Everything is war, always. We have never lived without war; we have never really known peace; war defines all aspects of society. In her collection of micro-essays, Marlene Streeruwitz analyses how we perceive war and how the logic of war and conflict impact us. Streeruwitz offers a distinctly feminist, anti-capitalist perspective on what is, at first glance, a response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Published in May 2022, against the backdrop of back-and-forths between intellectuals and would-be intellectuals in German-language feuilletons, these essays are an indictment of the op-eds and navel-gazing of the early days of the war. They’re also much more than that.
In chapters so succinct they sometimes consist of just a few aphoristic sentences, Streeruwitz does two things: she critiques war in and of itself, and she exposes the patriarchal and capitalist structures that produce and sustain war, and are sustained by it. Streeruwitz is at her most insightful here, showing how capitalism profits from violence in all its forms, and indeed, how violence is an essential element of capitalism: ‘economic history is, after all, a report of the subjugation of the individual by that which is called economic development.’ Meanwhile, the patriarchy is behind the pernicious devaluing of care work, of teaching, of children’s rights, and upholds violence and conflict as meaningful elements of society. The dismantling of patriarchal structures and thought systems is an essential step in progressing to a society that really and truly values peace. Unsurprisingly, Streeruwitz sees the ‘cultural avoidance of patriarchal language’ as a central element of this project.
Streeruwitz advocates for an overhaul of contemporary arts and culture, which she sees as a capitalist complex that only serves to entertain at all costs, where everything, especially in Anglo-American culture, has to be ‘funny’, and where war eventually becomes part of entertainment. Streeruwitz’s own essays cannot be suspected of falling within this complex: her distinctive style, her fragmentary sentences don’t aim to please or entertain. Streeruwitz deeply distrusts omniscient narrators and narratives, whether in literature, politics, science or the economy: anyone who suggests they own the truth. Instead, her Handbuch offers a fragmentary, deeply subjective approach whose style effectively reflects the author’s aims. While her authorial voice has a ring of authoritative wisdom, it is far from omniscient.
Streeruwitz, unlike the op-ed writers she so clearly deplores, doesn’t take a side: she calls for an overhaul of the system itself. To make war unthinkable, to distrust easy narratives and populist charmers, to finally abolish the patriarchy instead of infusing feminism with capitalist self-actualisation. While this may be a frustratingly long-term project, it is also a necessary call to action.
Reviewed by Theodora Danek
HANDBUCH GEGEN DEN KRIEG
(‘The Anti-war Guide’)
by Marlene Streeruwitz
Published by Bahoe Books (2022)
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Theodora Danek is a writer, editor and project manager. Now based in Vienna, she previously managed the translation programme at English PEN and the events programme at the Austrian Cultural Forum London before moving into publishing at Tilted Axis Press and The White Review. She is currently responsible for arts and culture at the European Forum Alpbach.