Feminist Studies of War and Peace
Elisabeth Krimmer (University of California, Davis, USA) [BIO]
This paper explores possible venues for feminist interventions in discourses and representations of war. It is widely acknowledged that most novels, dramas, and poems of war are authored by men, but little attention is paid to the fact that scholarly interpretations of these texts are also predominantly written by men. In this paper, I argue that the predominance of male-authored scholarship on war has led to a number of elisions:
- Current German scholarship on texts about war focuses on content, in particular, on the issue of authenticity. A feminist study of war would pay attention to the content of the form, i.e., it would conceive of narrative and stylistic devices as carriers of ideological meaning. For example, Evelyn Cobley has shown that the genre of Bildungsroman influenced numerous war novels and re-introduced a teleological structure that the thematic focus on the suffering and chaos of war appears to deny.
- Frequently, warfare is conceived as the antithesis of civil society. In contrast, feminist studies would focus on the subtle links between discourses of war and seemingly unconnected philosophical and cultural concepts and thus would be able to show that warfare is not the ‘Other’ of civil society but integrated into its very core. For example, the feminist author Jelinek has drawn attention to the nexus of warfare and the sublime and of violence and genius. Jelinek’s Das Werk links Goethe’s Faust and “geballte Fäuste” and connects the motif of “wandern,” in frequent allusions to Schubert’s Winterreise, with the restlessness of a “Volk ohne Raum.” Feminist scholarship could further explore such connections. In particular, the link between the concept of war and the notion of the sublime is evident in numerous texts on war including works by Schiller, Jünger, and Handke.
- Feminist studies of war would foreground the representation of gender and the body in texts about war. Elaine Scarry has drawn attention to the problematic disappearance of the human body from accounts of war. However, re-introducing the body in pain into texts of war is itself fraught with problems. Texts such as Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front depict the body in pain but embrace the Cartesian hierarchy of body and mind. This reduces humans to ‘pure’ bodies deprived of all notions of agency and effectively renders resistance to war impossible.
- Feminist study would have to ask what constitutes an anti-war text and whether there is a difference between anti-war texts and texts of peace or “Friedenstexte,” as Peter Handke has called his controversial texts about the war in Yugoslavia.
- Feminist studies of war would seek to expand the category of war texts to include not only texts that portray frontlines and battlefields, but also texts on the home front, i.e., texts that depict the lasting impact of war on society and the individual, as well as texts that look at war ‘sideways,’ for example, through and analysis of the factors and motivations that lead to war.
- Finally, feminist studies of war and peace could contribute a refined, non-dualistic understanding of categories of victim and perpetrator that are central to many representations of war.