Another dramaturgical choice I wondered about involves the way the play’s documentary mode leads it to privilege carefully dated events. It is filled with monologues that begin something like this: “On October 8, 1908…” While historical specificity will be important to any understanding of the war, the fetishization of the date—even if meant ironically, as may be the case here—may distract from larger underlying forces and, in any case, simply doesn’t work well as theater. The highpoints of the play were occasions in which personal stories broke through the accumulation of chronology, and humor lightened the (understandably) serious tone of the work. The insistence on the date raises questions about narrative: how can the story of the war be told in a way that coordinates the specificity of events, the singularity of experiences, and the deeper structures out of which events and experiences emerge? How can this work of coordination be done in a way that engages audiences without trivializing history?
It’s obvious that the issues at stake here are not unique to World War I, but the Great War provides an occasion for renewed reflection on these and many other questions. We hope that this blog can serve as one site for such reflection in the coming months. Please join us and take part in the discussion.
If you would like to follow the events associated with the The Great War: Experiences, Representations, Effects at the University of Illinois, you can find the website here, or join our Facebook group page here. A calendar of upcoming events around campus can be found here.