Warfare by Other Means: The Rhetoric of War and Sport in the Twentieth Century

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Zetter, Nathaniel Mark  ORCID logo  https://orcid.org/0000-0002-1834-9046

This thesis identifies the existence and significance of a rhetorical gesture that has circulated widely since at least the nineteenth century: the comparison between war and sport. The introduction outlines the background for this rhetoric through a genealogy of the phrase, ‘the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton’, in nineteenth-century writing. Part one of the thesis examines the metaphors and cultural practices of energetics in European sporting life until the Second World War. The first chapter presents a cultural history of ‘sporting aviation’ between the Wright brothers’ first European flight in 1908 and the declaration of war in 1914, arguing that the new technology of the aeroplane was initially understood through a tension between sporting and bellicose associations. The second chapter performs a close analysis of F.T. Marinetti’s writings and Umberto Boccioni’s paintings to reveal the role of sport in Italian Futurism and its significance for our understanding of its infamous glorification of warfare. Chapter three examines the militarist displays at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin and their enduring cultural legacy. Focusing on the role of crowds, rhythm is shown to be at the centre of how martial symbolism was embedded in the Games’ sporting displays. Framing the transition into part two, the fourth chapter reads Georges Perec’s use of the Olympics as an allegory for both the Second World War and the Holocaust in W, or the Memory of Childhood (1975) beside a number of post-war conceptualisations of ‘play’ and ‘game’. The chapter identifies a re-organisation of the play concept according to an emerging concern with information, one which, in Perec, also articulates an alternative register for war’s cultural memory. From here, the thesis’ second part identifies the emergence of a metaphorical nexus of computation, war, and sport in post-war American culture. Chapter five argues that Don DeLillo’s End Zone (1972) and David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (1996) satirise the logic of nuclear strategy by employing the formal properties of information theory in their language, collapsing the distinctions between war and sport when each is subjected to computational representation. The final chapter analyses the ‘military shooter’ videogame, and the new form of sport it has produced – ‘e-sports’ – considering these games as a material instantiation of the convergence between the discourses of military and sporting culture. Across the case studies presented in these six chapters, a transition is identified from metaphors concerned with war and sport’s energetic qualities to those concerned with the processing and abstraction of war and sport as information. Rather than conceive of this transition as an epistemic break, however, the thesis identifies continuities across the principles to be found in cultural energetics and informatics.

Connor, Steven
War, Sport, Aviation, Italian Futurism, F. T. Marinetti, Olympic Games, Georges Perec, Don DeLillo, David Foster Wallace, Videogames, Umberto Boccioni, Cybernetics, Information Age, E-Sports
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
Peterhouse Research Studentship