Conflict in itself is an unending, cyclical process that has marked most of world history for as far back as any historian would care to go, and remains ever so strangely a part of the human condition. A crucial reminder of the same is that this year, which commemorates the centenary of the beginning of World War I, will also be marked in history for conflicts. The events in Israel/Palestine, conflict in the Central African Republic and South Sudan, the Syrian Crisis; unnumbered killings in Afghanistan and Iraq, both of which face an uncertain future; the ongoing underlying animosities in Russia and Ukraine; the drone attacks in Waziristan; the continuing menace of al-Qaida, Boko Haram, Islamic State (ISIS), the resurgent riots in India and border insurgencies, and much more. This is, as António Guterres says, “a world where peace is dangerously in deficit”. This statement, along with the report that has announced the forced displacement of over 50 million people for the first time since World War II leave us in an uncomfortably blindfolded position.
In such a situation, the cultural influence of experiences such as these, magnified during and after the World Wars, finds expression in various outlets including literary and visual forms of art, all of them seem to suggest a dangerous inference – that war and violence hold a significant role in the shaping of human imagination and inter-personal identity. Hence, what Art brings into the equation is a sense of relief and a desperate attempt at making sense of the breaks in the understanding of life and the world around us. Art bridges the gap between experience and consequence. The need to observe and to record the everyday life during war; the need to form a resistance and challenge the dominance of autocrats; to provoke and to question while observing and reflecting in order to deal with the trauma associated with conflict in all forms; to aid in the re-writing of histories and counter histories, and in a manner of effort (whether optimistic, pessimistic or completely detached) which asserts the need to find and restore peace, these are the reasons why artists venture into the gaping hollows of conflict. Art history, music, literary masterpieces, numerous poems, propaganda writings and theatre, protest performances, radical writings, and even classical epics like Mahabharata and Iliad, all hold accounts, voices and horridly beautiful descriptions of what war is and how it affects the human condition. What must be reflected upon is the depth of impressionism, philosophical and realist collisions and the pathos of humanity that go hand in hand with the idea of sudden (vs. planned) conflict.
The relationship that art holds with conflict can best be seen through the works of official wartime painters who brought forth the idea of the void, the mechanization of the world and the fragmentation and darkness that had seeped into the psyche of the everyday man. What is absolutely definite is that art continuously stimulates new debates and fresh reflection as artists strive to make work that has powerful agency with the intent of provoking a response.
From the inspiring music of Bhupen Hazarika that lifted an ongoing curfew during the Naga Rebellion, to the Rock and Roll revolution that gave birth to a revolution in the Eastern Bloc; from war-time memoirs and poetry written by the soldiers often lay bare the insider’s experience to counter-memorials and other sculptures of protest which impact the psyche, pushing one away from the Homeric idea of glorious war towards its consequences, all stand as examples of the power of art and its impact on national and international issues of unrest and conflict. This year, as we commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the First World War, it becomes imperative to look back at the volume of art work, both literary and otherwise, to be able to assess the curious case of the nation, and what it means to be at war, to be alive during that time, or be faced with the threat of one. With the numerous wars, protests, rebellions and revolutions that have been witnessed by the unforgiving memory of artists over the years since 1914, this issue of Literophile presents analyses of works dealing with the idea of war, both at the individual and social levels, to be able to understand what makes War both condemnable, as well as unavoidable – if history is to be gone by.
– Shambhavi Pandey
Editor (Issue 4, Volume 7)