- Introduction: Spaces of Conflict, Spaces in Conflict
On a fundamental level, war is a practice of space.1 From the front lines to the home front, from geopolitical disputes over borders and territory to ideological battles over who can inhabit a given space and under what conditions, space is both the “subject and venue” of war – both what is contested, and the site of that contestation (McLoughlin 86). During wartime, soldiers and civilians alike must negotiate conflict as a condition of everyday life; whether in the trenches or far from combat zones, war affects the way space is lived. At the same time, space conditions war: the trenches, no man’s land, aerial views, and prisoner-of-war camps of World War I; the ‘liberated’ cities of WWII; the exoticized lands of distant empires; the everyday spaces that are ostensibly excluded from organized conflict.
Extending the physical and conceptual space of war beyond the battlefield has required its own disciplinary struggles, notably waged by feminist scholars, who have challenged the spatial rhetoric that shapes the way war has been understood. As Chris Cuomo writes, “The spatial metaphors used to refer to war as a separate, bounded sphere indicate assumptions that war is a realm of human activity vastly removed from normal life, or a sort of happening that is appropriately conceived apart from everyday events in peaceful times” (30). If the “bounded” notion of war risks obfuscating the “omnipresence of militarism” (Cuomo 31), at the other end of the spectrum, the notion of “total war” that makes protagonists of the whole society “admits of no case studies, no exceptions, no better or worse exemplars,” as [End Page 339] Paul Saint-Amour has recently observed (421). Cuomo and Saint-Amour plot a Scylla and Charybdis that our special issue of Romance Notes hopes to navigate. On the one hand, our contributors focus on those who are “at war” but not at war, who belong to communities engaged in conflict but are not themselves directly involved in combat – at least not on the battlefield. On the other hand, these spaces of war and the subjects that condition and are conditioned by them maintain their historical, geographical specificity.
Each of the eight essays in this issue explores how subjects manipulate the spaces of conflict that constitutively exclude them (as women, children, prisoners, cowards, colonial subjects, poets), reclaiming the authority to redefine both generic conventions and the conceptual boundaries of war. The organization of the articles is loosely thematic; we hoped to avoid imposing a developmental narrative, instead allowing readers to make other types of connections that might surface through contiguity and comparative analysis. Several of our contributors attend to the ways in which being “at war” might allow those on the margins of involved nations or societies to make (their) place. In these readings, the literary or filmic representation of war incidentally creates alternative spaces of conflict that, for the writers and filmmakers studied, are coextensive with or even supersede the war itself: the front page of French daily newspapers during World War I becomes a space for female journalists to make their name by making the war their own (Corbin), documentary film becomes a terrain for contesting the hegemony of metropolitan representations of Francophone Africa (Gabara), the delocalized space of narrative fiction becomes a testing ground for negotiating and resisting war’s strategic order (Bernard-Hoverstad). By bringing together scholars working in diverse historical, cultural, linguistic, and disciplinary contexts, we sought to account for the specificity of war experiences while facilitating a broader, transcultural reflection on the space and place of war in Francophone and Italophone cultures from World War I to the present. Taking the bidirectional play of war and its literal and metaphorical spaces as a point of departure, the essays that follow situate war within a nexus of other key themes: gender, class, empire, decolonization, history, and memory.
The constitutive role of gender in locating war – and of war in locating gender – informs the first two essays in the volume, which reinforce Cynthia Enloe’s notion that, even far from any battlefield, “[w]ars are never ‘over there’” (97). In her reading of...