The Soldier’s Body

Chair: Liam Lenihan, University College Cork


Dorota Sajewska, Institute of Polish Culture, University of Warsaw

Politics of memory. Repressed representations of the Body in Visual Documents of World War I

World War I is seldomly, if ever, dealt with in Polish visual and performance arts history. While the years 1914–1918 have left us a great deal of visual records (photographs, films, postcards, and posters), texts (soldiers’ journals, frontline bulletins, legal documents), and artefacts (weapons, uniforms, military cemeteries), the actual war has been almost entirely repressed in Polish cultural and collective memory. According to the (often nationalistic) discourse dominating in Poland, the Great War was merely a necessary stage in the process through which the country regained its statehood after 123 years of being colonized by Russia, Prussia and Austro-Hungary. Moreover, WWI has never really inspired the feelings of self-importance and victimisation that World War II does.

In my presentation I would like to analyze a very exceptional visual representation of the soldier’s body during WWI. The dominating militaristic propaganda sought, with the aid of the visual media, to uphold the stability of the image of the male soldier as a hard, dry, compact body that is part of a greater whole. I would like to look at two forms of activity by the Polish Legions (a separate formation in the Austro-Hungarian Army), in which the gender aspect – playing games with gender identity – was crucial. The first of these is front-line theatre, the second has to do with the presence of Polish women in the armed forces. The two figures (and their representations) related to these circumstances: male soldiers playing female parts, and female soldiers in men’s clothes seem interesting as ways of undermining the code of the body and the approach to a soldier’s physicality.

In my text, I propose to analyse these phenomena by examining archival sources: photographs, postcards, theatre programmes, political decrees, but also journals and memoirs – and ask a number of important, though hitherto neglected questions. Why do these figures remain unexplored by Polish historical and cultural studies of World War I? Have they, and if so to what extent, been appropriated by discourses of nationality? What was the relation between this queering of the soldier’s identity with pro-independence discourse? To what extent did Polish front-line theatre copy certain models of behaviour from Austrian culture, under whose auspices it did, after all, operate? Did theatre, as a space of fiction, illusion and playfulness maintain or abolish the emancipatory game of identities?

I would like to take a closer look at how this exceptional visual representation of the soldier’s body can be useful in exposing the workings of the politics of memory, in creating alternative codes of representation, and finally, in telling non-normative stories about Polish history.



Edyta Frelik and Jerzy Kutnik, Maria Curie-Sklodowska University, Lublin

Marsden Hartley’s Portrait of a German Officer: (Be)Speaking the Unutterable

In the spring of 1913 American painter Marsden Hartley arrived in Berlin, where the power and uniqueness of his brilliant compositions gained him instant recognition and the respect of the Berlin art world. But his romantic involvement with a young German officer, Karl von Freyburg, turned into an excruciating drama with the latter’s death soon after the outbreak of World War I. Even when satisfied with his work as a painter, Hartley also wanted to be recognized as a writer, regarding painting and writing as complementary and reciprocally conjoined. In 1914 he painted Portrait of a German Officer and then, some years later, wrote a poem, “K. von F. – 1914 – Arras-Bouquoi,” which addressed precisely what he had already depicted in his most acclaimed painting. A composition made up of decorative elements of a German officer’s uniform, it was intended as an homage to von Freyburg. Eschewing traditional expectations about elegiac portraiture and conveying a feeling of bereavement, the painting is one of the most outstanding examples in American art of compositional precision and balance on the one hand and formal exuberance and boldness on the other. The paper offers a “reading” of this work in the context of the accompanying poem, focusing on the glaring difference between them: Hartley’s attempt to relieve, and re-live, in words his persistent grief by refreshing the memory of his German lover and his own dream about him strikes one as a dissonant echo of his original tribute.


Hartley, Marsden (1914). Portrait of a German Officer. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Hartley, Marsden. ‘K. von F. – 1914 – Arras-Bouquoi.’ In (1987) The Collected Poems of Marsden Hartley, 1904-1943. Gail Scott, ed. Santa Rosa: Black Sparrow Press, 219.



Dorothy Rowe, University of Bristol

The Graphic Experience of War: Heinrich Hoerle’s Krüppelmappe (1920)

At the end of 1918 Heinrich Hoerle (1895-1936), who had received a second class iron cross after serving in the field artillery on the Western front, returned to his native town of Cologne. Like so many young artists of his generation, Hoerle was barely 19 when he went to war and he quickly became disillusioned by its horrors. He had come back a changed man, for whom art’s sole purpose could now only be in the service of revolution. Initially a member of Cologne Dada, by 1920 he had joined ‘the New Cologne Painting School,’ a self-styled secession from Dada, also known as ‘Gruppe Stupid’. It was within this context that he produced his first full scale response to the aftermath of war, Die Krüppelmappe (The Cripples Portfolio). The Cripples Portfolio consists of twelve delicately executed lithographs calling for ‘Help for the Crippled’ (Helft dem Kruppel) and drawing attention to the plight of the individual war-wounded soldiers seeking to re-integrate themselves into a society and an economy unable and unwilling to properly support them after their bitter defeat in the First World War. Maimed and wounded veterans are shown in different roles: seeking comfort from loved ones; begging on the streets; haunted by missing limbs, mired in nightmares of exaggerated sexual fantasies; engulfed in both physical and psychological loss and received with fear and horror by those around them. The portfolio was published by Hoerle’s SelbstVerlag (Self Press, later renamed Schloemilch Verlag) and it preceded Otto Dix’s better known graphic response to the First World War, Der Krieg, by four years. This paper seeks to explore how Hoerle’s experiences of war are mediated through his graphic visual responses to it in Die Krüppelmappe, to what extent individual experience is used for radical political effect.


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