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Staging European languages and memories: the sounds and rhythms of the Great War

ucyow3c24 November 2014

pencil-icon Written by Stefanie van Gemert, PhD candidate, UCL Dutch

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Is there a particular rhythm to war and violence? And if so, does it sound staccato, repetitive like machine guns and marching boots? Or are its sounds tempting, magical perhaps? Do they appeal to universal feelings of longing – for mum to be proud, for the kiss of a pretty girl? Alex Marshall’s article in Saturday’s Guardian explores these questions, discussing the allure of the ‘ISIS anthem’.

On Tuesday 4 November we did something similar at the Bloomsbury Theatre, exploring sounds of the First World War in a multimedia and multilingual performance: ‘I died in hell – (They called it Passchendaele)’.

A century after the Great War began, violence seems to be everywhere. Even in peaceful Bloomsbury we cannot escape the updates on our mobile phones: yet another child wounded, another journalist killed.

As global citizens, we are extremely well-connected and yet continuously distracted, under the bombardment of 140-character shallow opinions and beeping newsfeeds. How can we, in this state, relate to the overwhelming global violence in a personal manner?

This event, organised by the Centre for Low Countries Studies and the Flemish-Dutch cultural magazine Ons Erfdeel, involved a writer/artistic director, a translator, a video artist, seven students from UCL’s School of European Languages, Culture and Society (SELCS), two professional actors and a European collection of poetry and film footage of the Great War. Its collage-like structure and its multilingual approach underlined the global aspect of this conflict: something to be reminded of in November when poppies appear to be symbols of a straightforwardly English tradition.

(more…)