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The Ones That Got Away: Textual 2

Blogpost 31

The second Textual workshop, ‘Conflict and Commemoration’, took place on Remembrance Day: 11 November 2017. Remembrance was at the forefront of everyone’s mind, and the workshop was punctuated by the two-minutes silence at 11am. Our Series poet-in-residence, Susie Campbell, has reflected in a blogpost on how she experienced this ritual act of group commemoration during the workshop and how silence can be interrupted.

Our shared silence might explain why much of the later group discussion was taken up with contemporary group experiences of trauma, such as the commemorative responses following the Grenfell tower fire. While extremely valuable reflections, some participants would have preferred a tighter focus on post-war commemoration.  We will keep this in mind, while remaining open to the lessons that more general commemoration can offer.

Tessa Roynon commented that the panellists said a huge amount in a very short time on a range of contrasting but overlapping topics. She also welcomed the range of perspectives, noting the overlap between the silence of the exhausted firemen following the Grenfell tower fire and silence in commemorative literature and cultural practice. The most important point she took away from the day was Rachel Seiffert’s insistence that moral consensus can never be taken for granted.

Further feedback suggested that the range of disciplines and experiences of both the academic and non-academic participants helped to elaborate a shared understanding (although one participant felt that the received wisdom in different fields – particularly between anthropology and literature – occasionally restricted an advancing of thought).

Richard Williams OBE, Emeritus Professor at the Welsh Institute for Health and Social Care, University of South Wales, commented that he is currently writing about caring for people after disasters and that this workshop has given him cause to further reflect on the importance of rituals, grieving and commemoration, and signals the importance of enabling people to design their own commemorative events.

We have subsequently received guest blogposts from workshop participants Bob Eaglestone, Fernando Álvarez, Shaista Aziz, Nancy Martin and Dan O’Gorman.

Textual 2 was a refreshing yet challenging workshop and, once again, the closing discussion pointed to the future of commemoration: how can we shape commemoration that doesn’t alienate and actively brings people together? In our work, we must continue to question how, and specifically from today, when and who carries out commemoration.

You can listen to the opening presentations from and individual interviews with the Textual 2 panellists on our podcast series.

Catherine Gilbert

Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Oxford