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Inconsumable Realities: Documenting Warfare, Britain 1914-1920

Heske, Claudia (2012) Inconsumable Realities: Documenting Warfare, Britain 1914-1920. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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The concept of mimetic realism—how it functions in literature and its representational value—comes into sharp relief during the period when the First World War ensues. This dissertation proposes that the magnitude of atrocities caused by the First World War presents a crisis of representation such that the classic theory of realist representation comes into question. In response to the ultimate dystopia created by trench warfare, a variety of writers attempt to produce realistic portraits of the war while photography is widely used to show readers the allegedly most authentic version of the war front. In the study of those writing practices by journalists, novelists, and soldiers and of visual media by photojournalists, some key questions arise about the authorial discourse of war: who constructs it, how is it constructed, and by which means do these discourses secure the survival and longevity of one version of a war’s history and not another?

I concentrate on texts produced by journalists, British literary writers—exemplified primarily by Virginia Woolf—and soldiers, who were prolific in their correspondence with family members on the home front, the chronicling of their experiences in diaries, and in reflections recorded in postwar memoirs. In all cases, I provide close-readings of texts to discern the ways each player is documenting the experience of war and in which ways each negotiates his or her writing practices within the lens of classic literary realism. I find that discursive practices become distinct according to a writer’s geographical proximity to the war front and are distinguished from the classic style of realism. I observe that journalism produces objective realism, the modern novelist produces mytho-synaesthetic realism, and soldiers produce synaesthetic realism. An examination of photography’s ocular realism in the context of war introduces the concept of the documentary record. A documentary photograph stretches the concept of realism as a literary style such that the commensurability of the real and its representational media comes to depend upon acknowledging the ability and willingness of a public to read the inconsumable, such as the horrific and traumatizing outcomes of mechanized warfare on the human body.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairBoone, Troyboone@pitt.eduBOONE
Committee MemberMajumdar, Neepanmajumda@pitt.eduNMAJUMDA
Committee MemberMecchia, Giuseppinamecchia@pitt.eduMECCHIA
Committee MemberSmith, Philippsmith@pitt.eduPSMITH
Date: 18 June 2012
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 17 February 2012
Approval Date: 18 June 2012
Submission Date: 12 April 2012
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 250
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > English
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: First World War Realism New Journalism Modernism War Photography Censorship
Date Deposited: 18 Jun 2012 19:47
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:57


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