Laughing and coping during Word War One

Appel à contribution

Laughing and coping during World War One: Studying the mechanisms and forms of humor and entertainment

A one-day conference co-organized by the University of Bedfordshire, University Paris III-Sorbonne Nouvelle (EA 4399 CREW / CRAN) and Central Connecticut State University
Date: March 24, 2016; Place: University of Bedfordshire, Luton, United Kingdom
Date limite: 20 novembre

 Keynote speakers:
• Dr. Michael Hammond, University of Southampton, author of The Big Show: British Culture in the Great War, editor of British Silent Cinema and the Great War
• Dr. Lawrence Napper, King’s College London, author of The Great War in Popular British Cinema of the 1920s: Before Journey’s End.

As its name suggests, the Great War was felt by many as an apocalyptic conflict overwhelming political, geographical, social or even psychological landmarks. This dreadfulness may have been best coined by Siegfried Sasoon’s lines who describes war as “the hell where youth and laughter go.”  However, for a multitude of soldiers the experience of World War One (WWI) was more nuanced. Actually, trench life was both synonymous with extreme violence or extreme boredom; it strangely combined dullness, anxiety and hardship with an irrational sense of optimism often expressed through humor and jokes. Distraught civilians as well as wartime survivors longed to be entertained during a period of deprivation and frustration. Considering Sigmund Freud’s contemporary analysis of humor and wit, the use of laughter as a protection against the adversity of the war was a logical mechanism triggered by the need to reject miseries:
The ego refuses to be distressed by the provocations of reality, to let itself be compelled to suffer. It insists that it cannot be affected by the traumas of the external world; it shows, in fact, that such traumas are not more than occasions for it to gain pleasure. (. . .) Humour [sic] is not resigned; it is rebellious. It signifies not only the triumph of the ego but also of the pleasure principle which is able here to assert itself against the unkindness of real circumstances.

Humor and entertainment thus appeared to be safe weapons to mock the enemy as well as one’s own camp, in other words a cunning tool to lampoon the general nonsense of the war. Humor serves as an outlet for trauma and perdition and as a substitute for epics when it is impossible to create heroic tales. Humor and entertainment enables both artists and combatants to make over the naked truth of reality and rewrite the actual war to make it more palatable.

This one-day conference aims to discuss the various forms of humor and entertainment during WWI—from the most waggish expression to the blackest tone—and the variety of cultural productions offered to soldiers and civilians, by rediscovering some eluded aspects of international research about the War.  Possible topics may include, but are not limited to, the following:
–        Laughter in war novels, short stories and poems
–        Personal journals, memoirs
–        Illustrations and caricatures
–        Satirical papers, trench newspapers, women’s and children’s publications
–        Trench slang and jokes
–        Stage entertainment : music hall performances, plays, front theatrical performances
–        Humor and wartime motion pictures

Proposals for individual papers (presentations will be limited to 20 minutes) should include an abstract of 300 words and the name, institutional affiliation, a 100 word biography of the author, and the title of the paper.

Please send proposals by November 20, 2015 to
–  Clémentine Tholas-Disset (Sorbonne Nouvelle)
–  Karen Randell (University of Bedfordshire)
–  Karen A. Ritzenhoff (Central Connecticut State University)
Responsable : Karen Randell, Clémentine Tholas-Disset, Karen Ritzenhoff
adresse Luton, Royaume Uni