The Ones That Got Away: Textual 1

The first term of events of the Mellon-Sawyer Post-War Seminar Series has come to an end, and before we move on to the next term of events we want to reflect on responses to the workshops and, in particular, identify topics or issues that participants felt should have been covered but weren’t. In short, these are the ones that got away! We will make a habit of writing these up after every workshop, based on feedback from participants, so please check our blog regularly for more information over the coming months.

The first Textual workshop, ‘Poetry and Life-Writing’, was something of an experiment in terms of format, including opening presentations from the panellists, plenary Q&A, breakout sessions and a closing group discussion. While there was room for improvement in terms of timings, participants found the workshop overall to be extremely stimulating and appreciated the diversity of perspectives and range of expertise. The poetic contributions (particularly Dunya Mikhail’s reading of her poem ‘Bag of Bones’ in Arabic) were particularly effective, and served to underline the power of creative language in acts of commemoration.

This workshop has so far elicited blogposts from participants Annie Webster, Frank Ledwidge, Justine Shaw, Cherilyn Elston and Mick John-Hopkins, offering their reflections on commemorative writing practices, the relevance of military commemoration ceremonies, bodily commemoration, responses to the Colombian conflict, and the legal process as a commemorative act.  We hope that these are an indication of the depth and range of conversations still to come.

As Christine Berberich suggests, one thing that wasn't really touched on was the issue of the ‘ethics of representation’ in commemoration, a topic particularly pertinent in Holocaust studies where, in recent years, art and literature have really pushed boundaries and challenged perceived notions of ‘correct’ representation and commemoration.

Discussions during the workshop also pointed to the importance of thinking about commemoration in a broader context, beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries, suggesting the possibility of a ‘spectrum’ of commemoration beyond our own individual experiences and fields of inquiry. There is also an urgent need for more creative approaches to imagining the future of commemoration. The future of commemoration should not simply be a repetition of existing structures but calls instead for a reframing; it is vital to keep talking about modes of commemoration in an ever-changing society. 

You can listen to the opening presentations from and individual interviews with the Textual 1 panellists on our podcast series.

Catherine Gilbert

Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Oxford

The ones that got away: textual 1