Enlightenment at War: Epic Poetry, the Citizen and Discursive Bridges to the Military (1740-1800)

Researcher: Dr. Kornee van der Haven

In current debates about Western identity, the Enlightenment is associated with reason and civic emancipation, but not with war enthusiasm. It was however Enlightenment thinking that brought representations of civic and military behaviour into a single discursive realm. This new discursive structure made it possible to define both war critique and war propaganda on a civic basis. This project is the first to analyse this structure. It will therefore open up a new field of Enlightenment- studies

By reading Dutch and German epic poetry in tandem with military texts this project aims to demonstrate how literature made the military an integral part of the civic public sphere. The 18th century introduction of a more human epic hero seems to personify the civic desire of getting closer to the military. Likewise, this civic approach of the military had an impact on contemporary military treatises. No longer the commanders’ sublime reason, but the individual soldier and his emotions were placed at the centre of war strategy.

Literary scholars are used to explain the changes in 18th century epic poetry endogenously in the light of contemporary poetical debates on sentimental heroism. Similarly, military historians are used to study treatises on war strategy solely as products of internal military debates. Enlightenment at War, with its search for discursive interrelationships, innovates both scholarly fields and offers a new combined reading of epic poetry and military treatises.

This reading concentrates on three narrative levels of war writing (before, during and after battle). It will analyse a set of rhetorical strategies related to these levels, which were used to implant military behavioural codes into a civic reading audience. Thus, epic poetry and military treatises will be studied as producers of a more emotional and emphatic war discourse that bridged the gap between the military and the civic public sphere.

Keywords
Enlightenment – Epic Poetry – War Writing – Citizenship – Military Thought

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