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  • The Nine Grounds of Intellectual Warfare
  • Paul Mann

Prediction (1994)

We are about to witness a rise of “war studies” in the humanities. On your next plane trip the person beside you dozing over a copy of Sun Tzu’s Art of War might not be a corporate CEO but a professor of philosophy. There will soon be whole conferences on warfare; more courses in liberal arts curricula on the theory and literature of warfare; special issues of journals on war studies published not by historians or social scientists but by literary critics; new studies of the culture of the Kriegsspiel; new readings of Homer, Kleist, Crane. Books of gender criticism on the subject of war are already appearing, and essays on Clausewitz are now liable to turn up in literary journals and books of critical theory.1 And we will hear more and more of the sort of moral outrage critics exercised during the Gulf War over the way the video-game imagery of computer simulations displaced grievous bodily harm.

Perhaps this imminent frenzy of production will open another front in the current campaign against the aesthetics of ideology. To the extent that modern warfare depends on the eclipse of the real by images, cultural critics would seem especially qualified to analyze it. Elaine Scarry: “it is when a country has become to its citizens a fiction that wars begin.”2 If this is the case, if war arises from an investment in certain fictions, then critics of fiction ought to be able to teach us to read war critically — and, along the way, to establish the moral and political gravity of their own work. What is at issue here, however, are not only analyses of war but also analogies of it. We will burrow into the archives of warfare because we will see, or at least want to see, criticism itself as a form of warfare. We will project an image of ourselves onto a field of study and recognize our reflection in it. Gender critics already study war discourse in order both to attack its violent phallicism and to conceive gender struggle itself along strategic lines. We have theory wars, PC wars, linguistics wars, Gerald Graff’s culture wars, Avital Ronell appropriating the war on drugs for a theory of reading.3 Vast energies will be expended not only on the archives and rhetoric of warfare but on the warcraft of rhetoric and critical inquiry, on the “violence” of the question, on the “mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms” that, for Nietzsche, make up what is called truth.4

We will pursue the subject of warfare because we will increasingly see a relationship between our own activity and warfare. Let me articulate the law that governs this movement: Critical discourse always tends toward the eventual phenomenalization, as objects of study, of the devices that structure it. War becomes a field of critical study when critics come to believe, however obliquely, that criticism has always been a field of warfare. And warfare not only in the narrow terms of intellectual difference, but in the most material terms as well. If, for Clausewitz, war is an extension of policy, for Paul Virilio the reverse is true: politics and culture are, from the outset, extensions of warfare, of a logistical economy that encompasses and ultimately exhausts all of society. Standard critiques of the coordination of scientific research with the “military-industrial complex” are already being extended to include the ideological state apparatus; for Virilio, technology as such is a logistical invention and in one way or another always answers logistical demands, and the same point will be made about technologies of representation.5 The humanities are in a mood to see the complicity of what Enzensberger called the “consciousness industry” in the military-industrial-knowledge complex, to see themselves at one and the same time as ideological agents of the state’s “war machine” and as warriors against the state.6 I will have more to say about this contradiction.

To repeat: The object of criticism is always a symptom, if you will, of the structure of critical discourse itself, always a phenomenalization of the device. But this device...

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