Understanding crises through text: how can we speak about, write about, crises?

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The following framework and resources support the analysis and discussion of texts about, or written in times of, crisis. This resource is for learners aged 16–19.

Writing poetry, and literary texts in general terms, is one of the ways in which writers who go through a crisis try to make sense of it and gain a deeper understanding of it. Literature is a medium in which language, emotion, reason, perception and imagination interact. Through literature, writers depict their experience of a crisis and communicate to others a view of it. 

Reading literature written in the context of any crisis helps people to interact with the author’s experience of that crisis and understand the writer’s view of it. If the reader is a contemporary of the writer, and is experiencing or has experienced the same crisis, reading may lead to deeper understanding, either by engaging with a different perspective of it or by having one’s own experience of it expressed in powerful words.   

If the reader has not experienced the particular crisis the writer is portraying, reading allows them to have a vicarious experience of it and relate it to crises they have gone through. In this sense, reading is a bridge that invites readers to consider what different crises have in common, and whether a writer’s understanding of a particular event may not help shed light on a different one. 

These resources show writers interacting with, and reflecting on, the idea of crisis, in the form of war. They have been selected to prompt students’ engagement with a particular crisis, the war being fought today in Ukraine. War in Ukraine, or war seen through the eyes of Ukrainian writers, is what brings these sources together. 

Framework for analysis and discussion

A framework for the analysis and discussion of these resources—which we hope can be applied also to other resources about this war, or any other crisis—is suggested below. 

  • Which perspectives about war are expressed in these resources? 
  • Language, emotion, reason, perception and imagination are ways of knowing that help human beings understand events. 
    • How do these ways of knowing interact in each of these resources? 
    • For each of writers in these resources, decide whether there are any of these ways of knowing that prevail over the others or seem to be more central in the way the writer tries to make sense of war. 
  • In what ways is the interaction of a literary writer with war different from the one that a journalist, a historian or a columnist would have? Which type of understanding of war does literature offer which is different from the one that history, politics or journalism offer? 
  • Which answer, if any, do each of these resources provide to the question of what a writer can or must do in the context of war? Which answer does each of these resources give to the question of how one can speak about and write about war? 
  • How do the views and experiences of war expressed in these resources compare with others you may have interacted with in literary texts about other wars?  (If students have not had previous experience with war literature, these are examples of sites that they could be invited to consult:

Resources to help understand crises through text