ANDA Conference 2015. Interrogating the Representations of Peace and War in English Literature/s: Theory, Texts, History and Social Practices
19-20 June 2015, Università del Salento, Istituto Buon Pastore, Via Taranto, 35 – Lecce
On June 19-20, 2015, the Fifth International Conference of ANDA (Associazione Nazionale dei Docenti di Anglistica) was held at the University of Salento in Lecce. The topic was “Interrogating the Representations of Peace and War in English Literature/s: Theory, Texts, History and Social Practices.”
Marking the centenary of World War I, and in consideration of contemporary international conflicts which alarmingly are creating new battlefields and exacerbating a tense climate of military engagement, the conference’s aim was to encourage a reflection on the crucial contribution that culture in general, and creative writing in particular, offers to the complex and intricate processes of peacemaking and peacekeeping. National and international participants explored ways and forms of representing peace and war in the history of English literature/s, examining the issue within diverse times and places while underlining the substantial correlation with historical-political dynamics and social practices.
In response to a climate of disrepute of the humanities and literature that has developed within a society and academia that are increasingly marked by technocracy and a cult of efficiency and productivity, the contributors’ papers on the whole emphasized the role that culture and creative writing play within the growth of a critical awareness and of humanitas in the context of conflict. The papers highlighted the contribution of such awareness in fostering processes of pacification and reconciliation aimed at building a society in which peace is not simply the absence of war and conflict, but an expression of societas ruled by adherence to shared laws, and characterized by mutual respect and social justice. As Edward Said reminds us, peace cannot exist without equality (Humanism and Democratic Criticism, 2007).
Furthermore, the occasion of Italian participation in World War I led to reflection during the conference on forms of conflict among civilizations and cultures. Such conflict today has reached alarming levels, exacerbating, within the international sphere, a climate of belligerence and suspicion towards old and new enemies, real enemies, and enemies forged in the collective consciousness by dominant discourses, the consequence of artificial constructions caused by fear and widespread prejudices.
Conflicts in their most diverse forms were discussed during the course of the conference. This was done through analyses of their literary representations and, specifically, the ways in which those representations, in various historical-geographical contexts, are aimed at deconstructing the founding myths of a warmongering discourse. Presenters proposed ways out of the state of conflict, denouncing the insanity, incurable wounds, and the perverse forms of exploitation by those who have and manage power, as well as the concomitant consequences on private and public lives from the heavy burden of a past which cannot be forgotten and which is renewed in contemporary conflicts. If it is true, as conference papers indicated, that a trend of purported “pacifist writing” does not exist within English literature and literatures in English, then it is possible to clearly identify the writers’ attention over the centuries not only towards the states of conflict which have characterized human history from its early times, but, above all, towards the modalities of resolving and overcoming conflict itself.
In a world in which new and improbable euphemisms are adapted to reassure and justify the “rightness” of war – we can think about “friendly fire,” “smart bombs,” “operations of humanitarian war,” places of extermination and massacres which are transformed in “theatres of war” – literature answers with an “other” story through a respectful, aware, and creative use of language, which calls into question commonplaces, and certainties codified and taken for granted / considered indisputable. As an alternative to ideas of peace and war as pageants of immediate and uncritical consumption – as often proposed by mass media and in other forms of communication – literature offers the slow time of reflection and critical investigation. As articulated in many papers, literature can contribute to the creation of a growing, democratic, critical order of socialization in which culture affects and determines the structure of institutions which should be at the service of their society.
The conference closed with a roundtable and debate with active participation by the audience (including numerous students), focusing on important and current issues related to the methods of teaching literature and its strict link to conducting research.
The papers given at the Conference were published in the online journal Le Simplegadi.