The Great War and the Modern Memory. Some thoughts in memory of Paul Fussell

Paul Fussell died
on May 23, 2012
Paul Fussel, professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania, died last Wednesday in Medford, Oregon, at the age of 88. He was author of many books on war and poetry. On the top of them, we all remember the successful The Great War and Modern Memory that along with No Man's Land by Eric Leed represents the must-have couple of books about the Great War. While Leed's book investigates the transformation of soldiers' behaviour after coping with the traumatic space and time of the trenches, Fussel's most popular book is a clear attempt to recreate the literary landscape coming out of that war.

If we consider the two authors we understand that basically with their books they drew the drivers of development of almost all initiatives today remembering the World War One. On one side we find the almost ethnographical description that goes back to Leed's mainstream, on the other we have the literary and artistic analyses inspired by Fussell. These two are the furrows where, still today, we can position the most relevant attitudes towards the study of the First World War (of course we could include a third important track, namely the technical and military narration of the war, but this is not our main interest, as we stated in the heading of this blog).

Even if it may seem a too ambitious scenario, we think that in the middle of these two (or three) streams there is enough room to make a new try to paint and tell that story, probably a cross-fertilization of all possible ways of remembering that war. The first names are there: together with Fussell and Leed, let's think about Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau, Annette Becker, Modris Eksteins, Antonio Gibelli and many others. The interdisciplinary approach has become so fashionable but a real and clever use of the interdisciplinary mix is hard to reach and follow. Probably it will never become so trendy since it's so laborious. It would have been interesting to know Fussell's opinion on this point on the eve of Great War centennial.