This original and insightful book establishes a reciprocal relationship between Ludwig Wittgenstein’s notion of ethics and the experience of war. It puts forth an interpretation of Wittgenstein’s early moral philosophy that relates it to the philosopher’s own war experience and applies Wittgenstein’s ethics of silence to analyze the ethical dimension of literary and artistic representations of the Great War.
In a compelling book-length essay, the author contends that the emphasis on “unsayability” in Wittgenstein’s concept of ethics is a valuable tool for studying the ethical silences embedded in key cultural works reflecting on the Great War produced by Mary Borden, Ellen N. La Motte, Georges Duhamel, Leonhard Frank, Ernst Friedrich, and Joe Sacco. Exploring their works through the lens of Wittgenstein’s moral philosophy, this book pays particular attention to their suggestion of an ethics of war and peace by indirect means, such as prose poetry, spatial form, collage, symbolism, and expressionism.
This cultural study reveals new connections between Wittgenstein’s philosophy, his experience during the First World War, and the cultural artifacts produced in its aftermath. By intertwining ethical reflection and textual analysis, Wittgenstein’s Ethics and Modern Warfare aspires to place Wittgenstein’s moral philosophy at the centre of discussions on war, literature, and the arts.
“In keeping with Wittgenstein’s famous last proposition of the Tractatus, ‘Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent,’ Santiáñez’s readings of … a constellation of First World War texts take us beyond the era’s general ethical retreat into formal logic, where some ethical understanding may yet be possible in ‘the figuration of silence itself.’ The premise of ethical silence … dovetails exactly with much of the theory of PTSD narrative, in which the unspeakable—war trauma, rape, child or spousal abuse, wounding, torture—becomes quite unsayable and unwriteable. The essay is comprehensive and impeccable and has changed my thinking acutely on representations of war.”- Philip Beidler, Margaret and William Going Professor of English, University of Alabama
“An eloquent and incisive analysis of the impact of war on Wittgenstein's ethical and linguistic thinking. Most important, this study locates in Wittgenstein a central point of reference for a wide range of literary fiction from the war, for which it reveals a new and powerful coherence.” – Vincent Sherry, Washington University in St. Louis, author of The Great War and the Language of Modernism