Commentators have longed noted that the United States has remained more or less persistently at war since the outset of World War II. That war morphed into a decades-long Cold War, which in turn morphed after a brief hiatus into the Global War on Terror. Along the way, war became regnant model for sustained governmental engagement with any serious problem, so that we would have wars on cancer, poverty, drugs, obesity, and the like. This course examines this broad military paradigm’s aesthetic implications. We will examine the military-industrial complex’s enlistment of cultural practitioners (through direct and indirect funding of the arts); we will consider the ways in which perpetual wars require sufficiently abstract targets so that their efforts could be measured in largely “aesthetic” terms, to quote the Nobel Prize winning nuclear theorist Thomas Schelling; we will assess the American novel’s investment in war as an authorizing subject matter in a time when the novel’s status was under assault; and we will question whether American postmodernism could be best understood in terms of the problems and opportunities occasioned by the complicity of United States culture in the nation’s perpetual martial regime. We will imagine what the United States would look like were it not at war and explore the extent to which its artists have themselves met that challenge.
Our readings will consist of an eclectic mix of short-fiction, longer-form journalism, military theory, aesthetic theory, and political philosophy. Over the course of the week each of us will construct a counter-military response to an individually chosen work of art. While these responses may take the form of an expository essay, other forms of expression (fictional, visual, narrative, etc.) will also be welcome.
About Deak Nabers:
Deak Nabers teaches English at Brown University. He is the author of Victory of Law: The Civil War, the Fourteenth Amendment, and American Literature, 1852-1866. His current book project, entitled The Martial Imagination, examines the impact of nuclear weapons on postwar American liberalism and the rise of postmodernism. He is one of the founders of Post•45, the preeminent academic society devoted to the study of later twentieth-century American literature and culture, and he sits on the board of its journal and its book series.