Self at War



If exceptional writers like Conrad, Eliot and Joyce were beginning to ‘dissolve’ Western selfhood from the turn of the century onwards, it was the 1914–18 War which precipitated many less hypersensitive individuals into the existential reality of self-fragmentation. Much of the terminology which could be used about crisis in the self had a literal meaning in battle experience — an experience which in its modern, mechanised form was shared by millions of citizen-soldiers:

To die from a bullet seems to be nothing; parts of our being remain intact; but to be dismembered, torn to pieces, reduced to pulp, this is a fear that flesh cannot support and which is fundamentally the great suffering of the bombardment.2


Anxiety Neurosis Neurotic Symptom Masochistic Sexual Practice Bizarre Imagery Shell Shock 
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  1. 1.
    T. E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph (Penguin, 1969 ), p. 461.Google Scholar
  2. 14.
    Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway (Penguin, 1967).Google Scholar
  3. 16.
    Robert Graves, Poems Selected by Himself (Penguin, 1966), pp. 29–30, 33–4, 35–7.Google Scholar
  4. 19.
    Andrew Rutherford, The Literature of War (Macmillan, 1978). His chapter on Lawrence is entitled ‘The Intellectual as Hero: Lawrence of Arabia’, pp. 38–63.Google Scholar
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    Richard Aldington, Death of a Hero (Hogarth, 1984; first published 1929), pp. 22 and 297.Google Scholar
  6. 28.
    Jon Silkin, Out of Battle: The Poetry of the Great War (Oxford University Press, 1972), p. 130.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Dennis Brown 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Hatfield PolytechnicUK

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