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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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Hearing the Dead (Annabel Williams)

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annabel williams

Literary scholar Annabel Williams explores the perennial human craving to hear the voices of the dead, whether via séances or, most recently, artificial intelligence.

‘If the dead could speak…’ There is a common fantasy around the question of what the dead would say if reanimated for the purpose. These speculations tend to invest the departed with special insight: they would tell us where we’re going wrong or what we’re getting right, they would prophesy the future, they would describe the life after this one. The utterances of those who have died through war and violent conflict would merit a special place in commemorative practice; to summon such voices could even defend us against a recurrence of their fate.

For some the dead do speak, and their insistence on being heard indicates both the necessity of commemoration and its perils. It is not unusual for a bereaved person to experience auditory verbal hallucinations of the one they have lost. Reported phenomena range from the consoling call of the mourner’s name to critical tirades; in either case these voices seem to speak with a purpose and independence that make them very real to the hearer.1 The psychologist Simon McCarthy-Jones has described how the majority of people take comfort from such hallucinations.2 More pathological voice hearing, of the kind that disrupts a person’s daily life and well-being, is likely to result in a prescription for anti-psychotics, but researchers at Durham University’s ‘Hearing the...

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