June 16; definitely time for a post. Since Kalamazoo, things have been pretty crazy. Commencement, a wedding, spring cleaning, dissertation, to name a few. At the end of the day, I just haven’t had the drive or attention span do much of anything with the blogs, either of them. But, after what has been an especially intense week, I’ve finally got some breathing space, and hope to get back to posting more regularly. There WILL be a K’zoo write-up, for sure.
The title of this post reflects a question about which I’ve long speculated: why battles (as opposed to wars and warfare generally) have dominated historical memory to the extent they have. Partly, I suppose, it’s a reflection of a patriarchal society, as ancient, medieval, early modern and many modern battles have been fought primarily by men, and the women who participated in them rarely had the opportunity to make their voices heard in the way battles were remembered and commemorated. But that still doesn’t quite get at why, of all human activity (even within the patriarchy), battle has received pride of place in memory and commemoration. Partly, perhaps, it has something to do with rituals of honor and masculinity, but I see numerous problems in transferring microcosmic rites of masculinity to the macrocosm of the battlefield, not least the well-documented non-heroic aspects of many battles. In other words, if battle is a test or enactment of “masculinity”, it is so very different from most small-scale social enactments as to be a different beast entirely. So many different types of human behavior are comprehended in a battle, such an intense neuro-psychology is involved, and the external stimuli are so extreme, that in many respects I suspect battle stands apart from nearly any other human experience. And that, perhaps, is why “battle” still holds pride of place in collective historical memory and memorialization. Regardless of the overall “importance” of a battle on the larger course of human culture and society.
A couple months ago, I had a small epiphany on this subject, courtesy of J. R. R. Tolkien and Peter Jackson. I was ruminating on chapter 5 of the dissertation, trying to see my way clear to something semi-intelligible on where the average East Anglian knight and esquire would have placed his experiences of war, and more particularly what “chivalry” would have meant to him. Read more »