Panel: Repurposing the Grounds of War: Modernist Environments
- Stephanie Bernhard
- Judith Paltin
- Molly Hall
These three papers explore modernist encounters and exchanges with war-ravaged landscapes and their repurposings, memorializations, and residues during the first half of the twentieth century across the boundaries of nationalist literature and genre—from Irish drama to American and British novels and memoirs. Our panel works with and against traditional Anglo-American modernist critical approaches and cultural categories which this panel will suggest have conditioned and limited our understandings of relations between modernism and an environmental land ethic. Together, our papers begin to map out the intersection of aesthetic forms, the politics of mourning, and the materiality of the early twentieth century, which mingling productively, reseed and repurpose the grounds of war-time melancholy to cultivate distinctly modern forms of flourishing.
Stephanie Bernhard’s “Bad Recycling in the Anthropocene” examines the ecological effects of repurposed wartime technology in the US, where World War I bomb factories were turned into fertilizer factories after the war. This transformation of infrastructure, essentially a form of recycling, has shaped the global industrial agricultural landscape ever since. The nuclear bomb, which instigated the exploration of nuclear power, represents a similar turnover attempting to address the environmental side- and after-effects of war. The paper takes Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony as a primary text, arguing that Silko situates the climax of the novel at the site of the Trinity nuclear text to demonstrate how the aftereffects of global wars linger, violently, on local land.
Judith Paltin’s “Decomposing the Irish Rising” explores Sean O’Casey’s Dublin plays’ figuration of tensions in popularized nationalist history as produced in the spaces of the struggle for Irish independence. O’Casey’s plays are a fascinating marker of the critical distance between Irish modernism and Irish nationalism. In the face of memorializations of the city’s working class neighborhoods as battlegrounds, and their post-conflict repurposings as mediated sites for propagandization rather than reconciliation, Paltin argues that O’Casey reclaims habitational territories for the Irish marginalized working class under the terms of a popular land ethic which officialdom has preferred to nationalize to advance its own set of interests.
Molly Hall’s “Occupying Temporary Space in an Endless War” looks at the re-purposing of environmental aesthetics by British modernists responding to World War I. Specifically, Hall explores and aesthetics marked by anachronism and displacement in competing representations of planned green spaces: from the trenches of France to the British countryside to the urban parks of London. Hall reads in representative war authors Max Plowman and Robert Graves the wasteland of the trenches intended to be only temporary, which emerge alongside Rebecca West and Virginia Woolf’s established urban parks, gardens, and country house estates whose cultivated naturalness demarcates the homefront. Exploring this range of modernisms reveals the distinctly ecological shifts within the temporal (re)orientations of the subject—be they citizen or soldier—in the interwar period.