Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Through the wonders of postdating, this post will go live at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month (well, it will in the Central Standard Timezone where I live). I will be just returning from a Veteran's Day presentation at my school and will likely acknowledge the day to some degree before I finish up a unit on Progressivism and get ready to start a new one on American imperialism and the Great War.
Writing now at the 55th minute of the 22nd hour of the 10th day, I cannot help but to feel a mixture of excitement and apprehension as I draw nearer to teaching this unit. Due to previous teaching assignments, I have not taught the First World War in almost 10 years, ever since I was a student teacher, but a large part of my undergraduate and graduate research revolves around the Great War and its aftermath. It is my favorite time period, in large part because so much visible and deep change occurred due to the war's devastating effects on a generation of youth, on the nascent global economy, and on perceptions of "human nature." While there have been other moments of great change, this was the first truly global and rapid-fire change that affected so many elements of so many cultures.
Yet as much as I love this time period, I fear I will do an inadequate job teaching it, because the best parts require so much of a background in the times before and after the horrors of Passchendaele, Ypres, or Gallipoli. But another thought lurks behind those, and that is of the transformative effect the War had on fiction. Considering the fictions that were popular before the war and those that followed after, could one make the case that much of twentieth-century fiction, whether it be "literary" or "speculative" fiction, has the tendency to explore (or reject, in some cases) the questions raised by the Great War's tumults? I am reminded of Modris Eksteins' excellent 1989 cultural history of the War, The Rites of Spring, and how he attempts to address those questions.
Whether or not such assertations can be definitively proven or not, on days such as this one that honor the dead from such charnel houses, it does merit some thought to be devoted to how fiction is in many cases but the tail wagged by history's dog. But before I submit this post, anyone have any favorite non-fiction or fiction from the First World War period or related to it in some form or fashion? I'll list my personal favorites in the afternoon after school is dismissed.