I’m delighted to take part in Waging War and Making Peace: European Ways of Inciting and Containing Armed Conflict, 1648–2020, the 11th Annual Symposium of the Research Network on the History of the Idea of Europe, which was scheduled to take place in Venice, and it has now been moved online
at http://www.ideasofeurope.org/waging-war-and-making-peace/ – 24 June – 3 July 2020
My presentation will focus on Waging Future Wars: Imagined Techno-Apocalypses and the Birth of a Global Consciousness in the European Mind, adopting speculative fiction as a vantage point to examine fears related to techno-scientific progress and racialized enemies.
My research in brief – By the beginning of the Twentieth century, the imagery related to future wars already had precedents, having been a topic touched upon in future-set narratives across different textual genres since the Seventeenth century. It was only by the 1870s, however, that the presence of intertextual references to similar texts, and a shared encyclopaedia of recurring motives had led to the future-war sub-genre taking shape, helped by the emergence of a mass market for magazines and books, a rich breeding ground for popular publishing formulas.
The ensuing decades saw waves of imagined conflicts-to-come especially notable in England, France and Germany, in which technology supplied a spectacular element, while being a focal point for anxieties related to the increasing speed of techno-scientific progress and world connections, as well as to international relations between European powers characterized by instability and/or by the emergence of non-Western actors such as Japan and China, with their economic and demographic power.
Furthermore, technical means of image production and reproduction had a deep impact on how violence and war were represented, disseminated and perceived in European public discourse, with the regular use of photography to document death and slaughter in popular illustrated magazines beginning around 1900.
La guerre infernale was written precisely in this cultural milieu by Pierre Giffard and illustrated by Albert Robida. Published in weekly instalments in 1908, this feuilleton gives the future-war genre a satirical edge, offering a scenario in which a global conflict of massive proportions breaks out in consequence of an argument between the German and the English ambassadors over the serving order of the dessert at a dinner during a philanthropic Conférence de la paix. And while the conflict is triggered by a futile disagreement between European powers, the role of Japan and China in its outcome is a clear reminder of the Russo-Japanese War of a few years before.
This research, through La guerre case study, aims at throwing new light on broader coeval trends as regards war violence and geopolitics representation in fiction, the long-term consolidation of the future as a malleable setting exploited by alternate history, and fears of a techno-scientific driven modernity applied to armed conflicts, as shown by recent experiences geographically located outside the European space (from Southern Africa with the Anglo-Zulu and Anglo-Boer Wars, to China with the Boxer rebellion), but which took centre stage in the late nineteenth-early twentieth European mass media.
The conference – is organised by Matthew D’Auria (University of East Anglia), Rolf Petri (Ca’ Foscari University of Venice), Jan Vermeiren (University of East Anglia). The 11th Annual Symposium of the Research Network on the History of the Idea of Europe aims at exploring and assessing the role war and violence as constant presences in the history of Europe, and at locating pacemaking and containment of violence at the center stage in complex process of European identities negotiations, and long-terms trends in European public discourse.
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