Prof. dr hab. Anna Branach-Kallas
Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń
: OPUS 17
announced on 15 March 2019
The centennial of the Great War has provided a pretext for the emergence of new forms of commemoration. One hundred years after its end, the First World War now attracts new interpretations with a profound ethical and affective potential. Former colonial empires, such as France and Great Britain, have finally paid tribute to the soldiers of colour recruited from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean, who were deliberately blotted out of Eurocentric archives in the aftermath of the hostilities. Importantly, in the years leading up to and during the centennial, many novels and short stories were published that depicted the war as experienced specifically by colonial troops and communities. These texts have yet to be critically studied. The purpose of the project is to collect, interpret and analyse selected works of literature devoted to the First World War, published in English and French in the 21st-century, which capture the perspective of colonial troops and/or delve into the interactions between the soldiers of European origin and those from the colonies.
The following research hypotheses will be tested: (1) the authors of the short stories and novels in question depict war trauma, which becomes an important point of reference for the identity processes underway in the 21st century; (2) the authors trace a line of continuity between WWI and previous and later outbreaks of violence; and (3) in their works, WWI serves as a catalyst for the struggle for national independence in various parts of the British and French empires. A number of questions arise: How do these authors depict the lived experience of the soldiers of colour during the war? By commemorating the events of a century ago, do they aim to call for forgiveness and forgetting or, on the contrary, protest against collective amnesia? How do they depict the issue of race and racism? What stance do they take vis-à-vis the legacy of colonial stereotypes? Can the memory of WWI be decolonized? And if so, how?
The corpus I have put together thus far consists of more than ten works published in France, Great Britain, the United States, Algeria, South Africa and Martinique around the centennial of the Great War. The most important among them are: Galadio (2010) by Didier Daeninckx, Le bataillon créole (guerre de 1914-1918) (2013) by Raphaël Confiant, A God in Every Stone (2014) by Kamila Shamsie, Dancing the Death Drill (2017) by Fred Khumalo, Frère d’âme (2018) by David Diop, and Afterlives (2020) by Abdulrazak Gurnah.
The methodology of the project combines postcolonial theory, memory and trauma studies, and political philosophy, as well as contemporary historical research into WWI. The interdisciplinary approach allows ample light to be shed on why and how the trauma of WWI has become an important point of reference for postcolonial identity in various cultural contexts. The comparative perspective, in turn, helps unravel the tangle of similarities and differences between the traumatic war experiences lived by different ethnic and racial groups, as well as between earlier and later conflicts and their literary depictions.
The results of the project have thus far been presented at conferences in Great Britain, France, Spain and Poland, as well as published in Memory Studies, Journal of Commonwealth Literature, Journal of Postcolonial Writing, Journal of War and Culture Studies, Orbis Litterarum and other journals. A monograph is also underway.
Project title : Critical Mourning, Entangled Legacies of Violence, and Postcolonial Discontent in Selected 21st Century First World War Novels in English and French
Prof. dr hab. Anna Branach-Kallas
Prof. Dr hab. Anna Branach-Kallas is a graduate of English and French Philology. Her research interests centre on postcolonial literature and theory, war trauma, political philosophy and memory studies. She has worked as a principal investigator under two NCN-funded projects and held scholarships awarded by the Stefan Batory Foundation in Oxford, FNP, NAWA and the International Council for Canadian Studies. She has completed a number of overseas research fellowships. Since 2019, she has served as the Board Chair of Literary Studies at the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń.