Depicting the War
Paul Nash, We Are Making a New World (1918),
collection of the Imperial War Museum, London
• “war was a product of modernism
rather than modernism a product
of the war” Modris Ekstein, Rites
of Spring: The Great War and the
Birth of the Modern Age (1989)
• experimental (with forms)
• rejection of realism/tradition
Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, 1910,
The Art Institute of Chicago
Modernism and War
Finding larger meanings in war: Intellectuals, Artists, Soldiers
June 1915 “Manifesto of Celebrities” rejected artificial “Western civilization” with
its ideas of democracy, materialism, commercialism in favor of German culture
(Kultur) imbued with inner contemplation (Innerlichkeit), spirit (Geist), morality.
British a nation of money-grubbing shopkeepers and imperialists, unable to
compete with the culture of Beethoven, Goethe, and Nietzsche. Germany manly;
French and British not.
Thomas Mann’s “Observations of an Apolitical Man” (1918): “I myself confess that I
am deeply convinced that the German people will never be able to love political
democracy simply because they cannot love politics itself, and that the much
decried “authoritarian state” is and remains the one that is proper and becoming to
the German people, and the one they basically want.”
Jűnger’s Storm of Steel (1920) used storm trooper (tactic created in 1916) as new
ultra-militaristic, anti-bourgeois soldier who discarded old society for new morality.
War molded civilians into new human beings.
Rejection of this and everything else: 1916 at Cabaret Voltaire, Zurich
café. Cultural nihilism that said no to everything including war. “We
want to end the war with nothing.”
Cover of the first edition of Dada
by Tristan Tzara; Zurich, 1917
Hugo Ball performing at Cabaret Voltaire in 1916
Dada Manifesto by Hugo Ball.
Read at the first public by Dada soirée, Zurich, July 14, 1916.
. . . . How does one achieve eternal bliss? By saying dada. How does one become famous? By saying dada. With a noble gesture and
delicate propriety. Till one goes crazy. Till one loses consciousness. How can one get rid of everything that smacks of journalism,
worms, everything nice and right, blinkered, moralistic, europeanised, enervated? By saying dada. Dada is the world soul, dada is the
pawnshop. Dada is the world's best lily-milk soap. Dada Mr Rubiner, dada Mr Korrodi. Dada Mr Anastasius Lilienstein. In plain
language: the hospitality of the Swiss is something to be profoundly appreciated. And in questions of aesthetics the key is quality.
I shall be reading poems that are meant to dispense with conventional language, no less, and to have done with it. Dada Johann
Fuchsgang Goethe. Dada Stendhal. Dada Dalai Lama, Buddha, Bible, and Nietzsche. Dada m'dada. Dada mhm dada da. It's a question
of connections, and of loosening them up a bit to start with. I don't want words that other people have invented. All the words are
other people's inventions. I want my own stuff, my own rhythm, and vowels and consonants too, matching the rhythm and all my
own. If this pulsation is seven yards long, I want words for it that are seven yards long. Mr Schulz's words are only two and a half
It will serve to show how articulated language comes into being. I let the vowels fool around. I let the vowels quite simply occur, as a
cat meows . . . Words emerge, shoulders of words, legs, arms, hands of words. Au, oi, uh. One shouldn't let too many words out. A
line of poetry is a chance to get rid of all the filth that clings to this accursed language, as if put there by stockbrokers' hands, hands
worn smooth by coins. I want the word where it ends and begins. Dada is the heart of words.
Each thing has its word, but the word has become a thing by itself. Why shouldn't I find it? Why can't a tree be called Pluplusch, and
Pluplubasch when it has been raining? The word, the word, the word outside your domain, your stuffiness, this laughable impotence,
your stupendous smugness, outside all the parrotry of your self-evident limitedness. The word, gentlemen, is a public concern of the
Hannah Höch, Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the
Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany (1919)
Modernism and the Creation of Cultural Memory
• Was war a dividing line between innocence and
• Did a new generational consciousness emerge and if so what
did the “children of `14” create?
• Did modernism “triumph” over traditionalism or did tradition
Trench Poets and the Myth of the War Experience (MWE)
• George L Mosse, Fallen Soldiers: Reshaping the Memory of the World
Wars and “Myth of the War Experience” (MWE): The creation of or
shaping of meaning of the war experience. Has to have more
meaning than just mass death, has to be for something.
• Mosse argued: “The reality of the war experience came to be
transformed into what one might call the Myth of the War
Experience, which looked back upon the war as a meaningful and
even sacred event.” (p. 7)
Refashioning the Memory of War
• MWE: Masked and legitimized war experience; displaced reality of
• MWE sanctified war experience. Nation provided with new depth of
religious feeling, new saints and martyrs, new places of worship.
• Trivialized it. War represented through objects of daily life (kitsch).
• Transcendent: Personal regeneration tied to national regeneration.
“War as a communal experience was perhaps the most seductive part
of the MWE, enabling men to confront and transcend death, and the
idealized common soldier was an indispensable part of this myth, as
well as an example of the new man who would redeem the nation.”
(Mosse, p. 65)
Tankard made from a shell case by
a sapper at Ypres
Kitchener Commemorative plate depicting scenes
from WWI from Till & Son/s
Rigid airship pilot badges
The cult of the fallen soldier (CFS)
For Germany particularly: Centerpiece to Myth and focal point of the
“religion of nationalism after the war” (p. 7)
CFS: Praise for the simple soldier as the true representative of the
people and admiration for his strength, common sense, and courage
CFS: Symbolized all that youth could be. “Greek in harmony,
proportions and controlled strength”—Greek Ideal combined Modern
weapons—nude with machine gun or a gladiator with a steel helmet
and rifle. Transcendent!
History Loves Irony
• Fussell: “Every war is ironic because every war is worse than expected.
Every war constituted an irony of situation because its means are so
melodramatically disproportionate to its presumed ends.” (p. 7) Eight
million people destroyed because 2 people (Franz Ferdinand and Sophie)
shot. WWI the most ironic war because “It reversed the Ideas of Progress.”
(p. 8) Why so ironic? Starts out with so much innocence and such strong
beliefs in established values (honor and glory). War will make innocence
lost and values an obscenity.
• Jay Winter in Remembering War: Irony British response not shared by
other combatants (e.g. French writing more earnest; more directly affected
by warfare or national character?). Winter: “British intellectuals did
indeed privilege irony in a way which has informed the construction of a
canon of war literature.” (p. 118). Irony “explodes heroic pretensions.”
(Winter, p. 123)
• Gr. Eironeia, originally “dissimulation,” especially through understatement
Modern usage-understatement where “expressed meaning is mild, and the
intended meaning is intense” (American folk humor typically uses overstatement)
• Context important (“wonderful weather” when it’s not)
• Contraction or foreshadowing often used in irony, also naiveté (innocence or
• Dramatic irony (think Greek plays): Spectators know more than the protagonist,
Character reacts in a way contrary to what is appropriate or wise, parody, and
marked contrast between what the character understands and what text
demonstrates about character’s actions
• Robert Graves sums up the British sense of irony about the war experience:
“only those who tell lies about the war can actually tell the truth.” (p. 124)—
What makes this even more ironic is that Graves’ great uncle Leopold van Ranke,
the great German historian.
Oh! What a Literary War!
How to describe the generation of 1914 and their outlook? They
The first great literate war. Higher rate of literacy than previous major
wars. Men and women write a lot. Shape the cultural memory.
War Poems and Imagery and Language
Wilfred Owen Robert GravesCharles Hamilton Sorley
Why does poetry matter?
People wrote and read poetry!
Scan of a final draft of
Anthem for Doomed Youth
by Wilfred Owen,
penned by the author (1920).
How to respond?
• Cling to old modes of thought? Embrace killing? Spiritual confusion?
• “un-ironic” responses: French infantry lieutenant Alfred Joubaine in diary
shortly before killed “Humanity is mad! It must be mad to do what it is
doing. What a massacre! What scenes of horror and carnage! I cannot
find words to translate my impressions. Hell cannot be so terrible. Men are
mad.” (Ellis, Eye-Deep, p. 5).
• How to find the words? How to describe the unimaginable?
• Poets “wrote to express their horror of a war that they could hardly
comprehend as a meaningful part of the historical process. The horror and
the confusion are the enduring message in what they wrote. For them the
war had no meaning and the ideals that had sustained them in the
beginning had become an irrelevancy.” (Ellis, MG, 145).
Rebecca West, The Return of the Soldier (1918)
Capt. Chris Baldry shell-shocked; suffers from memory loss; sent home from front to
recuperate, retreated into past and memory of love of working-class Margaret. Only past
makes any sense to him.
“Present”: 36 and married to another woman (upper-class Kitty). Kitty accuses him of
Jenny (Chris’ sister and narrator): Realized that Margaret represented soul; rest is material
world and inconsequential. Margaret figures out what will cure him so that he can return to
his wife and to the front. A choice between happiness and reality (or truth), even though
unhappy, truth must win out otherwise “He would not be quite a man.” (p. 88).
Chris returns to reality and to the front. “That flooded trench in Flanders under that sky more
full of lying death than clouds, to that No Man’s Land where bullets fall like rain on the rotting
faces of the dead . . .” (p. 90).
Last line of the novel: “He’s cured!” (Kitty, p.90)
Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth
Cover of the first 1933 edition
Vera Brittain’s “Superflourous Women” and war
The Birth of the Modern Novel:
Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway (1925)
• One June Day in 1923: Septimus Warren Smith sees dead Evans
everywhere (friend of Septimus killed in the War). Septimus decorated
veteran, had been “one of the first to volunteer.” (p. 94) In the trenches he
developed “manliness.” “For now that it was all over, truce signed, and the
dead buried, he had, especially in the evening, these sudden thunder-claps
of fear.” (p. 95)
• He was going mad. Doctors consulted. “Dr. Holmes said that there was
nothing the matter with him.” (p. 73) Another doctor, Sir William Bradshaw
puts it down to “not having a sense of proportion.”(p. 106) Sir William:
“We all have our moments of depression.” (p. 107) Kills himself. Clarissa
Dalloway, who was hosting a party when she heard the news of his suicide,
is upset because it upset her and put a shadow over her party. (She did not
The Modern Novel and the Modern Man
Septimus Warren Smith fictional example of shell-shocked
Presence remains an ongoing problem, stigmatized.
War is over and everyone needs to act “normal” again
Poem: Siegfried Sassoon, especially The Troops, and Trench
In the book, Red Dust were these the same ANZAC Lighthorse
troopers, as failed in Gallipoli?
Were there any T.S. Elliot written about WW I? I was hoping to
read some in World War One British Poets, noticed there aren't
Poems: Robert Graves: “To Lucasta on Going to the War for the
Siegfried Sassoon: “Trench Duty” and “Suicide in the Trenches”
John McCrae: “In Flanders Fields”
Wilfred Owen: “Disabled”
Is Red Dust an anti-war novel?
Considering the amount of human death depicted in Red Dust,
why does the death of Blackboy seem particularly poignant?
Does Boyden’s portrayal of Xavier and Elijah demonstrate the
duality of human nature or does it demonstrate that,
regardless of the individual war changes and consumes all who
Poem: Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce Et Decorum Est”.
How are the roles of women during World War I portrayed in
the poem “War Girls “By Jessie Pope?
How does Siegfried Sassoon use satire throughout his poems to
express his opinions about the war?
How do World War I poets such as Siegfried Sassoon and
Wilfred Owen portray the soldiers who have physical and
mental disabilities and their relationship to society?
Poem: "The Target" by Ivor Gurney.
These three books we read were all based or written by Allied
forces. How would similar memoirs, poetry or novels differ
from the A-H and German point of view? Do you think that the
thread of humanity within these novels would remain the same
at the core of an "enemy" account?
Although each novel writes about the opposing side, none of
the authors really demonize them to a "character" of evil; why
do you think this was?
The Canadian Example:
• Compare and contrast Boyden’s depiction of the war experiences of Elijah and Xavier to
Brose’s presentations of the same battles (e.g. Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele, Amiens,
• Boyden raises some fundamental questions about war. Discuss how he presents these
issues and how his novel deals with these questions. Questions include: What is the line
between madness and bravery? and a murderer? The hunter and the hunted?
• Xavier: “I fight my own struggles just as Elijah does, and every other man, Canadian,
English, German, French, Australian, American, Burmese, Austrian, fights his. We all fight
on two fronts, the one facing the enemy, the one facing what we do to the enemy.”
(Boyden, p. 301)
• Compare and contrast Boyden’s depiction of Elijah and Xavier and other member of the First
Nations to the image of the First Nations in Talbot’s article.
• Nature and War?
Images of War
Ludwig Kirchner's Self Portrait
As Soldier (1915).
Félix Vallotton, L'église de Souain en silhouette (The Church of Souain,