When:11-Nov-2014. 11:00 am
Where:Amphitheater Robert de Sorbon / Auditorium
Contact:+971 (0) 2 65 69 555 / email@example.com [view map]
Audience:Open to the Public
Anne-Claire de Gayffier-Bonneville
Autumn 2014, and the WWI effect on the Middle East is far from reduced to a mere commemoration of the first battles of the war, as is the case on other scenes. The region, traced by the French and the Brits in the wake of the Great War, is troubled by political forces that have been destabilizing states for almost a century. A war lord, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, proclaimed Caliph on the first day of Ramadan 2014, claims to revitalize an age long institution that was abolished in 1924 by the young Turkish republic. The territory that fell under the control of his organization was established at the rank of ‘Islamic State’, completely ignoring existing states, their borders as well as reactions from the international community. In the meantime, the Kurdish minority is on the way of imposing itself as a regional actor that cannot be circumvented, to the great displeasure of the Iranian, Turkish and Syrian states which had never recognized the existence of a national Kurdish group on their territories: the Kurds indeed find themselves at the forefront of a war waged by an international coalition against the Jihadists. However, Turkey seems to be just as determined during the XXI century, just like it was during WWI, to thwart any attempt at creating a Kurdish national entity.
The recent geopolitical developments incite us to examine the Middle East, the secondary front of the Great War, which became the main front of a conflict of a lesser intensity but just as international.
14-18 and the image: from a representation through observation to a crisis of representation.
The war, at first, was represented by its traditional aspects but also by its original aspects through realist images, often made possible by new techniques, such as photography for instance. An aesthetics of modernity was developed in the face of the tragically modern elements of this war, until that is the horror of the conflict reached unspeakable dimensions resulting in a real crisis of representation.
“Obviously nothing prepared Antonin Jaussen (1871-1962) to be a significant actor in WWI. Originally from the Ardeches mountains, this Dominican priest started his adult life in Jerusalem as a professor of Semitic languages in the new Biblical School of Jerusalem which modernized Bible reading methods adopting a historical critical method. His knowledge of Bedouin dialects and customs on which he authored books that led him to be recruited in 1914 by the British Intelligence Service and the French Service d’information de la Marine in the Levant. From Port Said, where he was based when the Ottomans chased the French clergy from Jerusalem, Jaussen roamed the Mediterranean region to Aden. Audacious, he showed precious qualities: a real patriotism, a very good knowledge of the land, the spirit of an adventurer. He is known for having warned the Brits in 1915 of an imminent attack on the Suez Canal via the desert. He was in the Hijaz, with Colonel Bremond and Laurence of Arabia when discussing the future of the region, following the secret Sykes – Picot accords. Thus he became an actor in the great history, which justifies why he still is cited in the same areas he passed through a hundred years later”.
The Literary Consequences of the Great War
The first consequences of the Great War on literature was the mobilization of an entire generation of writers among which, more than 500 never came back and although some left behind an important body of work, the huge majority had barely started their writing. We would never know what masterpieces the war deprived us of. Survivors brought back with them from the frontlines abundant testimonials in the form of literature such as Le Feu (Under Fire) by Henri Barbusse (1916 Goncourt Prize) and Les Croix de bois (Wooden Crosses) by Dorgelès, that were met with huge success. In addition to those testimonials from fighters-writers, were added the large amount of letters, diaries and journals of fighters that were transformed by the trenches into writers.
On the other hand, one of the consequences of the war was to condemn the non fighting writers to silence. A silence that sometimes proved to be positive: Proust for instance benefitted from the war years to fine tune his initial project titled À la recherche du temps perdu (In search of lost time) and develop it to its full potential. While other writers such as Barrès, had wanted to renounce their personal work as a form of participating, their own way, to the war seeking patriotic ardor in the press which resulted in violent reproach against them. In general, in the wake of the war, the pre 1914 masters were subjected to accusations from the youth and lost their audience.