The Janus Faces of War

A. D. Harvey's study of art and war, while noting the suffering caused by the European wars of the 19th and 20th centuries, highlights the artistic and spiritual creativity released by these struggles. He regards the Great War, unlike World War II (which produced for the most part "tired accents"), as an exhilarating contest, which poets and artists ran to join. Harvey piles up the names and literary works associated with that war and shows that it spurred not only wartime creativity but a postwar culture shaped by military participation. The memorable literature that distilled the wartime experience did not simply rehash the propaganda of the belligerents; instead, it treated the struggle as a purifying or ennobling event without demonizing the enemy. Harvey makes his point by adducing the work of, among many others, Ernst Jünger, Siegfried Sassoon, and Wilfrid Owen, all of whom experienced the agony of trench warfare on the Western front.

What Harvey, who had family on both sides of World War I, does not fully recognize is that some writers had understood what might happen in 1914 and had desperately argued against the European collision. Among the Cassandras of the time were the Habsburg loyalist and dramatist Hugo von Hoffmansthal and Italian novelist and playwright Luigi Pirandello. Both admired the pre-1914 European civilization, had social and cultural affinities with the Latin and Germanic worlds, and perceived...

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