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On Commemoration

Global Reflections upon Remembering War

Edited By Catherine Gilbert, Kate McLoughlin and Niall Munro

How, in the twenty-first century, can we do commemoration better? In particular, how can commemoration contribute to post-war reconciliation and reconstruction? In this book, a global roster of distinguished writers, artists, musicians, religious leaders, military veterans and scholars debate these questions and ponder the future of commemoration. They include the world-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tony Horwitz, the award-winning novelists Aminatta Forna and Rachel Seiffert, and the human rights lawyer and Gifford Baillie Prize-winner Philippe Sands. Polemics and reflections together with poetry and creative prose movingly illuminate a subject that speaks to our common humanity.

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The Knowledge (Jeremy Treglown)

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jeremy treglown

In this essay, literary critic and author Jeremy Treglown charts the benefits of knowledge when navigating some particularly difficult and complicated areas of commemoration, drawing on examples from literature and architecture to celebrate the value of art and history in commemorative practice.

Someone’s knowledge, in one definition, is limited to what they can remember. It doesn’t work the other way around – what you think you remember may be imagined or distorted – but if you can’t remember something you don’t know it, don’t possess it, can’t be guided by it. This is the agony of Primo Levi in the ‘Ulysses’ section of If This is a Man (1947). Levi is sure that canto 26 of Dante’s Inferno has something to say to them in Auschwitz, and in particular to a young French pikolo, or go-between, Jean, whom he likes and to whom he’s indebted. The two prisoners are carrying a cooking pot to the kitchens. Deprived of books, Levi can recall only some of Dante’s exact words, not the passage he thinks crucial. (How liberating it is that at the heart of this masterwork of the Jewish Holocaust lies an episode from ancient Greek literature, adjusted by ancient Romans and reworked by a medieval Christian.) Jean, though ignorant of Dante, is sympathetic and interested, and has chosen a circuitous route to give them more time. Having struggled to paraphrase in French what he can’t retrieve in Italian, Primo at last succeeds (I’m quoting from Stuart...

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