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War at a Distance: Romanticism and the Making of Modern Wartime.

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War at a Distance Romanticism and the Making of Modern Wartime

What is it like for citizens to go about daily routines while their country sends soldiers to kill and be killed across the globe? Timely and thought-provoking, War at a Distance considers how those left on the home front register wars and wartime in their everyday lives, particularly when military conflict remains removed from immediate perception, available only through media forms.

Favret examines wartime literature and art as varied as meditations on the Iliad , the history of meteorology, landscape painting in India, and popular poetry in newspapers and periodicals; she locates the embedded sense of war and dislocation in works ranging from Austen, Coleridge, and Wordsworth to Woolf, Stevens, and Sebald; and she contemplates how literature provides the public with methods for responding to violent calamities happening elsewhere.

In Favret's compelling image, we are suspended before and between armed conflicts on the shakiest of rope-bridges, and the place of safety we are heading for is out of sight. Engaging clearly and intelligently with critical work by such thinkers as Raymond Williams, Dominick LaCapra, Susan Sontag, and Amanda Anderson, this book demonstrates that the contemporary experience of wartime has its roots in the Romantic imagination.

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To connect all the necessary dots, she needed to lace together a fine web of interrelated texts of all kinds—verbal, visual, and historical. The final product stands up to the weight of scrutiny as well as entertains with a bravura performance of looking back and ahead in equal measures. Mired ourselves at a distance in our endless War on Terror, we should look long and hard at Favret's War at a Distance not only for the sources of our coping mechanisms, but also for the origins of how we separate ourselves from the reality of waging war and, perhaps unconsciously, contribute to how wars begin.

Mary Favret has chosen to explore a related but different question: when and how did we in the anglophone West begin to be preoccupied with war at a distance, war going on elsewhere, war that we cannot see and do not directly feel but which we are always consciously or unconsciously aware of and responsive to? What might be thought to be a modern attitude when held by those at home thinking about family members or fellow citizens risking their lives and killing others hundreds or thousands of miles away?

What is the balance of anxiety and relief in the minds of those on whose behalf distant wars are ostensibly being fought? How normal are the normal lives these wars are said to be protecting?

PA RT II. Invasions

What feeling, if any, is there for those suffering human beings who are not our friends, relatives or fellow citizens? And how do the media stimulate or repress such feelings? Our current wars are highly mediated, made and unmade by the media and the political interests that so often govern them. Evidence of death and destruction may be immediate, flashed across the world in real time by the major networks as on 11 September , or it may take time to be sifted through alternative websites and sources easier to access in some places than others.

Some of what is seen is taken without question as real, even when it looks filmic as with Manhattan ; other items are held up to a compulsively sceptical inquiry about what has or has not been spliced and doctored. Some things remain unseen. War at a Distance explores media conventions and their psychic consequences in the years around , and reflects on how they inform present circumstances.

Project MUSE - War at a Distance

The book is primarily interested in British Romanticism, but Favret is wise enough not to suppose that our present was comprehensively formed by that particular past. Before photography and film, before the telephone and the radio, letters, newspaper reports and works of literature played a much bigger part than they do now and they were supplemented by plays and pageants, prints and paintings, and by the panoramas that became so popular in the s and were so startling in their immersion-effect as to make some spectators faint and tremble. The regular sight of sailors coming ashore and militias exercising was another, non-verbal reminder of the omnipresence of a war of global dimensions, as were the diseased and disabled veterans moving across the landscape there to be encountered by Wordsworth and his like.

But much of this has come down to us chiefly because it was written about, and written about in high-cultural forms like the novels of Jane Austen or the slow-selling poetry of Coleridge and Wordsworth. Favret reminds us that much of the literature of Romanticism was produced and consumed at a time when everyday life was suffused with the awareness of war. This has only recently become clear to critical readers, and that has to do with the felt pressure of our own wars.

War at a Distance: Romanticism and the Making of Modern Wartime

Yet there was no habit of reading the Romantics as poets of wartime after or , so why now? Among the reasons we must surely acknowledge the degree to which higher education has passed out of the control of elites with direct ties to ruling-class ideologies, so that the shell-game of official history can now be decoded more efficiently. We are also more attuned to the phenomenon of bad or unjust wars, or wars that have given rise to massive dissent and disapproval. There was no million-person march at the time of the American or French wars in the late 18th century, although there was a lot of dissent among the elites and presumably, though less widely recorded, among others.

What there was, according to Favret, was the poet William Cowper, publishing The Task in in the aftermath of the American War of Independence, which must be considered a global war even if it did not involve the sheer manpower of the campaigns against revolutionary and Napoleonic France. And it is Cowper, as Favret sees it, who is the epitome of the defensiveness of self before proto-military attack that typifies the Freudian subject in its everyday susceptibility to invasion by outside forces.

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