Modern War and Aesthetic Mobilisation: Looking at Europe in 1914

Alisa Miller

Abstract


This article considers how mobilisation inflected European aesthetic contexts in the opening months of the First World War. It traces how, in 1914, urban and rural landscapes altered to accommodate mass armies, and how the visual experience of the war helped to develop broader cultural and political narratives about the need for collective resolve and total commitment to national and Allied efforts. Drawing on literary and epistolary sources, as well as photographs that captured the theatrical and the mundane realities of European cities, frontiers and hinterlands, the article examines how public and private tensions implicit in a war that was both fantastical and deeply problematic for many participants and observers played out when the war was in its infancy. In so doing it also locates the opening months of the war in broader discussions about the appetite for escalating violence: what Susan Sontag describes in Regarding the Pain of Others as making the ‘spectacular not spectacular’ through depictions of twentieth-century war.

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