Beryl Pong is a Vice-Chancellor's Fellow at the University of Sheffield. She is the author of British Literature and Culture in Second World Wartime: For the Duration (2020), which was published by Oxford University Press as part of their Mid-Century Studies Series.
In Tense Future (2015), Paul Saint-Amour advances the concept of “weak theory”—not only for thinking about the expanding field of modernism, but for finding a response to “[t]hat exemplary strong theory”: total war. The idea of “weak theory” has since taken on critical momentum of its own, with a Modernism/modernity special issue in 2018 putting a name to an array of approaches against symptomatic reading under the umbrella category of “weak,” not to mention the spate of responses that have since appeared on the Print Plus platform. The present cluster brings weak theory back to war. It does so not because it wants to winnow down the manifold critical possibilities already opened up, but, on the contrary, because the pluralized temporality of weakness continues to hold new possibilities for how we read and write about war. “Where strong theory attempts to ride its sovereign axioms to ‘a future never for a moment in doubt,’” Saint-Amour writes, “weak theory tries to see just a little way ahead, behind, and to the sides, conceiving even of its field in partial and provisional terms that will neither impede, nor yet shatter upon, the arrival of the unforeseen” (Tense, 40). Weak theory suggests a temporality of the unformed, the voluminous, and the indeterminate. It is that temporal mode which emerges across the essays in this special cluster, in which we explore the many ways wartime affects, and is affected by, varieties of temporal critique and temporal understanding.
Birds and certain varieties of birds have long been potent symbols related to war and conflict. But as airplane technologies developed in rapid tandem with the coming and arrival of the Second World War, the connection between avian and aviation reached new heights in the cultural imagination.