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The WWrite Blog

A New Kind of Dream: Freud, Trauma, and WWI

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A New Kind of Dream: Freud, Trauma, and WWI
A Look at War and Artistic Creation Through the Theories of Cathy Caruth and Sigmund Freud

CaruthsurrealismSalvador Dali, "The Persistence of Memory" 1931

Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, the “father of psychoanalysis,” is perhaps best known to the general public for his work on the unconscious, sexuality, the ego, and dreams. He showed us the often-enigmatic ways past traumatic experiences play themselves out in the present.

Freud’s work with WWI combat veterans marked an unprecedented turn in his understanding of dreams and trauma as his focus on the individual transformed into a study of community and the collective unconscious. The war not only had professional but personal implications for him; his two sons, Jean-Martin and Ernst, fought for Austria, a country that, almost 20 years later forced Freud, a Jew, and his family into exile when the Nazis took over. Three of his four sisters died in concentration camps during WWII.

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The Unknowns: The Untold Story of America's Unknown Soldier and WWI's Most Decorated Heroes Who Brought Him Home

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Patrick K. O'Donnell's The Unknowns: The Untold Story of America's Unknown Soldier and WWI's Most Decorated Heroes Who Brought Him Home

ODonnellCover

A visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, or Tomb of the Unknowns, in Arlington National Cemetery is both a solemn and uplifting experience. In front of the unnamed buried soldiers, we take stock of the unrecognized sacrifice of all fallen soldiers, from all of America’s wars and conflicts.  The stately memorial, with its verdant lawn, white columns, and stern-faced guards, imposes a silence that grants space to imagine thousands of voices telling their story of sacrifice. We are humbled, inspired. The guards’ disciplined, rhythmic steps are some of the few sounds to break the crushing quietness. And when the moment comes to play Taps, it is hard to push away the welling emotions invoked by the song.

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I Never Saw Him Drowning: Great-Uncle Charlie and the Great War

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I Never Saw Him Drowning: Great-Uncle Charlie and the Great War

by Philip Metres

Gulf War GasSoldiers from the 24th Mechanized Infantry Brigade from Fort Stewart, Ga., carry their weapons as they undergo chemical training in eastern Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Shield in this November 1990 photo. Source AP

*Leaning over my desk in January 1991, news coverage of the Gulf War droning in the background, I read for the first time the opening lines of Wilfred Owen’s“Dulce et Decorum Est”: “Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,/Knock-kneed, coughing like hags,/we cursed through sludge.” I felt transported, imagining the weight these young soldiers bore in the strange hellscapes of the front. I was a junior at Holy Cross College. All semester, my English professor, Mike True, guided our class through “The Nonviolent Tradition in Literature,” while on television, military leaders touted missile-eye images of “smart bombs” and “surgical strikes.” It was terribly surreal to encounter such polar views of war, knowing that each was only a partial picture of what American poet Walt Whitman once called the “Real War,” the one that would never “get in the books.” Yet Owen’s garish images and his fierce rhetorical conclusion confirmed something that I felt deep in my gut— war was an ugly thing, destroying bodies and haunting minds. On the other side of the world, even though the news coverage would not show it, people were dying under our bombs; it would take poets and artists to slip beneath the media’s redactions and censoring to imagine the horror.  

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Have You Ever Tried to Write a War Poem? by Faleeha Hassan

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Have You Ever Tried to Write a War Poem?
by Faleeha Hassan

Faleeha Hassan arrived in the U.S. in 2012. She was forced to flee her country, not because of her political alliance, but because she wrote poetry about love, family, womanhood, and war. Militants found her poetry too subversive and soon she found herself on a public death list

When WWrite asked Faleeha Hassan to write for this blog on WWI and was writing, she submitted the essay, “Have You Ever Tried to Write a War Poem?” Writing a poem about war is the same in every war, she seems to say. Weapons, geography, and scope may change, she intimates, but poets who have lived through war share a unique characteristic when it comes to the writing process. Not only do they feel the overwhelming, unexpected presence of the memories, even if the events that shaped them happened many years prior; like WWI nurse Mary Borden, British soldier, Robert Graves, and Ernest Hemingway, they also feel the enormous gap that war digs between the combat and civilian experience.

Faleeha 2Faleeha Hassan. Image courtesy of Faleeha Hassan.

Have You Ever Tried to Write a War Poem?

Some people believe that writing poetry requires training and planning. That if you go to school and attend poetry-writing classes or get experience by attending workshops, then you will get the ability you need to write poetry.

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Never Too Old to Write: Claude Choules' Published WWI Memoir at Age 109

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Never Too Old to Write: Claude Choules' Published WWI Memoir at Age 109
The Last of the Last: The Final Survivor of the First World War

ChoulesBookCoverChoules' book cover

Before his death at the age of 110 in May 2011, Claude Choules was the last man alive who had served in both WWI and WWII. Claude learned life's lessons during a rural childhood in England and later in the Royal Navy as a boy sailor, before graduating to become an explosives expert in the Australian navy. In his 80s, Claude took creative writing classes and began working on his memoirs with the help of his daughters. The Last of the Last is a riveting account of his life that vividly mirrors how the last century unfolded. Choules had the insight of an ordinary man thrust to the forefront of international conflict. He was opposed to the glorification of war, but his charming anecdotes honor a generation called upon to serve not once but twice. His engaging, wryly humorous excerpt autobiography reflects the amiable nature of a truly unique man. It was published when Choules was 109 years old. The following is an excerpt, detailing his experience of joining the Navy in 1915 when he was just 14 years old:

Chapter Two

I Join the Navy

I joined the Mercury, a three-masted sailing ship in April 1915, a day after my 14th birthday. My number was 1392. She was anchored at the mouth of the Hamble River, which empties into Southampton Water. We boys used to see the great Atlantic liners such as the Mauretania (holder of the Atlantic Blue Riband for 26 years). Aquatania, Lusitania, Laurentic, the original Majestic and scores of wonderful ships travelling through Southhampton Water. We could only imagine the luxury in cruising in liners like that, for life in the Atlantic Blue Riband was tough.

Read more: Never Too Old to Write: Claude Choules' Published WWI Memoir at Age 109

War Isn't the Only Hell: Telling the Truth about African American and Lost Generation Experiences

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War Isn’t the Only Hell: 100 Years Later, Time To Tell the Truth about the African American and Lost Generation Experiences
by Keith Gandal

GandalWarIsnttheOnlyHellCover

Our sense of American Great War writing--and thus of the American experience--is limited and misguided. It may seem surprising, but, unlike every other combatant nation, our lasting WWI literature was written entirely by noncombatants. Hemingway was a Red Cross ambulance driver, as was Dos Passos, who later served in the army, but in the Services of Supply; Faulkner trained with the Canadian Royal Air Force but never made it over to Europe; Fitzgerald made junior officer in the American training camps, but his poor performance guaranteed that he was never shipped to France. (By comparison, to take just the example of Britain, canonized authors Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, and Robert Graves were all combat soldiers.) Moreover, we don’t know what it meant to be an American noncombatant male then, a status that shaped the unique writing of the Lost-Generation in ways many of us don’t fully understand.

Read more: War Isn't the Only Hell: Telling the Truth about African American and Lost Generation Experiences

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