. The prison ‘Le Nuove’ was a place of suffering from the time it opened in the 19th century, when prisoners were kept in total isolation, were regularly beaten and would be chained naked in damp basement cells if they ever broke the stringent rules of the prison code. The same cells hosted tortured partisans after their interrogations by the gestapo just before they were executed when the city of Turin was under nazi occupation. Then again, as late as the mid 1970s the cells were used to punish rebellious inmates by strapping them to beds often for days at a time, leaving them unable to move and forced to urinate and defecate through a hole in the mattress. The prison was a theater of injustice where people often went crazy, committed suicide or simply swallowed metal objects or tore at their skin with broken shards of glass or sharpened spoons. A dwindling group of ex partisans, many of whom went to concentration camps after being held in ‘Le Nuove’, wants to turn the prison into a museum. They have managed to get at least parts of it landmarked. For the city, the prison is just a ruin on very valuable real estate and city authorities would like to see it turned into office space, or perhaps into a sports center. The suffering that once was contained between its walls is seen by them as part of the ordinary prison experience and thus not worth preserving. My paper explores the question of ‘ordinary suffering’ and raises questions on our methods and standards for deciding which grievances/traumas from the past should be passed on to future generations.
Chiari, Eleanor (2006) A Place of Ordinary Suffering. In: The Future of Memory, November 2005, University of Salford. Full text not available from this repository.
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