Louis-Ferdinand Céline and William March fought in the first World War, Gerd Ledig in the second, and Curzio Malaparte was a war correspondent in the second World War. All four writers used their often traumatic war experiences as a basis for their novels. In this project I will read Céline’s Voyage au Bout de la Nuit, March’s Company K, Ledig’s Kaputt and Malaparte’s Stalinorgel as attempts as ‘Writing War’.
The term ‘Writing War’ alludes to the ‘Writing Culture’ debate in anthropology. This debate highlights the paradoxes and the aporia within the ethnographical claim to ‘represent cultures’ by focusing on literary strategies of ethnographic writing. Against this background, my project starts from the assumption that war literature can be read as ethnography. However, in reading these novels as ‘literary ethnographies’ I do not mean to ignore the apparent differences between literature and anthropology. Literary texts and ethnographies are different forms of discourse. ‘War participating authors’ are not participant observers in an anthropological sense and there is a significant difference between the ethnographical aim to describe a ‘foreign culture’ and the literary observing and describing of war as foreign culture. What makes the interconnection between literary texts, or more specifically, between war literature and ethnographies, promising is their shared focus on various and complex forms of alterity, on the im/possibility of (re)presentation and on ambivalent experiences of regression.
Drawing a correlation between ethnography and literature enables me to examine the way that war literature radicalises an ethnographic handling of alterity. My thesis is that Voyage au Bout de la Nuit, Company K, Kaputt and Stalinorgel confront the ethnographic difficulty of coping with the ‘foreign’, the ‘other’, and the unutterable. I suggest these texts simultaneously observe war as an experience of radical foreignness, as the other of modernity, as regression in primitive aggression and as the product of modern civilisation. In doing so, they show twentieth century war experience as experience of a foreign culture and they represent one’s own culture as radically other.
The book has been published in 2014: Writing War. Kriegsliteratur als Ethnographie bei Ernst Jünger, Louis-Ferdinand Céline und Curzio Malaparte. Film - Medium - Diskurs, Bd. 55. Würzburg.