- Waging War on War: Peacefighting in American Literature by Giorgio Mariani
Waging War on War: Peacefighting in American Literature
Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2015. xxi + 268 pp.
Giorgio Mariani's Waging War on War: Peacefighting in American Literature is a theoretically informed, refreshingly innovative perspective on the understudied genre of anti-war literature. As its subtitle implies, Mariani's project bears special significance for the literary history of a nation that takes pride in the putatively regenerative powers of American violence. Indeed, as Werner Sollors has remarked, insofar as it contributed to the growth of war, rather than peace, the history of American studies itself "may be first and foremost a child of war" (46). By proposing that anti-war literature changes how we write about and study US wars, Waging War on War also introduces provocative challenges to the emergent field of peace studies.
Mariani says that at the outset of this project he intended to provide an account of the genre of US war literature. His decision to confine his project to an exploration of literary case studies drawn from the subgenre of anti-war literature resulted from two interrelated discoveries: that it is impossible in a single monograph to do interpretive justice to the overpopulated field of US war literature and that all war literature is underwritten by an anti-war substratum. Building upon these findings, Mariani defines the subgenre of anti-war literature as comprised of works "ostensibly engaged both in writing about war and violence and in writing against war and violence, works waging war on war in often subtle and intellectually stimulating ways" (x).
As Mariani's definition suggests, the notion of anti-war literature is inherently paradoxical. Readers desirous of confining anti-war literature to a coherent, self-consistent definition will be dismayed to discover that the complex nature of anti-war literature perforce exceeds the narrow confines of a binary pro-war vs. anti-war logic. Because the anti-war novel must exist simultaneously in opposition and proximity to war, no anti-war text can altogether repudiate war. Moreover, all anti-war texts are at risk of enacting the very violence they purportedly wish to denounce. [End Page 114]
Waging War on War draws on recent work on anti-war literature by Kate McLoughlin and Cynthia Wachtell. With the exception of these writers, very few critics have attempted to define anti-war literature as a genre in its own right. This lapse, Mariani argues, is due to the innate difficulty of defining the subject matter proper to this genre. Mariani's foundational assertion that what we have thought of as anti-war literature is in fact not a stable category enables him to re-evaluate the archive of significant writings collected under this subgenre. Mariani also raises heretofore unasked questions and introduces distinctions that open new pathways of interpretation.
Insofar as this subgenre poses ethical as well as epistemological questions, it renders the moral and political stance that an anti-war text takes toward war and violence a matter of decisive concern. The category of anti-war literature is likewise indispensable to an understanding of the representational challenges facing any writer of war literature. Peace is inevitably entangled with war. Peace, that is to say, is neither utterly removed from war nor, like anti-war, utterly tethered to its dialogical counterpart. As each other's Other, peace and war remain in a double relationship in which they at once animate yet resist one another. Different yet connected, peace and war are inseparable yet in a permanent state of tension. Indeed a war novel is always a war-and-peace novel in that it is a novel one reads with the intention of assessing not only its representation of war but also its image of war's Other.
The images of peace must be assessed in terms of the peace-war complex. When reading war literature, readers need to understand the extent to which the peace projected by the text is continuous or discontinuous with the text's imagining of armed conflict. Even though the war-peace nexus can never be completely broken, some war...