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Writing War

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Humanitas Visiting Professor in War Studies 2012: Jay Winter

Professor Jay Winter (Charles J Stille Professor of History, Yale University) will give a series of three public lectures and a concluding symposium on Imagining War in the 20th Century and After.

Abstract

The lectures explore mediating languages and symbolic forms which writers, artists, and filmmakers have used to represent war since 1900. This attention to language in cultural history is at the core of this interpretation. What we know of war is always mediated knowledge and feeling. The event itself, what Walt Whitman called the red thing, the actual killing, is beyond us. We need lenses to filter out some of its blinding, terrifying light in order to see it at all. The lectures want to draw attention to these lenses as the elements which make understanding war possible at the same time as they limit what we see.

One such element is linguistic in a straightforward sense. The first lecture will make the claim that in whatever language we utter, we speak differently of war. English and French will be taken as points of reference, but those learned in other languages can test this hypothesis easily enough. The claim is that we have as many languages of war as we have languages through which we speak to each other. They are neither interchangeable nor are they transparently equivalent. Each brings its history, its music, its memory of the past with it. We have many languages of war, and once we realize that, we can register the uncomfortable fact that the mountain of literature we have about war is the real tower of Babel of our time.

For more information on this series, please see the following link: http://www.crassh.cam.ac.uk/events/1716/.

This talk is part of the Humanitas series.

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