The First World War can be seen as a period of transition from one epoch to another in many areas, including art and literature. Even though there were signs of major cultural changes before the beginning of the war – for example the Futurist Manifesto by the Italian writer Filippo Marinetti was published in 1909, the events of the war and the decay of the old social and political order required new forms of expression. These also included collaboration between artists and public appearances. The war became a catalyst for modern literature and poetry, with cultural ideals being smashed and writers expressing their experiences at the front in experimental forms of language.
In Die letzten Tage der Menschheit (The Last Days of Mankind) Karl Kraus named the warmongers on the home front and thus also writers and journalists as those who bore the main responsibility for the first great tragedy of the twentieth century. It is indeed to intellectuals and artists who were all too keen to place themselves at the service of propaganda that a considerable proportion of the blame for ‘popularizing’ the war can be ascribed. Some of them, driven by the excesses of violence and mass deaths, changed their attitude and became pacifists. Some authors had themselves to experience the terror of the front – not infrequently as volunteers.
Translation: Leigh Bailey