Inside the European Cataclysm

Traverso, Enzo

Publisher:  Against the Current
Date Written:  01/05/2015
Year Published:  2015  
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX20955

During this second Thirty Years War, from 1914-1945, Europe experienced an extraordinary fusion of conflicts.



During this time, new paradigms of science merged with conservative worldviews inherited from the tradition of counter-Enlightenment, creating hybrid and unknown forms of reactionary modernism. After 1914, modernity revealed its most destructive and frightening face, that of total war. A still largely rural continent discovered the laws of a mechanized world, a temporality completely disconnected from the rhythm of nature, and a submission of bodies to the overwhelming impersonal Moloch of mass armies.

Suddenly, the concept of modernity was no longer identified with material progress; it was rather related to an industrial war carried on by gigantic armies organized as Fordist factories that incorporated soldiers transformed into "workers of destruction" (such a definition simultaneously appeared in 1915 in the writings of Henri Barbusse and Arnold Zweig).

Total War became a rationalized and technologized massacre whose result was a death no longer glorified, but serialized: a death "without qualities," a mass anonymous death. This was, in the terms of the socialist writer Walter Benjamin (1892-1940), a "mechanically reproducible" death, whose "aura" was forever stripped away in the mud of the trenches. Inaugurated with the myth of heroic death, the Great War finished with commemorations of the "unknown soldier."
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