Creativity and Commemoration

On Saturday 10 March 2018, the Mellon-Sawyer Seminar Series Post-War: Commemoration, Reconstruction, Reconciliation hosted a Postgraduate Forum on the theme of ‘Commemoration and Creativity’. The day began with quick-fire 5-minute presentations from twenty post-graduate researchers working across a range of disciplines including literary and cultural historians, social scientists, artists, and literary critics, to name but a few. The presentations were grouped into two sessions: ‘Rethinking Commemoration’ and ‘Perpetrators, Victims and Those in Between’. The interdisciplinary and transnational forum provided a fertile atmosphere for enquiry with questions being posed such as: ‘can we speak of “just forgetting?”’, ‘what does it mean to protest past wars in the present?’, and ‘what are memories made of?’.   

A real highlight of the day was the candle-making workshop delivered by Dr Justine Shaw (University of Oxford), founder of the literary inspired candle company Literati & Light. Dr Shaw gave a fascinating presentation on the links between fragrance and memory, citing Proust’s evocative description of the sensory experience of eating a madeleine cake dipped in lime-blossom tea transporting him back to his childhood in Combray:

No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shiver ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory—this new sensation having the effect, which love has, of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it was me.

(Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time, vol. 1, p. 60)

As a cultural historian researching the links between performances and commemoration this ‘Proustian moment’ focused my attention on the more sensual bodily experiences of taste and smell, adding another layer of complexity to my research that I will be reminded of each time I burn my exquisitely scented candle.

The day concluded with a collage poetry workshop with poets-in-residence Susie Campbell, Susan Zatland, Mariah Whelan, and Dahmicca Wright. The poets read a selection of their own poems, including Susan Zatland’s enigmatically titled ‘…lose the dudes, keep the horses’, a collage poem inspired by some of the previous speakers in the Mellon-Sawyer Post-War Seminar Series including Daniel Libeskind, Dr C. Steenkamp, Dr G. Moshenska and Tony Horowitz. As well as forcing me to consider the most powerful and key phrases in my presentation there was something incredibly cathartic about cutting up my own research to make it a poem. It also reminded me to never forget the poetic in my own academic writing.


Kristin O’Donnell

PhD student, University of Brighton

Creativity and commemoration