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The Art of Textual Commemoration

Saturday 11/11/2017 – It is a drizzly autumn morning and Harris Manchester College is hidden beneath a hazy cloud. On one of the most poignant days in the commemoration calendar, Armistice Day, the Mellon Sawyer Seminar Series Post-War: Commemoration, Reconstruction, Reconciliation held its second Panel-led Workshop on the theme of ‘Conflict and Community’. Chaired by Helen Small (Professor of English Literature, University of Oxford), the panellists Rachel Seiffert (novelist), Lyndsey Stonebridge (Professor of Modern Literature and History, University of East Anglia), Harvey Whitehouse (Professor of Social Anthropology, University of Oxford), and Elleke Boehmer (Professor of World Literature in English, University of Oxford) discussed aspects of textual commemoration in contemporary projects and literature, their reconciliatory potential and prospective perspectives in a plenary discussion. The diverse backgrounds and lived experiences of the panellists and audience members allowed a multi-faceted approach to evaluate the extent to which language and stories can be adequate to commemorate acts of war.

In subsequent breakout sessions, working in small groups facilitated in-depth discussion. I was personally impressed by discussions surrounding commemorative fiction as art. In particular, Lyndsey Stonebridge, Bob Eaglestone, Shulamit Reinharz, Jeremy Treglown and Catherine Gilbert discussed the ontological nature of art and how its transformative potential may be used particularly in commemorative literature and the role of commodification of suffering in current literature.  

After reporting back on the breakout discussions in the closing plenary, concluding remarks allowed the group to reflect on how literature in the widest sense may facilitate the construction of meaningful models of textual commemoration for the future.


Rita Phillips

PhD candidate in Psychology, Oxford Brookes University