The Language of War: Literature and Culture in the U.S. from the Civil War through World War II

ISBN 10: 0674006488 / ISBN 13: 9780674006485
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The Language of War examines the relationship between language and violence, focusing on American literature from the Civil War, World War I, and World War II. James Dawes proceeds by developing two primary questions: How does the strategic violence of war affect literary, legal, and philosophical representations? And, in turn, how do such representations affect the reception and initiation of violence itself? Authors and texts of central importance in this far-reaching study range from Louisa May Alcott and William James to William Faulkner, the Geneva Conventions, and contemporary American organizational sociology and language theory.

The consensus approach in literary studies over the past twenty years has been to treat language as an extension of violence. The idea that there might be an inverse relation between language and violence, says Dawes, has all too rarely influenced the dominant voices in literary studies today. This is an ambitious project that not only makes a serious contribution to American literary history, but also challenges some of the leading theoretical assumptions of our day.

From the Back Cover: From the Book During war language is censored, encrypted, and euphemized; imperatives replace dialogue, and nations communicate their intentions most dramatically through the use of injury rather than symbol; talks are broken off, individuals are reduced to silence by traumatic experience, and witnesses are exterminated. War's violence shrinks langauge and damages communication; this diminishment of discourse (arguments, pleas, justifications, appeals for sympathy) in turn enables more violence. In the following chapters three primary features in the development of modern violence are examined: first, the multiplication of violence in the Civil War, with its unthinkable body-counts and its anguished deabte over the moral status of both the individual soldier and the language used to commemorate him; second, the industrialization of violence in World War I, with its startling innovations in weapons technology and its subsequent destabilization of basic moral categories like caring and harming, intimacy and injury; and third, the rationalized organization of violence in World War II, which saw language shattered in the centralizing bureaucracies of the military-industrial complex and reinvented in the rise of international human rights law. Drawing upon legal theory, moral philosophy, and organizational sociology, this book analyzes how the pressures of violence in each historical moment gave rise to important changes in aesthetic forms and cultural discourses, and develops a theory of force and discourse that links specialized modes of verbalization to the deceleration of violence.

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