Message, Monument, and Memorial: Love Graffiti from Pompeii to Spike Lee (by Way of Rousseau)

Auteur / Author: 
Catherine J. Lewis THEOBALD (Brandeis University, MA, États-Unis)
Jeudi 25 Août 2011 - 13:30
14-3. Other Forms of Monuments


Near the Vesuvian Gate in Pompeii, one finds a type of inscription that unites cultures over time and space by its ubiquity: scrawled on a wall is the message “Marcus Spedusa amat” (“Marcus loves Spendusa”). Graffiti declarations of love, many including the !, one of the most widely recognized pictograms in the world, represent a fusion of word and image that compresses and idealizes an amorous attachment. The resulting sign occupies a liminal space between public and private, temporary and permanent, transparent and illegible, unauthorized and approved, past and future, and spontaneous and crafted to forge a dense and curious monument to a human relationship. This presentation explores the intriguing binaries of love graffiti by studying the ways in which those oppositions multiply and intensify when artists include such visual messages into framing representations. I have chosen a novel and a film that are both groundbreaking in their approaches to their respective genres, in part as a result of self-conscious layering of word and image. Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s revolutionary novel Julie, ou la Nouvelle Héloïse (1761) and Spike Lee’s feature film She’s Gotta Have It (1986) ostentatiously use love graffiti to comment upon the limitations and possibilities of such graphic hybridizations and idealizations. Rousseau’s scene of “Monuments to bygone love”, in which the protagonist unveils to his former mistress a text-covered cavern, prefigures Lee’s elaborate staging of a birthday tribute to the heroine that includes a spray-painted love message attached to a graffiti-covered monument. Both works highlight the moment of the sign’s viewing to dramatize the temporal stakes of love messages, which engage an imagined past, present, and future simultaneously. When considered in relation to the unhappy framing narratives, however, the truth values of the signs are undermined, transforming the monuments in both cases into memorials to “natural” love. Moreover, such ironic treatment of commemorative love messages raises questions about the essential yet unsatisfactory role of representations in creating “reality”.