Those of you who follow me on Twitter may remember a series of tweets attached to the hashtag #thesagacontinues. These related to the writing of a paper on cultural representations of shell shock which I was struggling with. One part of the problem was that I was extremely intimidated by the line-up of participants at the conference, Aftershock: Post-traumatic Cultures since the Great War, where I was presenting the paper, an extraordinary pantheon of academic specialists including Jay Winter, Mike Roper, Simon Wesselly, Sophie Delaporte and Fiona Reid, among many others. Reading the participants list felt a bit like reading the bibliography of my PhD.
Well, the conference, held at the end of May, has been and gone and was much more enjoyable than my agonized tweeting might have predicted. It was a pleasure to meet up again with colleagues such as Jay and Mike who I haven’t seen since my move to Leeds. It was even more of a pleasure to make the acquaintance of others whose work I either have admired from afar or whose exciting research (into the trauma suffered by Second World War RAF ground crew or French films of shell shock, to give just two examples) I encountered for the first time. The papers presented were, as might be expected, extremely stimulating. Particularly exciting from my perspective were Sophie Delaporte’s discussion of psychological trauma in relation to Freud’s ideas about the encounter with death, which has forced me to completely rethink my own attitude to Freudian theory, and Mike Roper’s paper on his current project interviewing the children of First World War ex-servicemen on their experiences of childhood which looks to be yielding a wealth of original and fascinating information. I also acted as commentator on a panel of papers well outside my own field of expertise, dealing with the interactions between civilians and soldiers of contemporary conflicts, which gave fascinating perspectives on the problems of that individuals have in making transitions between the identities of civilian, soldier and veteran.
There was also a great deal of networking (some over one of the tastiest conference dinners, in a unique restaurant in Christiania, that I have ever had), with the happy result that I was able to add three more speakers to the roster of the workshop I am running in October.
Oh, yes, and the paper went quite well in the end, with it even being described as ‘lovely’ by one person! More usefully, I realised that the other problem I had had with writing it is that I was attempting to squeeze the subject matter for a book into the space of 20-minute paper. At some point in the future I am going to need to write something substantial on representations of trauma in 20th century popular culture. It is a subject I keep coming back to, time and again. Some day I am going to have to research it much more fully and lay that particular ghost of my Phd. to rest.
So the saga has concluded successfully. Well, almost. Two months later and I am still waiting for my expenses claim to make its way through the new(ish) on-line system…