Monday, October 13, 2008

Militarization and Culture

In a recent issue of Inside Higher Education Keith Gandal writes,

"If English wants again to be in the position Brooks [Peter Brooks, former MLA President] remembered of the 1980s of exporting its analytic and having an influence even in the larger world outside of academia, then it needs to attempt to develop a more accessible style of expression as well as to import from other disciplines. My suggestion for a new direction in literary criticism is what might be called “mobilization studies,” by which I mean not merely the study of war literature, but much more broadly the study of the wide-ranging social and literary effects of mobilizing armies and populations for war and demobilizing them. Analogous to the new sub-field of social-military history developed by historians, “mobilization studies” will be situated at the intersection of policy history, social history, and literary analysis. It was heartening that this year’s Hemingway Society conference invited a social-military historian to give a keynote address. In terms of literary criticism’s engagement both with the issue of war and with other disciplines, let’s hope it is a sign of things to come."

This is something that I am increasingly interested in, perhaps at the level of a dissertation. Discussing documentaries about Cold War demilitarization, War on terror remilitarization, and the global imperatives of the weapons industry. Not sure on a vector or even an object with regard to this issue, but this is something I want to keep in mind for the future in general.

To this end I recently presented a paper at the "Histories of Violence" conference at George Mason University two weeks ago. It was a small conference but generally quite interesting. As with most Cultural Studies events over the last few years, the notion of the biopolitical (as per Foucault) was by far the most used explanatory vehicle. I did meet some similarly interested people working with similar topics that tended to be less anxious and awkward than most academics I tend to meet, which make conferences a little painful. Some particularly interesting work on mechanical means of seeing the battlefield, and questions of violence as undermining the discourses of human rights.

The optics of warfare as the overlap with the aesthetics of representations of war seem to me to be a fundamentally interesting notion, particularly derived from Paul Virilio. Because of this interest I tend to teach the non-canonical War and Cinema, in every one of my media studies and film classes (2 so far). The students tend to find the text slightly confusing, but I am finding it easier to teach. The stakes are a little diffused for these kids in a text that draws parallels between advances in the technologies of "seeing" the battlefield and those of filmmaking, to indicate that war making has become aestheticized, and thus in Western culture seeing and destruction have become coincident. This is perhaps most clear with the "smart bombing" technologies that involve a sort of "point-click-bomb" concept:

I myself find Virilio's discussion of vision and destruction interesting when placed against the work of geographer and photographer Trevor Paglen who uses astro-photograhy to document not only military surveillance satellite technology but also top-secret bases located in Tonopah Valley, Nevada.

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