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Department of Cultural Studies
Spring Seminar Series

January 28 1- 2pm Room 3010 (The Board Room)
Western Academic Building

Phil Cohen

Born to Flying Glass
Nurseries of Terror and Trauma in the 'post war' world

Born to flying glass
bombs strafing shrapnel murder
from me expect no pleasing tones
no obscurities

reared in the light of the fires
gorging themselves on human flesh
my mind was clarified

Keith Barnes

How have the changing politics of national memory in Britain and Germany since 1945 shaped the life stories of those who were 'born to flying glass' in the Blitzes of London, Hamburg and Dresden ?

In this seminar I am going to try and describe some of my starting points for an oral history project that treats the Blitz as the ground zero of representation for considering changing regimes of war, memory, childhood, and the body politic over the last half century. Does Walter Benjamin's catastrophe theory of history, and his personal refusal to mourn, provide us with a still topical map for wandering through the ruins of childhoods devastated by war? Or does Freud's insistence on a break, or interval, between the bodily experience of terror and its re-tracing in the symptoms of trauma offer us a better model for understanding the living of stories which oscillate between the foreclosing of events and their chronic re-enactment? Does the promotion of children onto the front line and the front page help or hinder the working through of childhood memories of war ? And what happens to the image of the body politic as a protective mother or fatherland when everything that was once solid about its territorial defence systems melts down in the face of surprise attacks from the air?

In this talk I will introduce some of the material I have found useful in struggling with some of these larger questions thrown up by the nature of my enquiry. I will show some slides of photographs taken in the Blitz and other civilian war zones, and read some extracts from poems, novels, memoirs and other writing that have helped me get my bearings.

In this talk I will :

  1. Address some general questions of theory and method raised by the research .
  2. Read through a brief anthology of texts, extracts from some prose and poems, and some written and spoken testimony that I have found useful in helping me get my bearings.
  3. Show and discuss some photographs which were important in establishing the public iconography of the blitz

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