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Remediating the First World War : literary and visual constructions of English-Canadian cultural memory Fahey, Alicia


“Great nations write their autobiographies in three manuscripts – the book of their deeds, the book of their words and the book of their art.” When Paul Konody, art advisor for the Canadian War Memorials Fund (CWMF) First World War artist program, began his introductory essay to the exhibition catalogue Art & War (1919) with these words, he was making connections among the disciplines of history (deeds), literature (words), and (visual) art. Konody’s interdisciplinary understanding of representational media provides an appropriate point of entry for this dissertation, which investigates the intersectionalities of English-Canadian First World War art and literature. Building on a theoretical framework rooted in the concept and practice of remediation which, briefly, denotes a material reconfiguration of the original art object when it is later invoked in a literary work, I argue that the revival of Canadian military sculpture and paintings in contemporary First World War literature is evidence of a re-working of cultural memory of the Great War that continues to gain momentum in the immediate present and is indicative of a burgeoning, third phase of the memory boom in which media occupy a central position. Although some of the literary texts I examine apply remediation in its traditional sense, which functions to stabilize the original representation that it invokes, the focus of my study is on reversing this process by examining the ways in which English-Canadian authors have utilized remediation to reconsider official versions of the past through a revisionist lens. I conclude that, at its most effective, remediation operates as an act of intervention by deconstructing the state-sanctioned heroic sacrifice masternarrative that Canada came of age in the Great War and focusing instead on counternarratives that represent the diversity of the war experience. Indeed, my study offers proof that rethinking remediation in terms of deconstruction can reveal the supplementary nature of memory, precisely that the repeated invocation of a particular work of art may be indicative, not of the stability of memory, but of an anxiety about the limitations of memory and representation.

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