The First World War is widely regarded as having sparked technological innovations. The relationship man -- machine changed drastically. Two PhD students from the Mercator Research Group "Spaces of Anthropological Knowledge" have researched in what way those changes were reflected in literature. RUBIN, the Ruhr-Universität's science magazine, published a report about their research.
The PhD students Kevin Liggieri and Felix Hüttemann wished to find out how the relationship between man and machine changed during the First World War and if that was the period in which today's attitude towards machines was born. While media scholar Felix Hüttemann focused mainly on documents authored by the officer and writer Ernst Jünger, philosopher Kevin Liggieri took a closer look at the depiction of military aviation.
Ernst Jünger as pioneer of his era
The First World War was the first war that was industrially led. Horse and bayonet were replaced by tanks and rapid-fire guns. "The perspective shifted from the machine as a mere instrument to its role as the decisive factor," says Hüttemann. This is how Ernst Jünger phrased it in his essay "The Machine": "We had meant to make them work for us as iron warriors, but we got caught in their wheels instead." This notion was later picked up by the German philosopher and logician Gotthard Günther. His technology and philosophy-focused ideas had made Ernst Jünger a pioneer of his era, as Felix Hüttemann concluded following his research into post-war literature.
The aviator novel as modern-day adventure
In the First World War, the lines between man and machine became blurry in war aviation, too, whose depiction in literature Kevin Liggieri studied in-depth. In addition to books about that era, he also consulted historical documents such as pilots' records, field reports and diary entries for research purposes. "My starting point was the question if the symmetry man -- machine did indeed exist or if it was merely represented in literature," says Liggieri. His thesis: "I think literature has a classifying function. It wants to engage with new things, which we don't quite understand yet. To this end, it points out analogies and images, which are meant to help us understand." As far as the depiction of war aviation was concerned, this meant that aviator novels often followed the same structure as adventure novels. With the pilot cast in the part of the hero, who tames the "wild" machine and eventually fuses with her for form one entity in order to defeat the enemy.
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