1 March 2013
The School of Arts hosted a day symposium on Iraq War Culture. Organized by Joseph Brooker of the Centre for Contemporary Literature, the event sought to mark the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq by offering perspectives on how artists in diverse fields have responded to it.
An opening panel considered the possible existence of the ‘Iraq war novel’ as a sub-genre; works like Don DeLillo’s Point Omega (2010) and Kevin Powers’ The Yellow Birds (2012) were among those under discussion. Professor Julian Stallabrass of the Courtauld Institute then gave a substantial, bracing review of photojournalism and its use as a tool of military public relations, comparing the wars in Vietnam and Iraq.
In the afternoon, successful graduates of Birkbeck’s PhD programme joined with other early career researchers to reflect on American comic books and visual narratives, including Youtube videos posted by serving soldiers. A panel discussion of Iraq on Stage and Screen featured Colin Teevan, author of How Many Miles to Basra? (2006), alongside the playwright and Guardian journalist Richard Norton-Taylor and the BBC journalist David Loyn, who reported on the Iraq War and is about to begin a new stint in Afghanistan. Finally Laura Mulvey, Professor of Film and Director of the new Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image, screened a rough cut of her latest project, a collaboration with film-maker Mark Lewis which addresses the recent history of Iraq via the lives of two brothers.
The diverse audience for the event included Birkbeck staff and students alongside political activists and people with experience of Iraq. Russell Celyn Jones, Professor of Creative Writing in the Department of English and Humanities, was one who attended. He reflects: “The event was one of the best I've ever attended. It was resonant with newly minted ideas, conflicts and resolutions, and questions that seemed to grow into ever more questions. There were detractors and some dissent that just added fire to the day. The panelists were quite brilliant and the imagery of language and photographs and Laura's marvellous film resonated long after the day closed.”
Panel 1: Fiction
Dan O’Gorman: Ahead of them lay only a vast emptiness, an absence’: Deserts, Hinterlands and the Wilderness in US Fiction of the Iraq War
Pshtiwan Farag: The Iraq War in Anglo-American Novels
Martin Eve: ‘Too many goddamn echoes’: Historicizing the Iraq War in Don DeLillo's Point Omega
Chair: Anna Hartnell
Panel 2: Photography
Julian Stallabrass: PR and Photojournalism in War
Chair: Patrizia Di Bello
Panel 3: Comics & Visual Culture
Antonio Venezia & Nina Mickwitz: Bringing It All Back Home: Mediating the Iraq War in US Comics
Zara Dinnen and Sam McBean: ‘The Sun is Always Setting Somewhere Else’: Locating the Iraq War in US Visual Culture
Chair: Bianca Leggett
Panel 4: Iraq on Stage and Screen: a panel discussion
Colin Teevan, David Loyn, Richard Norton-Taylor
Chair: Rob Swain
Laura Mulvey: introducing 23rd August 2008, a new film essay on Iraq
Chair: Emma Sandon
Image by The U.S. Army under a CC BY-NC-SA license.