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War as Routine: Why We Get Compassion Fatigue

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On 10 January, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky paid a visit to Vilnius. One of the key issues discussed at the Presidential Palace was keeping the world’s focus on Ukraine so that the West does not stand back or waver over continued support to Ukraine until its ultimate victory.

In the latest episode of the Vilnius University (VU) podcast “Mokslas be pamokslų” (“Science without Sermons”), Assoc. Prof. Dr Liudmila Arcimavičienė, researcher at the Faculty of Philology and the Institute of International Relations and Political Science, talks about how the choice of words in war news and related quotes in the public media can shape the way we think and, perhaps, even behave, as well as how and why the topic of war is becoming something of a routine.

 

Wars leave no room for neutrality

 

Indeed, war fatigue is definitely settling across the general public, emerging as a natural response to overexposure to endless discussions and news on the war. There is a certain general feeling of rejection. Therefore, VU linguists have recently attempted to figure out how the presentation of war news can affect our attitudes or even behaviour. Their hypothesis is that the repeating negativity may routinise linguistic constructs related to the violence narrative, thus reducing the sense of aggression and giving legitimacy to such negative contexts.

‘We assume that the way this war is described in the media does trigger some very pessimistic feelings. This is not because journalists might do it deliberately but because the war narrative itself inherently contains certain adverse elements (e.g. ideological opposition) that lead to the routinisation of highly negative emotions,’ says the researcher.

Since the beginning of the large-scale war in Ukraine, it has become obvious that people and countries inevitably have to choose sides. According to the researcher, people are divided into two very clearly defined camps: us and them. ‘We are the ones who are defending ourselves in this war, and they are the ones attacking us. Many researchers have observed that this ideological opposition can become quite damaging over time in terms of human emotions and everyday life. In fact, we do realise that every conflict situation is always very complex, and sometimes it is even impossible to make a clear-cut choice. However, the war narrative forces us to take sides, leaving no room for neutrality,’ explains the linguist.

According to her, staying neutral, in a sense, means giving up universal and fundamental human values, such as freedom and independence. This, in turn, can be very painful to endure.

 

What are the mechanics of war reporting?

 

Having studied statements on the war in the Lithuanian media, the researcher notes that they are harshly criticised in the news because the war has to be legitimised, i.e. the side we support has to be clearly presented. This is evident, first of all, from media quotes. ‘Across all war news, the majority of provided quotations are statements by Ukrainian representatives (12 per cent), followed by American representatives, while those of Russians (0.19 per cent) are cited the least. Russian representatives are not quoted in full, providing only some excerpts from their original quotes.’

When describing the war in the media, their side is Russia, the Kremlin, and Putin, and there is no specific reference other than “people”. At the same time, when it comes to Ukraine, it is always the Ukrainian nation and the President of the country who are mentioned and always personalised. Even the name of the Russian state has been put in lowercase letters.

The researcher notes that this can lead to hostility towards other members of our society because there are people living in Lithuania who are of Russian origin or who have come from this country. This leads to anti-Russian sentiment and unconscious unfriendliness towards this nation and its language. Such tendencies started emerging shortly after the outbreak of the war. ‘I personally remember that when the war started, there was a lot of talk that taxi drivers are fighting through the means of Russian music, language, or radio broadcasts – and why is that? After all, this is our enemy. In this way, the discourse of war can actually influence our everyday lives, tolerance of other people or phenomena, our perception of aggressiveness, and aggression itself.’

 

Decoding war news coverage

 

Assoc. Prof. Dr Arcimavičienė and her team have identified the most discussed topics in the reporting of the war. The first thing to mention is descriptions of military equipment, which are very diverse and detailed, including lots of numbers and names. Another common feature of war news coverage is numbers in general (e. g. casualty figures).

 

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Assoc. Prof. Dr Arcimavičienė. Photo credit: VU

‘Such descriptions contribute to explaining or creating cognitive dissonance in an individual’s life, where aggressiveness may not be justified but is at least rationalised, making it something that can be calculated, predicted, and planned. On the one hand, this rationalisation of aggressive behaviour creates a certain sense of security, making us believe that the war is under control, the necessary actions are underway, and that we are heading towards victory. And then we expect a certain result. But, on the other hand, then we see the casualty figures. People, similarly to military equipment, become statistical units.’ In this case, it is assumed that the value of human life is diminishing, empathy starts fading, and people are becoming more tolerant of death.

According to the researcher, at the onset of the war, the dominant emotions raised by the news were fear and horror. How could it happen at all? A war has broken out in the 21st century; how is this even possible? Basically, every single report on casualties horrified us. Now, it seems that we can read about such atrocities more calmly over a cup of coffee. Human life has turned into a statistical unit, and all this has become routine.

‘This is the effect of language – when people keep reading certain messages for a long period of time, they tend to make some associations and start unconsciously perceiving the situation in that specific way, no longer having any control over their own judgment. The war narrative always has its consequences. That is what we seek to investigate – how do people in Lithuania actually feel?’

The linguist points out that the news coverage also contains a lot of disputes over relations between the parties. More specifically speaking, the narrative of mutual relations concerns the involved countries. It is used in the context of the war and political relations – who is really supporting Ukraine, and who is betraying it for money or other economic gain?

 

People need drama

 

We are used to dramatic content in our daily lives (watching certain movies, reading books, etc.), so the fight against evil is also expected to be dramatic and lead to victory. People react unconsciously, expect only the desired outcome, and cannot accept any other options. However, the war has been dragging on for almost three years now, and the anticipated victory has not materialised; thus, it can cause the routinisation and rejection of such news.

Public quotations on the war are also drawing a certain dramatic line. Volodymyr Zelensky has chosen a very clear communication strategy – to consistently report on casualties and use this as a means to keep the global focus on the war in Ukraine.

According to Assoc. Prof. Dr Arcimavičienė, in times of war, political leaders, as well as their speeches and public appearances, are of paramount importance. They use their statements to unite the nation, mobilise it, and make it hungry for victory. ‘Volodymyr Zelensky always talks about the “peace formula”, suggesting that we have a specific formula that could be applied to ensure peace, but it does not work that way. Moreover, he always mentions the Ukrainian nation in his speeches, using the pronoun we – we are working, we are strong – to mobilise and reassure Ukrainians. The key thematic concepts used by Zelensky are freedom, strength, and victory over evil,’ says the linguist.

 

How to maintain focus and empathy?

 

When asked how to keep people focused on the war coverage but at the same time not in a state of constant anxiety, Assoc. Prof. Dr Arcimavičienė says that the best way is to talk and write about real people, tell their true personal stories, show how they live, how they feel, and why victory is important to them personally. ‘Reading such texts makes us more empathetic to other people and lost lives because the narrative of war and statistics used in the news only serve to reduce the sense of empathy and to justify or even reinforce aggression.’

The researcher suggests paying attention to the simple things in our daily lives – how we use words and how we speak. ‘Every word is extremely important (as it also affects our behaviour), especially in the challenging times of war. Journalists have a great responsibility here because they must both present the facts as they are and also wrap them in such words that would not fuel aggressive attitudes and actions.’

Season's Greetings

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Guest lecture by Finnish scholar Dr Maria Ahlholm

December 5th the Scandinavian Centre will host the visit of Dr. Maria Ahlholm from the University of Helsinki. She will talk on “Translanguaging in the school: implications for conception of language and language pedagogy” at 13.00 o’clock in seminar room 314 AB (in Engliish).

Maria Ahlholm is an Adjunct Professor in Finnish language, with specification in applied linguistics, and her recent research has focused on the language acquisition of newly arrived immigrants, refugees and children. You are warmly welcome to hear about multilingual schools in Finland and discuss current pedagogical trends!

Guest lectures by Prof M. J. Driscoll

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On December 5–7th Prof M. J. Driscoll ((University of Copenhagen) will deliver a series of lectures for Scandinavian Centre students. We kindly invite everyone interested!


5th December 9 a.m. Room 314 AB


Icelandic manuscripts and texts: An introduction

My lecture is intended as an introduction to Icelandic manuscripts, intended primarily for people interested in learning how to read Icelandic texts in their original form, that is to say in manuscripts, or in printed editions prepared on the basis of such manuscripts. It will cover the basics of Icelandic manuscript studies, from codicology and palaeography to textual criticism, but its principal aim is to give readers an understanding of manuscripts and manuscript transmission.

Preparatory reading:

Guðvarður Már Gunnlaugsson: “Manuscripts and palaeography”, A companion to Old Norse- Icelandic literature and culture, ed. Rory McTurk (Oxford, 2005), pp. 245-264.

Soffía Guðný Guðmundsdóttir, Laufey Guðnadóttir and Anne Mette Hansen: “Book production in the Middle Ages”, 66 manuscripts from the Arnamagnæan collection, ed. M. J. Driscoll and Svanhildur Óskarsdóttir (Copenhagen, 2015), pp. 211-228.


6th December 3 p.m. Room 314 AB


Popular romance in late pre-modern Iceland

Several longer-form, vernacular narrative genres of medieval Icelandic literature can be subsumed under the general heading “romance”. The bulk of these are known as riddarasögur (lit. Sagas of knights) in Icelandic. These are essentially chivalric romances, either 13th-century translations of predominately French romances or younger original Icelandic compositions using some of the same characters, settings and motifs as the translated romances. There about a dozen of the former, most of them translated in Norway but found almost exclusively in Icelandic manuscripts, and between 30 and 40 of the latter. A large number of similar sagas – somewhere around 150 – survive from the post-medieval period, but these have yet to attract much scholarly interest. The fornaldarsögur Norðurlanda (lit. Sagas of ancient times in the lands of the north) are also very much in the romance vein – formulaic, episodic quest narratives with a strong element of the fabulous and a happy ending – but take place in a Viking rather than a chivalric milieu. There are about 35 of these sagas preserved from the medieval period, and roughly an equal number composed after the middle ages. In my lecture I will present this material and discuss its transmission history.

Preparatory reading:

Barnes, Geraldine: “Romance in Iceland”, Old Icelandic literature and society, ed. Margaret Clunies Ross (Cambridge, 2000), pp. 266-286.

Driscoll, Matthew James: “Late prose fiction (lygisögur)”, A companion to Old Norse-Icelandic literature and culture, ed. Rory McTurk (Oxford, 2005), pp. 190-204.


7th of December 1 p.m. Room Sp1


The Icelandic rímur

The Icelandic rímur (lit. ‘rhymes’) are uniquely Icelandic, long narrative poems in complex meters, normally comprising several cantos or fits. The number of fits in one rímur cycle could vary from two or three to several dozen. The fits were in turn divided into stanzas, typically numbering between 30 and 100. Around 70 rímur survive from the medieval period, the majority of them anonymous. Rímur remained popular in Iceland until well into the modern age, and in all over a thousand rímur have survived. Rímur were almost invariably based on pre-existing prose narratives. Almost any story could be used, but the majority of rímur are based on romances of one kind or another, typically the mythical heroic sagas (fornaldarsögur) or chivalric romances (riddarasögur). Rímur were intended to be recited aloud, intoned in a manner called “að kveða”, best described as something between singing and speaking. Several hundred rímurmelodies have survived into the modern age, many of them clearly of some antiquity. In my lecture I will present the most important features of the rímur and play recorded clips from actual performances.

Preparatory reading:

Hughes, Shaun F.D.: “Late secular poetry”, A companion to Old Norse-Icelandic literature and culture, ed. Rory McTurk (Oxford, 2005), pp. 205-222. 


About the professor


M. J. Driscoll is Professor of Old Norse Philology at the Arnamagnæan Institute, a research centre within the Department of Nordic Studies and Linguistics at the University of Copenhagen’s Faculty of Humanities. He holds degrees from the University of Stirling (BA (Hons.) 1979), Háskóli Íslands (Cand.mag. 1988) and Oxford University (DPhil 1994).

His research interests include manuscript and textual studies, particularly in the area of late pre-modern Icelandic. He also has a long-standing interest in the Digital Humanities, and served for many years on the technical council of the Text Encoding Initiative.

His publications include over 50 articles on various aspects of pre-modern Icelandic literature, editions and translations of a number of medieval and post-medieval Icelandic works, including Sigurðar saga þögla (Reykjavík, 1992), Ágrip af Noregskunungasögum (London, 1995, 2nd ed. 2008) and Fjórar sögur frá hendi Jóns Oddsonar Hjaltalín (Reykjavík, 2006), as well as the monograph The unwashed children of Eve: The production, dissemination and reception of popular literature in post-Reformation Iceland (London, 1997).

Guest lecture “Every book in every language on every subject”: Hernando Colón’s universal library and the Libro de los epitomes

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Source: https://bookofbooks.ku.dk

We kindly invite you to a guest lecture “Every book in every language on every subject”: Hernando Colón’s universal library and the Libro de los epitomes by Prof M. J. Driscoll (University of Copenhagen) on December 7th, 3 p.m. at Room V. Krėvės (118).


Annotation


In the beginning of the 16th century, Hernando Colón, son of the navigator Christopher Columbus, set out to build a universal library, one which would contain “all the books, in all languages and disciplines, that can be found within Christendom and without”. By the time of his death in 1539, Colón’s library in Seville comprised over 15000 volumes of predominantly printed books, the largest private library in the world at the time. To manage it all, he designed a revolutionary cataloguing system consisting of a number of cross-referenced inventories. All of these survive today in the Biblioteca Colombina in Seville, with the exception of one, the “Libro de los epitomes”, which was meant to contain short summaries of the contents of every book in the library. This had been presumed missing for half a millennium but was recently identified among the manuscripts in the Arnamagnæan Collection at Copenhagen University, of which it had been a part since the end of the 17th century. 

In my presentation I will describe the Libro and its contents and how it relates to the other bibliographical tools developed by Colón. I will also present the research project I lead, funded by the Carlsberg foundation and a private doner, which has as its aim the production of a full transcription of the text of the Libro and a study of its contents.

For more information on the project, see here >>


About Prof M. J. Driscoll


M. J. Driscoll is Professor of Old Norse Philology at the Arnamagnæan Institute, a research centre within the Department of Nordic Studies and Linguistics at the University of Copenhagen’s Faculty of Humanities. He holds degrees from the University of Stirling (BA (Hons.) 1979), Háskóli Íslands (Cand.mag. 1988) and Oxford University (DPhil 1994).

His research interests include manuscript and textual studies, particularly in the area of late pre-modern Icelandic. He also has a long-standing interest in the Digital Humanities, and served for many years on the technical council of the Text Encoding Initiative.

His publications include over 50 articles on various aspects of pre-modern Icelandic literature, editions and translations of a number of medieval and post-medieval Icelandic works, including Sigurðar saga þögla (Reykjavík, 1992), Ágrip af Noregskunungasögum (London, 1995, 2nd ed. 2008) and Fjórar sögur frá hendi Jóns Oddsonar Hjaltalín (Reykjavík, 2006), as well as the monograph The unwashed children of Eve: The production, dissemination and reception of popular literature in post-Reformation Iceland (London, 1997).

Guest lecture by H. Wahlström Henriksson "Single Fathers Fail: Swedish cinema and (non)stigmatization of single parents"

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MotherNet member Professor Helena Wahlström Henriksson from Uppsala University will visit Vilnius University and on December 8 at 3 PM give a lecture Single Fathers Fail: Swedish cinema and (non)stigmatization of single parents (Room 314 B, Vilnius University Centre for Scandinavian Studies).


About the lecture

Representations of fathers and fatherhood in popular culture contribute to establishing the “ideational – and ideological – centrality of fatherhood” across cultures (Wahlström Henriksson 2020, 323). From a feminist perspective it is crucial to investigate these representations, since they “are part of the social fabric within which understandings of fatherhood take shape (Wahlström Henriksson 2020, 324). Furthermore, since single parenthood is a highly feminized phenomenon, it is important to investigate how “media images and representations intertwine with political and social ideologies” (Gallagher 2014, 27) to convey messages about single fathers.

This chapter explores representations of single fathers in 20th century Swedish fictional film, how gender, class, ethnicity, and age figure in these representations, and how they speak to their contemporary political and ideological context. Premiering between 2013 and 2022, they all have a single father as a central character: Mig Äger ingen (Nobody Owns Me 2013), Min så kallade pappa (My So-called Dad 2014), Yarden (The Dockyard 2016); these films reached wide audiences and also received both critical awards and much media attention. The analysis engages in critical dialogue with international film studies scholarship on (single) fatherhood (Bruzzi 2005; Hamad 2013; Åström 2015; Dole 2021).

Given that lone/single parenthood is “normalized” rather than socially/morally stigmatized in Sweden, and given the ways that Sweden has promoted fathers – including single fathers – as (potential) primary parents in family policy, these films become particularly intriguing due to their predominantly negative construction of single fatherhood as marked by failure and dysfunction. I argue that they offer a counter-discourse to dominant socio-political discourses, and problematize the normative idea that single parenthood is normal and non-stigmatized. But in a political climate increasingly marked by conservatism and nationalism these films are also troubling, for they can be read as feeding into reactionary discourses about family forms and values. Hence, I read the figure of the “failing single father” as one that may question as well as strengthen dominant ideologies.

This visit is a part of MotherNet project and has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 952366.

International Mini Conference: Crossroads of the Christian Spaces

On November 9th (Thursday) we invite you to an international mini conference Crossroads of the Christian Spaces: Missions, Exile, and Peregrination in Early Modern Europe.

Programme and more information >

Facebook event >

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