Novels of the Great War: "Heeresbericht" by Edlef Köppen

It is really an interesting story, just because we are in front of two absorbing stories: the one narrated in this book and the life of his author. As far as we can understand, this novel first published in 1930 has been translated only into Italian (Bollettino di guerra, Mondadori, 2008) and into Spanish (Parte de guerra, Sajalín editores, 2012). The vicissitudes of this book under an editorial point of view were basically ups and downs since the beginning, so no wonder that still today there is not a consolidated knowledge around Köppen and what is probably his most prominent novel. Actually there are many reasons to point out this title among the ones that today represent the literary main stream of that crucial five-year period. And all these reasons are firmly joined by the life and biography of Köppen. 

Edlef Köppen was an educated soldier and we all know the importance to analyze the boost toward the war and war's impact both on intellectuals and on the common infantryman. It's not a matter of discrimination of the two categories of soldiers, which entered and ended the war with different motivations and positions.Take for example the Italian case of Renato Serra and his peculiar interventionism in the long debate that came before the Italy's entry into the war in May 1915. And take the expetations and feelings of those thousands of men abondoning the countryside for the trenches. The studies of the First World War should one day treat the impact of the war on the these two clusters of combatants, before and after the war, because both human courses are extremely meaningful for a better understanding.

Secondly Köppen represents an almost unique case of a soldier fighting from day one to the end of the war. He was both on the West and on the East fronts. He got wounded in the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and the effects of the injury can be considered the cause of his early death in 1939, when he was almost 46. He knew what we call today the war insanity and was interned in a psychiatric hospital, when the war was close to an end.

After the war, he was particularly active in the publishing and radio broadcasting industries. When in 1930 Heeresbericht came out, it only could be considered a menace by Nazi movement (this is the reason why the novel was sequestered already in 1933 for the its unfriendly contents and tone). The novel is built on an original frame and Köppen was able to wedge the fragmented reality of the war years into compelling stories: bulletins, speeches, pages of his diary coexist in one of the richest novel that the aftermath brought to light. The pioneering approach to narration, along with the outcomes of the New Objectivity of the Weimar years and its suffocated democratic wails, were the starting point of the journey of this unfortunate yet important First World War book. 

We wrote about this book in English, but an English translation is still missing. English speaking readers should think about it...

Friends of In Flanders Fields museum (VIFF) visiting the Piave front and battlefields

The group of friends at Rifugio Lagazuoi
As far as it concerns the tourism movement related to history and the Great War in particular, we might say that there are not only the mass tours that the Western front has already known for years. In the "forgotten front" (the definition comes from a book of G.H. Cassar), namely the front between the Italian kingdom and the Austro-Hungarian empire at the war's outbreak, there are today worlds of possibile wonderful itineraries to discover, on the mountains and on the plains. Think about the Isonzo and Piave rivers flowing into the Adriatic sea, the hills of the Treviso province or the Asiago Plateau, the amazing trenches in the Dolomites and think about the possibilities of travelling from Lumbardy to Trentino, Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia, up to the mountain border with Slovenia. 

One of the aims of the First World War Centenary should be to increase the knowledge and the partnerships among the countries that are planning to celebrate it. In this ideal frame, a better knowledge and a friendly cooperation among all the "stakeholders" is highly recommended even if hard to accomplish. The World War I Museum of Maserada sul Piave would like to thank the group of Friends of In Flanders Fields museum (Ypres, Belgium) for their warm presence and visit during their last battlefield tour to Italy in September 2012. We are grateful to them for relying on our trip advices in building up the program and the itineraries through a Grappa-Montello-Piave-Dolomites battlefield tour. We happily supported with tips and friendly assistance and of course we wish this could become the start of a future cooperation between the two museums and cities, in order to encourage a mutual knowledge.

Their intense 5 day program is an example of a rich itinerary through the places of the First World War in Italy, on the front lines before and after the retreat of Caporetto. Here below is a summary of the journey legs:

Day 1: arrival, historical walk in Treviso, Possagno and the "wounded art" (Antonio Canova and the "Gipsoteca" in Possagno with a temporary exhibition).
Day 2: full day program on the Monte Grappa, the pivoting point of the Italian front before and after Caporetto.
Day 3: the Piave: World War I museum of Maserada sul Piave, Salettuol and the Papadopoli Island as the key-spots of the Battle of Vittorio Veneto, the Montello hill (sacrary of Nervesa, the monument dedicated to Italian aviator Francesco Baracca, Giavera British Cemetery), Fossalta and Hemingway, Fagarè and the sacrary dedicated to the 3rd Italian army corp.
Day 4: the war on the mountains, the Lagazuoi, the war on the Dolomites, visit of the Forte Tre Sassi at Sass De Stria.
Day 5: Quero, Alano, Pederobba and Cornuda, some important battlefields or points of interest of the Alpine foothills.

Of course the above program is only one among many that could be sketched. It tries to reach a good tuning, but one could think about hundreds of similar programs in new areas of the "forgotten front". Thanks also to this kind of trips the so called forgotten front will be enlisted in the "remembered fronts" of World War I in the near future.

“1917”: Upcoming Conference in Centre Pompidou-Metz

Otto Dix, Trenches, 1917
Few months ago we talked about the unmissable exhibition "1917", that took place at the Centre Pompidou-Metz. We now come back to it with a short post, since a two-day conference organized by the Centre Pompidou-Metz in collaboration with the German Center of Art History is planned as the concluding meeting of the exhibition.
20th and 21st September, some leading experts on Great War and on the related artistic production will gather in Centre Pompidou-Metz to discuss and analyze some of the key topics of the exhibition. Beside a starting panel concerning some psychological and cultural attitudes in experiencing and depicting the WWI in France and Germany, on Thursday afternoon the works will converge on the figurative arts as avant-gardiste experimentation (above all, Dadaism and Expressionism) in their succeeding changing phases and in connection with the broader cultural – i.e. philosophical, theoretical, even political – discussion during the war years. Figurative art will be at the center of the opening communication, concerning Picasso's Parade, even on Friday morning panel, that will continue widening the discussion towards other arts, such as dance, poetry and cinematography. The closing panel will deal lastly with the contemporary artistic reception and re-elaboration of the legacy and memory of WWI, and especially of the year 1917, as turning point of the conflict.

Further practical information and the full program here.

Photo reportage #3: Monte Pasubio and the "52 Gallery" Road

Professional and amateur photographers that are willing to share their images in a 100% First World War dedicated platform can write to this email address giving a small abstract of their work (place, country, main features, reasons of interest) and a zipped folder with the images in *.jpeg format in video resolution 72dpi (please in your email consent to World War I Bridges publishing your photos). It goes without saying that the long term purpose of this little digitale initiative is to crowd-source digital stuff to preserve the memory of the Great War and to channel the energies of professional or amateur photographers on this.

Today's photo reportage follows and completes the previous post dedicated to the Monte Pasubio and the "52 Galleries" Road and is offered to the readers by the authors of this site. The images walk with you through the already mentioned itinerary's spots: the gallery, Rifugio Papa, Scarubbi Road, the fortifications on Italian Tooth, the view of the Austrian Tooth from the Italian Tooth, the Selletta dei Denti, the Ghersi communication trench and the trenches of Monte Palon.

The poets and the World War: "Dulce et Decorum est" by Wilfred Owen

Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)
16th January 1917. I can see no excuse for deceiving you about these last four days. I have suffered seventh hell. I have not been at the front. I have been in front of it….” (from: Wilfred Owen: Collected Letters, H. Owen and S. Bell [Eds.], 1967).

As one of the leading poets of the First World War, Wilfred Owen’s verses are perhaps to be expected here. No need thus to talk about Owen’s own life, poetry or literary legacy in relation to the emerging English Modernism. We rather suggest one of his most renowned poems Dulce et Decorum est. Entitled with the famous Horace’s Quotation (Odes, III.2,13) – almost a “manifesto” of some nationalistic propaganda from the classical Age up to now – the poem spares the reader none of the grim details of the trench life during WWI and lets so the patriotic rhetoric of this “old Lie” collapse in front of the physical and psychological suffering of the soldiers.

We may agree with Owen – or at least with large part of his readers – and regard his poetry as a “warn”, even as a “truthful information”. Yet, we are nowadays too disenchanted not to recognize, that past mistakes do not prevent those of the future. We may therefore remember, the purpose that Wilfred Owen always claimed for his poems is not so different from that he provides in his letters from the trenches, testifying so how the two genres sometimes overlap: both are a way to communicate standing “in front of”. In Owen’s poetry, standing “in front of” means primarily a soul-attitude to gain and save the indispensable distance to observe what happens, to catch the “reality” in the irreducible strangeness of “truth”, to recognize WWI beyond the rhetoric of glory, honor, might, majesty, domination or power. But standing “in front of” is not only the attitude of the writer towards the facts he observes, it is also the desire to communicate with someone else, a “standing in front” of a – imaginary – reader. Quoting Owen, poetry is thus also a form of communication between people, “poetry is in the pity”: it lives in the attempt to feel and fill the gap between the – incommunicable – personal experience and the – inaccessible – bare facts, as well as in the attempt to provide so a space of unperfected, i.e. purely human, communication, of enchanted taking care of differences, a space of pietas. No matter if we live almost a century later in a radically different world, no matter if this poem is “useless” insofar it does not provide us an answer or a warn. We still can read this poem as a letter addressed to us from another human being, who stands in front of “it”, of the Great War, but also – and that’s why good poems always speak – in front of us, the readers, even today


Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, –
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

The Great War and Modern Architecture

Kurt Lewin (1890-1947)
The question is not weird: can we associate what happened in the trenches from 1914 to 1918 to the future developments of architecture? We should admit that it is not so immediate to recall architectural masterpieces that can be attributed to the Zeitgeist of the Great War years, for sure not in the same way we connect the World War One with the paintings of Otto Dix. 
The starting assumption of the Call for Papers is at the same time simple and bewitching: "many modern architects were soldiers in their twenties and early thirties". And the aim of identifying "issues, buildings, methodologies, and theoretical concerns" that can be traced back to the First World War years seems really innovative. Finally it is worthy of mention the work of the German psychologist Kurt Lewin and his studies of the new perception of space in men who were soldiers during the war. 

Save the date! Below is the CFP announcement.

39th Annual Conference and Bookfair
University of Reading
11-13 April 2013

The Great War and Modern Architecture – 100 years on

Volker M. Welter, University of California at Santa Barbara,
Iain Boyd Whyte, University of Edinburgh,

What were the consequences of World War I for the development of modern architecture after 1918? Considering that many modern architects were soldiers in their twenties and early thirties, formative periods in any individual’s life, how did active service in the trenches or behind the frontline, travel to foreign lands, and the communal experience of danger influence their thinking about their work, profession, and society at large?
Psychologists such as Kurt Lewin published as early as 1917 seminal texts about how the soldier’s experience of the battlefield fundamentally changed his perception of space. In literature, reflections on the horrors and extraordinary experiences of the Great War resulted about ten years later in masterpieces by writers and playwrights such as Ernst Jünger, Erich Marie Remarque, and Edmund Blunden. Yet, in the realm of architecture little seems to be known beyond anecdotal tales that Walter Gropius had been buried underneath rubble, and that Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s military career was modest due the lack of a university education. Are there issues, buildings, methodologies, and theoretical concerns in the development of modern architecture after 1918 that can be traced back to the Great War?
The session invites papers, ideally based on archival research, that address both individual architects who had served in any of the opposing armies, and questions concerning historiography and methodological approaches regarding World War I and the emergence of modern architecture in Europe.

Ford Madox Ford's "Parade's End": Modernism and the First World War. A conference at the University of London (and a BBC adaptation)

Ford Madox Ford
Largely considered one of the best novel of the Twentieth century (W.H. Auden among the others) and one of the finest about the Great War (Anthony Burgess), the tetralogy of Parade's End (Some Do Not . . ., No More Parades, A Man Could Stand Up and Last Post the four titles coming out from 1924 and 1928) will be the leitmotif of the upcoming international conference to be held at the Institute of English Studies, University of London, from the 27th to the 29th of September 2012. The topic seems to be hot, since an adaptation from this tetralogy, a BBC miniseries scripted by Tom Stoppard, was recently aired. From what we can learn from The Guardian, the adaptation has generated a "tipically British debate". Probably the adaptations from Parade's End cannot compete with the book. It happens. Anyway, coming back to the conference, for further information you can visit the dedicated website. To contact the organisers, Rob Hawkes and Ashley Chantler, please use this email address.
Here you can download the program which is posted also below.

Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End:
Modernism and the First World War

Day 1: Thursday 27 September

11:00-11:30 Registration and Tea/Coffee
11:30-13:00 Panel 1
Christos Hadjiyannis (Institute of English Studies) – ‘Ford Madox Ford, T. E.
Hulme and the First World War’.
Rob Spence (Edge Hill University) – ‘Ford and Lewis: The Attraction of
John Attridge (University of New South Wales) – ‘Englishness and Taciturnity
in Parade’s End and Andre Maurois’s Les Silences du Colonel Bramble’.
13:00-14:00 Lunch
14:00-15:00 Keynote Address
Adam Piette (University of Sheffield) – ‘War and Division in Parade’s End’.
15:00-15:30 Tea/Coffee
15:30-17:00 Panel 2
Seamus O’Malley (City University of New York) – ‘All That is Solid Turns to
Mud: Parade’s End and the Liquidity of Landed Relations’.
Austin Riede (North Georgia College and State University) – ‘“Cleaned, Sand-dried
Bones”: Christopher Tietjens, Vera Brittain and the Anodyne of War’.
Isabelle Brasme (Université de Nîmes) – ‘Articulations of Modern Femininity in
Parade’s End: Womanhood as a Projective Space for Ideological
17:30-19:30 Parade’s End: A Celebration
Q&A session with special guests including the BAFTA award-winning director of
the BBC/HBO adaptation of Parade’s End, Susanna White, and Rupert Edwards,
producer/director of Who on Earth Was Ford Madox Ford? A Culture Show Special.
Launch of the new Carcanet critical editions of Parade’s End, followed by a wine
reception, kindly sponsored by Carcanet Press and Oxford University Press.

Day 2: Friday 28 September

09:30-11:00 Panel 3a
Dominique Lemarchal (Université d’Angers) – ‘When I is Others: Parade’s End
and the Impossibility of Autobiography’.
Alec Marsh (Muhlenberg College) – ‘“Rossetti”, “Better Far” and Overcoming the
Pre-Raphaelite Inheritance in Some do Not… and The Good Soldier’.
Sara Haslam (Open University) – ‘“Hops, cannon, kettles and chimney backs”, or
From Conversation to Humiliation: Parade’s End and the Eighteenth
Panel 3b
Christopher MacGowan (College of William and Mary) – ‘William Carlos
Williams and Parade’s End’.
George Wickes (University of Oregon) – ‘Hemingway’s Literary Godfather’.
Joseph Wiesenfarth (University of Wisconsin-Madison) – ‘Death in the Wasteland:
Ford, Wells and Waugh’.
11:00-11:30 Tea/Coffee
11:30-13:00 Panel 4a
Michael Charlesworth (University of Texas at Austin) – ‘The View from Montagne
Noir: Ford’s Panoramic Metaphor in No More Parades, No Enemy and It
Was the Nightingale Compared to Works by J. R. R. Tolkien’.
Liz Hodges (Merton College, University of Oxford) – ‘Sight and Scale in Parade’s
Alexandra Becquet (Université de la Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3) – ‘Structure and
Memory in Parade’s End: (De)Composing the War’.
Panel 4b
Barbara Farnworth (University of Rhode Island) – ‘The Self-Analysis of
Christopher Tietjens’.
Erin Kay Penner (Rothermere American Institute) – ‘Swearing by Ford’.
Paul Skinner (Independent Scholar) – ‘Tietjens Walking, Ford Talking’.
13:00-14:30 Lunch
14:30-16:00 Panel 5a
Max Saunders (King’s College London) – ‘Sexuality, Sadism and Suppression in
Parade’s End’.
Sarah Kingston (University of Rhode Island/University of New Haven) – ‘“Sick
bodies are of no use to the King”: Insomnia in British Literature of WWI’.
Karolyn Steffens (University of Wisconsin-Madison) – ‘Freud Madox Ford:
Parade’s End, Impressionism, and Psychoanalytic Trauma Theory’.
14:30-16:00 Panel 5b
Tom Vandevelde (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven) – ‘“Are you going to mind the
noise?” Mapping the Soundscapes of Parade’s End’.
Nathan Waddell (University of Nottingham) – ‘Ford Madox Ford’s Musical War’.
Angus Wrenn (London School of Economics) – ‘The World-Ash and Groby Old
Tree: Wagner and the Hueffers’.
16:00-16:20 Tea/Coffee
16:20-18:00 Film Screening – Part 1 of the 1964 BBC adaptation of Parade’s End, starring Judi
19:30 Conference Dinner (Location TBC)

Day 3: Saturday 29 September

10:00-10:40 Round-table discussion with the editors of the new Carcanet critical editions of
Parade’s End: Max Saunders (King’s College London), Joseph Wiesenfarth
(University of Wisconsin-Madison), Sara Haslam (Open University), and Paul
10:40-11:00 Tea/Coffee
11:00-13:00 Panel 6
Eve Sorum (University of Massachusetts-Boston) – ‘Empathy, Trauma, and the
Space of War in Parade’s End’.
Meghan Hammond (New York University) – ‘Modernist Empathy in Ford’s Last
Gene M. Moore (Universiteit van Amsterdam) – ‘Impressionism as Therapy’.
John Benjamin Murphy (University of Virginia) – ‘“The ’ind legs of the elephink”:
Pantomime, Prophecy and Tosh in Parade’s End’.
13:00-13:40 Ford Madox Ford Society AGM
13:40-14:40 Lunch
14:40-18:00 Film Screening – Parts 2 & 3 of the 1964 BBC adaptation of Parade’s End.

Photo reportage #2: the trenches of Castel Cesil (Monte Grappa)

Professional and amateur photographers that are willing to share their images in a 100% First World War dedicated platform can write to this email address giving a small abstract of their work (place, country, main features, reasons of interest) and a zipped folder with the images in *.jpeg format in video resolution 72dpi (please in your email consent to World War I Bridges publishing your photos). It goes without saying that the long term purpose of this little digitale initiative is to crowd-source digital stuff to preserve the memory of the Great War and to channel the energies of professional or amateur photographers on this.

The following photo reportage about the trenches of Castel Cesil was kindly offered to World War I Bridges by Ugo Agnoletto. We thank him for his precious help in the start-up of this unit of World War I Bridges.

If you descend Cima Grappa towards the village of Pederobba (location of a WWI French memorial), you can take a little time to visit the well preserved trenches of Castel Cesil on the peak with the same name belonging to the Grappa mountain range. These were located in that front which ran from Cima Grappa to Monte Tomba at an average altitude of 1100m a.s.l. This grid of trenches might be taken into consideration in a wider itinerary including a deeper knowledge of Cima Grappa and its open-air museum.