The Failing Sacrifice of the First World War
In representations of the First World War (1914–1918), the figure of the sacrificial offering appears and reappears to consecrate an otherwise uncertain purpose—to make holy, sacer- facere. On the military side, in Britain especially, the war witnessed a shift from a professional army to a civilian recruit, u a conscript mass, whose individual deaths required justification. The figure of the sacrificial offering recurs with a frequency commensurate with the scale of this first mass war. This quantity of death, however, ultimately overwhelms the logic of sacrifice, which turns on the quality, the specialness, the worthiness, of the individual victim. Drawing on the philosophy of Giorgio Agamben, this chapter argues that the proportionate economy of individual sacrifice is eventually disrupted by indiscriminate slaughter, and the failure of the old model is recorded in a range of British fiction, including works by Richard Aldington, Ford Madox Ford, and David Jones.
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