John Sargent, Gassed, 1919

World War One Experienced: A Social and Cultural History of WWI

Instructor: Suzanne Schneider
Dizzy’s Diner
230 5th Avenue
(corner of 5th & President)
Brooklyn, NY 11215

“A generation that had gone to school on a horse-drawn streetcar now stood under the open sky in a countryside in which nothing remained unchanged but the clouds, and beneath these clouds, in a field of force of destructive torrents and explosions, was the tiny, fragile human body.”

 -Walter Benjamin, “The Storyteller”


World War One produced a kind of horrific wonder. Massive in scale, powered by the tools of industrial progress, and generative of unprecedented levels of destruction, the war spurred a seismic shift in cultural, political, and aesthetic forms. At its outset, intellectuals like Max Weber declared the war “wunderbar.” At its end, Europe, as both physical reality and political ideal, was nearly unrecognizable. This course will trace the impact of “the war to end all wars” on modern subjectivity, social thought, and cultural production.

At the center of this analysis sits the war experience of soldiers, civilians, and artists, and in particular, the ways in which they understood the war as a cultural and political turning point into the unstable terrain of modernity. The unanticipated horrors of prolonged industrial warfare offered a new material basis upon which to challenge prevailing notions of nationalism, heroism, and citizenship in particular, and narratives of Western civilizational progress in general. Drawing on a mix of essays, literature, and classic and contemporary studies, readings for this class offer glimpses into how the war experience was understood and assimilated (or not) by the inter-war generation. We will read selections from authors including Rosa Luxemburg, Walter Benjamin, Erich Maria Remarque, Robert Graves, Avigdor Hameiri, Paul Fussell, and George Mosse.

Course Schedule

Monday, 6:30-9:30pm
October 26 — November 16, 2015
4 weeks

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