Suzanne Steele

Discipline: English

Project Summary

The title of my thesis is The Art of Witness: Truth, Process, and Form in the Great War Narrative of Robert Graves, Mary Borden, and David Jones. My supervisors are Professor Tim Kendall, and Dr. Joseph Crawford. Through this work I am examining the ethics and aesthetics of witness in the theatre of war, with the central question, "How much do I tell?" As a witness to a battalion on their road to war, through spending thousands of hours with them in the field as they prepared for war, then visiting them outside the wire at the front in Afghanistan, and watching them return, I have been privileged to a rare insight into the Canadian experience of war. Coupled with this "time in", I have received several thousand contacts from soldiers, next-of-kin, and civilians, worldwide, in response to my website, my "open workbook", This experience and these contacts have continued to pose serious ethical and aesthetic challenges in my creative work. As a contemporary war artist, I am also very interested in the role trauma plays in narrative. My work includes case studies of some of my fellow artists, two painters, a military Padre, and a war correspondent, and I examine the work of earlier war artists, or rather, artists who have either gone to war, or become "accidental war artists" through circumstance. I consider myself to be one of the latter. These artists include the American poet Brian Turner, the British poet David Jones, Edward Thomas, and an unknown Canadian poet, Quentin Mullen, a sniper who served in Afghanistan in 2002. I am extremely interested in the performative aspects of literature, and narrative psychology, having witnessed the role literature plays in the lives of those serving in the front lines of the war in Afghanistan. The Art of Witness, a Poet's Road to War is meant ultimately to be the opening of a conversation on how one may "read" and communicate war as an artist in the 21st century, and is a manifesto of ethical and aesthetic considerations.

Supervisory Team

Dr. Tim Kendall, Dept. of English Dr.Joseph Crawfod, Dept. of English

Wider Research Interests

* neuropsychology of the reader's experience * military ethics * the role of technology in story, specifically how incidents are reported from the theatre of war verbally in person ("war stories"), through text messaging, social network sites, email, telephone conversations, official reports, media, video, DVDs compiled after the death of a soldier etc.