War of the Senses – The Senses in War: Interactions and tensions between representations of war in classical and modern culture War has again become an omnipresent phenomenon, sadly not only in the academic world. In view of the ongoing violence and its huge impact on individual human beings and society as a whole, the question arises how such experiences can be processed and reworked in different cultural contexts.
To what extent do modern war narratives still use patterns deriving from a tradition that reaches back to the classical world? How are the ruptures due to the technological incommensurability between ancient and modern warfare reflected in various media? In accordance with the scope of thersites, the planned special issue on interactions and tensions between representations of war in classical and modern literature and culture emphatically invites innovative contributions that venture beyond the conventional areas and boundaries of (classical) scholarship. For this purpose, reception studies in a broad sense are not constrained to direct responses to classical works or the perspective of classical scholars on contemporary wars, but include comparing and contrasting ancient and modern war narratives in a typological sense.
Finally, the issue is to be addressed in what respects the war experiences of the 20th and 21st centuries have irrevocably transformed our views of the classical texts. The present special issue will highlight the role of sensory perception and the emotions in classical and modern representations of war in literature and other media. In recent years, classical studies have responded to the cultural turn by contextualizing war and violence in the ancient world, from battlefield archeology, the reconstruction of ‘face of battle’-experiences by ancient soldiers and the application of trauma theory to narratological and aesthetical analyses of war narratives in Greek and Roman literature.
However, the role of the senses in experiencing ancient war is still a marginalized topic, despite the fact that current research especially on World War I has foregrounded the impact of modern war as an overwhelming sensory experience. Notwithstanding recent attempts to write a cultural history of the senses from antiquity to the present, the specific quality of sensory and emotional experience in ancient battles and their fictional representations needs to be studied in depth.
In this respect, the field of (fictional) war prose is still largely unexplored, as reception studies have mainly concentrated on the representation of war in Greek literature (Homer, tragedy) and on classical receptions in the modern genres of drama and lyric. Therefore one focus of this special issue of thersites is to lie on war narratives in Roman literature in comparison with modern war novels. For example, based on the hypothesis that the Roman civil wars as well as the First World War both as catastrophes and as catalysts mark crucial thresholds of their respective epochs that brought forth revolutions in politics, society, culture and aesthetics, a comparative approach to the literary productions provoked by these two momentous events seems fruitful. To be sure, any other contributions that study reflections of modern wars from the American or the Spanish Civil Wars to the ongoing wars of the 21st century and their interactions and tensions with wars from various historical and cultural contexts of the ancient world are highly welcome.
A selection of issues to be addressed: comparing and contrasting the psychological and aesthetic dimensions of battle descriptions and aftermath narratives in Roman literature with autobiographic or fictional eyewitness accounts describing the experiences of soldiers fighting in modern wars (e.g. Caesar’s Commentarii and modern war diaries or novels such as Claude Simon, La bataille de Pharsale, 1969, or Alexis Jenni, L’art français de la guerre, 2011; Vergil’s, Lucan’s and Statius’ epics and the historiographical works by Livy and Tacitus compared to modern war novels) representations in literature and other media of experiencing war and battle through the senses; besides the well-known focus on the visual (the general’s gaze), especially the acoustic dimension and the other senses (smell, taste, touch) are to be studied (including synaesthetic phenomena), as well as the emotional responses by audiences interactions between war literature and other media (classical iconographies of war, modern war movies, etc.).
Deadline for the submission of abstracts: November 30, 2015
Specific bibliographical references for the topic are available on request Papers that have been accepted will undergo a peer reviewing process according to the guidelines of thersites: www.thersites.uni-mainz.de