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War, Form, and Theory

ENGL 765.401

At this seminar’s heart is the question of war’s relationship to time. If form allows us to anticipate experience, then war would always be a war against form—against the prospect of forestructuring “the decision at arms” through prophecy; tactics and strategy; the laws of warfare; codes of military ethics; narratives of sacrifice and destiny; categories such as the sublime, the beautiful, and the uncanny; gendered divisions of labor and vulnerability; and the lineaments of mode and genre. Yet these forms are also the means by which we recognize war as war. Are there forms in war, then? Or only forms before war, and in war’s wake only the ruin of form, to be remade toward the next war?

We will also be centrally concerned with war’s many relationships to teaching and scholarship in the humanities: as imperiling force, as enabling condition, as variously indispensable and indefensible object of study. When does theory understand itself as the continuation of warfare by other means? When, by contrast, does critical discourse turn to the subject of war as a way of phenomenalizing its own self-conception? How do students of representation and discourse assert or disavow their professional competency when it comes to war? To consider these questions, we will pay particular attention to the “nuclear criticism” of the 1980s; to trauma studies and its critics; to recent work on terror, sovereignty, and cosmopolitanism; and to the 2009 PMLA special issue on war.

Readings from among: Immanuel Kant, Carl von Clausewitz, Giulio Douhet, Virginia Woolf, Ford Madox Ford, Carl Schmitt, Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Elizabeth Bowen, Hans Erich Nossack, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Jonathan Schell, Russell Hoban, Elaine Scarry, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Paul Virilio, Paul Mann, Michael Walzer, Dominick LaCapra, Ruth Leys, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, W. G. Sebald, Judith Butler, Giorgio Agamben, Talal Asad.

Undergraduates are not permitted to take 700-level courses.