- Literature and War
"War as a climactic moment in history," David Bevan writes, "is well-placed to advance the critical quest for the status of (the) text, and . . . war literature is thus very much in the mainstream of recent theoretical debate." The current proliferation of critical studies on the relationship of war in the twentieth century and literary production certainly lends considerable support to Bevan's assertion. In 1989 alone, the publication date of this present collection of fourteen essays, at least two other major studies appeared: Paul Fussell's Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War and the anthology Arms and the Woman: War, Gender, and Literary Representation (eds. Cooper, Munich, and Squier). Unfortunately, Literature and War, despite its exciting breadth (the essays range throughout the century, including World Wars One and Two, the Spanish Civil War, Portuguese colonial war, the National Liberation Movement in Uruguay, and Vietnam), fails to deliver in terms of depth, and measures unfavorably against these other studies.
Part of the problem stems from the fact that most of the essays were originally papers delivered at a 1989 conference on "Literature, Revolution and War" held at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. The editor seems to have done little more than arrange the essays in some unspecified manner (roughly chronological?) and add just over a page of "introduction." Although there is nothing wrong with using a conference as the starting-point for an anthology, the reader expects more than mere "proceedings," unless, of course, the editor is up-front from the start and clearly labels the volume as such.
Several of the exceedingly brief essays, when not explicidy peppered with the worries about time and space constraints peculiar to the conference paper, suffer simply from a lack of development. No sooner does the reader settle into an essay than one reaches its conclusion. For example, an essay (in fact, a mere twelve paragraphs) on the novels of Claude Simon and the philosophy of history gestures provocatively toward significant questions investigating how the writer negotiates historical experience and ahistorical vision in order to reconceive the boundaries of generic expectation, but the discussion is too clipped or abbreviated to account adequately for such complex issues. The extreme brevity of this piece (and others) is offset by a few excellent studies, especially Knibb's analysis of the war text and language, Carchidi's reading of Malraux against T. E. Lawrence, and Ball's revealing scrutiny of the underground press of the French Resistance. The final result, however, is a volume that as a whole is uneven.
In his opening remarks, Bevan indicates that such a volume is particularly timely, as we are now in the midst of media commemorations of "sundry fatal anniversaries, including the birth of Hitler, the end of the Spanish Civil War, and the beginning of World War II." This anthology works best to remind readers of this fact and to call more urgently for scholars to join in exploring, perhaps [End Page 682] more fruitfully, the relationship between the war experience and literary representation.