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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 Scent of Commemoration (Justine Shaw)


justine shaw

The spectacle of parades, the laying of objects at memorials, and the sound of music – these are all common features of commemorative events across the world. But what about another sense – smell? In this piece, literary scholar and professional candle-maker Justine Shaw asks whether scents and smells might help us to commemorate better.

When we think of commemorative acts – the public and private practices of deliberate remembrance – we tend to think of wreath-laying ceremonies, of silences, of monumental memorials, and literary and musical works. We do not, in general, consider olfaction as part of commemorative practice. Yet the body remembers as a totality and so, here, I offer some thoughts on the current and possible future role of fragrance in commemorative practice and consider what it might mean to remember through the scent of commemoration.1

Commemorations are emotive experiences: in the act of remembering, we feel a complicated and subjective blend of emotions ranging from sorrow to guilt, gratitude to anger, longing to shame.2 But commemorations are affective as well as emotive acts. There is no psychological or physiological ←219 | 220→isolation of the site of commemoration – it takes place neither solely in the mind nor only in the body – it is the whole being that commemorates. Despite this, when we think of large-scale or widespread commemorations, we typically do not think of the full embodied experience. Instead we zero in on culturally specific bodily zones. In the West, we focus on...

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