CFP: That Better Whiles May Follow Worse: British Writings of Persuasion and Dissonance in the Great War

25 February 2014

The approaching centenary of the First World War has sparked the debate around the need to explain and articulate the meaning of the war experience, encouraging the study of war as a multifaceted phenomenon whose complexity resists easy classification.

However, although closer readings of Great War writings result in conclusions that defy easy categorisation and that often transcend the conventional framework of understanding that forwards a ‘conformity or dissonance’ interpretation, this collection of essays points to what is, in effect, a discourse of two very distinct languages. One of these is largely of inducement and compliance, reflecting not only the toils to sustain and promote the celebration of war as noble sacrifice, but also the failure of the Home Front environment to understand the soldiers’ isolation by employing a battery of emotional assaults on these men as a way of encouraging their continued allegiance. The other is the language of dissonance and autonomy, realistic in its attempt to portray life in the trenches without any trace of patriotic sentiment and to emphasise the shattering of identity with place, with culture, with family that the combatants came to feel. Though clearly separated from one another, however, these two dominant languages cannot be described as entirely oppositional as they tend to transgress their representational borders to converge and evoke similar, or even overlapping, responses to war.

Taking as our point of departure some of the most ground-breaking critical works on the connection between war and its literary representations, this volume aims to achieve a better understanding of the essential continuities, transformations and mutual dependence between persuasive and dissonant narratives, partly by proposing new frameworks of interpretation, and partly by exploring the broader implications of previous work. In other words we want to use the thorough evaluation of the discrepant ‘languages’, first, to suggest that the state-soldier dichotomy is not as absolute or solid as is often suggested and that the reality is far less conveniently categorisable; second, to prove that there is, in fact, a simultaneous and predictive validity to these alternative languages, and that both of them in their own ways and for their own purposes conceal and reveal truths.

This volume therefore attempts to dramatise a leap in war representations that should be addressed by further critical research and new textual evidence, rather than compelling a hasty selection of or serious dependence upon either the dissonant or the persuasive approaches. Ultimately, this collection aims at expanding on the work done on war literature so far, by proving that there is no explicit literary language that can be regarded as ‘the’ language of the Great War or can ever hope to represent it in its entirety, and that the complexity of responses to such a disturbingly multiple experience points to the need to acknowledge the relevance of individual testimonies over dominant perceptions.

We look for contributions of literary scholars working on aspects of British WW1 writings or writings from within the Dominions and Empire, dating approximately from the late-Victorian period through to the immediate aftermath of the Great War, unless they can be shown to have a valid connection both with the period and with the basic aims of this collection. Potential themes may include, but are not limited to:

  1. The making of the Great War story: Testimony vs history. The relationships between memory and historiography in remembering war. The soldier as a witness. The crisis of truth: The unsayable. Testimony, memory and trauma
  2. Modern memory and popular imagination: Canonical vs middlebrow literature. Modernism, tradition and the Great War. Old and new ways of addressing the question of war
  3. Subject and subjectivity in the representation of the Great War: The construction of the Great War soldier: Hero or victim?
  4. The Subaltern speaks: How do the Dominions experience the Great War? Postcolonial readings
  5. Nurses, Mothers and Wives: The woman experience in opposition to dominant narratives

Please send your abstracts (max 500 words) together with brief biographical details, by 21st February 2014 to: david.owen@uab.cat or mariacristina.pividori@uab.es


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