Close Encounters in War launches a new section for stories and poetry

Stories and poems of close encounters in war

Close encounters in war are, before anything else, life experiences that change in depth those who make them. As editors of the Close Encounters in War Journal, we have always been aware of this simple but basic fact and therefore decided to open the third issue of the journal (2020) to creative writing. We wanted to propose an experimental encounter between scholarly research and forms of creative and non-fictional writing whose roots go deep into experience and imagination.

After that exciting experience, being aware that stories and poems of close encounters in war deserve a place of their own in the website, we are happy to announce the launch of the new section “Stories and poems of close encounters in war“.

This new section of the journal is divided into three subsections (Poetry, Fiction, and Testimonies and Autobiographical Essays) and is meant to be a space for creativity and exploration of all those forms of writing that help us understand war more thoroughly as a multifaceted and complex experience. We invite storytellers, veterans, practitioners, relatives and friends of veterans, poets, therapists, and much more to feel free to submit their contributions to the CEIWJ. We will be happy and grateful to read year round your original and unpublished works about your encounters in and with war, real and imagined. We will select and publish the best, more insightful, and inspiring contributions.

New publication on Primo Levi

Innesti. Primo Levi e i libri altrui, ed. by Gianluca Cinelli and Robert S. C. Gordon, Oxford, Peter Lang, 2020

Primo Levi’s work presents an extraordinarily rich and articulated case of intertextuality. Being a curious, omnivorous, and asystematic reader, Levi explored multiple fields of knowledge – literary, scientific, historical, etc. – browsing between specialized and popular books and magazines, for reasons of research or pure entertainment, often approaching foreign cultures in the original language, driven by his eclectic curiosity and an intense desire to know and understand. Already fathomed in part by Levi himself in his anthology The Search for Roots (1981), his library remains however to be discovered. This volume intends to trace the features of a critical map of the grafts, intertexts and transplants that link Levi’s work to the books of others, by comparing it with twenty-one authors, in a “polyglot and multipurpose” gallery that includes classics such as Dante, Shakespeare, Leopardi, Baudelaire, and Carroll; authors of modern literature such as Kafka, Mann, and Calvino; and scientists such as Galileo, Darwin, Heisenberg, and Lorenz.

Table of contents

Domenico Scarpa: Prefazione xi
Gianluca Cinelli e Robert S. C. Gordon: Introduzione 1

Parte I – Gli strumenti umani
Antonio Di Meo: Primo Levi e William Henry Bragg 19
Mario Porro: Primo Levi e Galileo Galilei 37
Patrizia Piredda: Primo Levi e Werner Heisenberg 55
Alberto Cavaglion: Primo Levi e Giuseppe Gioachino Belli 73
Enzo Ferrara: Primo Levi e Stanislaw Lem 87
Stefano Bartezzaghi: Primo Levi e Lewis Carroll 107


Parte II – La condizione umana
Vittorio Montemaggi: Primo Levi e Dante 127
Valentina Geri: Primo Levi e William Shakespeare 143
Simone Ghelli: Primo Levi e Pierre Bayle 161
Martina Piperno: Primo Levi e Giacomo Leopardi 179
Damiano Benvegnù: Primo Levi e Konrad Lorenz 197
Pierpaolo Antonello: Primo Levi e Charles Darwin 215

Parte III – Comprendere e narrare il Lager
Charles L. Leavitt IV: Primo Levi e Elio Vittorini 237
Uri S. Cohen: Primo Levi e Vercors 255
Sibilla Destefani: Primo Levi e Charles Baudelaire 273
Stefano Bellin: Primo Levi e Franz Kafka 287
Davide Crosara: Primo Levi e Samuel Beckett 305

Parte IV – La ricerca di sé
Martina Mengoni: Primo Levi e Thomas Mann 327
Gianluca Cinelli: Primo Levi e Herman Melville 345
Mattia Cravero: Primo Levi e Ovidio 361
Marco Belpoliti: Primo Levi e Italo Calvino 381

Biografie degli autori 403
Indice dei nomi 407

Call for short stories and flash-fiction

Call for fiction on the theme “PTSD and Close Encounters in War”

Close Encounters in War Journal (www.closeencountersinwar.org) is a peer-reviewed journal aimed at studying war as a human experience, through interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches ranging from the Humanities to the Social Sciences. The third issue (n. 3) of the journal will be thematic and dedicated to the experience of PTSD as a consequence of war and conflict, and titled “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as Aftermath of Close Encounters in War”.

In connection with the publication of Issue n. 3, the website www.closeencountersinwar.org will host a brand new section devoted to fiction. We therefore invite authors to submit unpublished short stories (between 2500 and 5000 words) and flash-fiction (up to 500 words) on the topic of conflict-related PTSD. We accept stories in English, typed in Times 12, and double-spaced. Please submit by 31st March 2020 to ceiw2018@gmail.com. Please send doc, rtf, or odt files only. Please bear in mind that the CEIWJ is an independent project run by volunteers and that we cannot pay for your stories. Submission is free of charge and each author can submit only one story. Copyright for short stories and flash-fiction remains with the authors. We can accept multiple submissions (but please inform us immediately in case your story is accepted for publication elsewhere). Please write your full name, email address, title of the work, and word-count on the first page of your stories. Make sure that you mention in your email whether you wish to apply for the section “short stories” or “flash-fiction” when you submit.

We will publish your stories on our website in autumn 2020. Thank you for allowing us the privilege of reading your work!

Primo Levi’s Hundredth Birthday. 31st July 1919 – 31st July 2019

By Gianluca Cinelli

Primo Levi (Turin, 1919-1987) was a writer known to the world for his works of testimony on deportation to Auschwitz. He was born from a Jewish family and he graduated in chemistry in 1941, despite the restrictions imposed by racial laws to Jewish students. He received from chemistry a first fundamental lesson of life: that in the struggle with matter, humans get a hint of what their own limits and strengths are. Levi realised that imperfection and asymmetry are fundamental aspects of reality, which is not dominated by the Spirit (as the fascist school, marked by distinction between humanistic culture and technical culture, taught)…

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An unusual close encounter with the enemy

Nuto Revelli’s Il disperso di Marburg after 25 years. Marburg, July 18, 2019

Nuto Revelli.

Nuto Revelli (Cuneo 1919-2004) was an officer of the Italian Royal Army and fought in Russia in 1942-1943. Following the armistice of September 8, 1943 between Italy and the Allies, Revelli joined the anti-fascist partisan groups and fought as commander of the 4th GL Band (later renamed “Carlo Rosselli” Brigade) until the liberation of Italy in April 1945. The experience of war engendered deep hatred against the Germans, which Revelli had met on the Russian front as allies and then as enemies in the mountains of his region (Piedmont). For decades this hatred remained unchanged and the intensity of such feeling was captured in the first books that Revelli published in the post-war period, Mai tardi (1946 and then republished in 1967) and La guerra dei poveri (1962). In these books the Germans are represented as cruel beasts, enemies to hate and despise.

In the 1980s, while collecting oral accounts from peasants in the Alpine valleys of Piedmont, Revelli heard from a former partisan a strange war story, the legend of a German officer who rode off in the countryside and who was kind to the local inhabitants and children, a peaceful and apparently “good” man. One day of 1944 this man disappeared, possibly killed in an ambush of partisans, and since then no one knew anymore about him. This legend disturbed Revelli because it challenged his memories of war and seemed too lenient to be true. Nevertheless, it was the story of a missing-in-action soldier. The memory of soldiers missing in Russia during the retreat from the Don River had tormented Revelli since the end of the war. A missing soldier, the writer said, is the cruellest legacy of any war.

Thus, he decided to engage in the search for the identity of this missing man, and after ten years of work, oral interviews with witnesses and research in German military archives, he succeeded. He discovered that the missing man was a 23-year-old German officer, a student who had not joined the National Socialist Party, who was not enthusiastic about the war and had already lost his older brother in Russia. A young man like so many others, who had been involved into the enormity of the war and had been overwhelmed by a cruel fate.

Fifty years after the war, Revelli thus found the way to reconcile with the hated enemy through a historical quest that in the end also turned out to be an experience of friendship, as far as he befriended the German historian Christoph Schminck-Gustavus, who remained close to Revelli. And, above all, this was a story of reconciliation with the human side of the so-called enemy. The book that tells this story, Il disperso di Marburg, was published in 1994 and for the occasion Revelli visited the German town of Marburg where Rudolf Knaut, the missing officer, was born. This year, on July 18, Marburg hosted an event dedicated to Revelli and to Il disperso di Marburg to celebrate the centenary of the writer’s birth (July 21). Gianluca Cinelli gave two lectures at the Institut für romanische Philologie at Philipps-Universität Marburg and at the Technologie- und Tagungszentrum in the presence of a large audience.

New article: “Das Bild des italienischen Soldaten im deutschsprachigen Diskurs über die Vergangenheitsverwaltung”

Das Bild des italienischen Soldaten im deutschsprachigen Diskurs über die Vergangenheitsverwaltung, in Aufgeschlossene Beziehungen. Deutschland und Italien im transkulturellen Dialog. Literatur, Film, Medien, ed. by Tabea Meineke, Anne-Rose Meyer-Eisenhut, Stephanie Neu-Wendel and Eugenio Spedicato, Würzburg, Verlag Königshausen & Neumann, 2019, 67-80

Among the contributions appeared in the book Aufgeschlossene Beziehungen (Open-minded Relationships), devoted to the exploration of the way in which the Italian and German cultures have built their transcultural dialogue since WW2, one chapter by Gianluca Cinelli investigates how German post-war narratives, both literary and historical, represented the Italian soldiers in a very negative way, thus paving the way to the consolidation of an old anti-Italian prejudice spread all over Germany. The German combatants came across the Italians during WW2 as allies between 1940 and September 8, 1943, when Italy surrendered to the Allies. What emerges from this contribution is that little attention has been paid in Germany to this topic. Nonetheless, Italian soldiers were represented as lazy and unfit for war, unworthy in battle and unreliable as allies, cowardly and too soft to endure the hardship of modern warfare. And even worse, they were depicted as traitors following Italy’s withdrawal from the conflict in 1943, after which a remarkable number of Italians began to fight against the Germans as partisans.

The chapter builds on historical and literary sources, by combining the testimonies of former German cambatants (from privates of the Afrikakorp to memoirs of such Whermacht higher officers as Rommel or Kesselring) with historic evidence collected by mainly German scholars (from Hammerman to Klinkhammer and Schlemmer). The main thesis of the chapter consists in claiming that the anti-Italian prejudice largely depended on the effectiveness of Nazi propaganda and on the circulation of a number of testimonies that depicted the Italians as inferiors not only as for their military virtues but also on a racial basis. In the end, only the massive integration of Italian immigrants starting from the 1950s began to challenge the dominant stereotype and to rehabilitate the memory of the former allies-and-enemies as human beings and fellow citizens.

Issue n. 1 of the Close Encounters in War Journal is online

Issue n. 1: “Close Encounters in Irregular and Asymmetric War” (2018)

We are delighted to announce that the first issue of the Close Encounters in War Journal has been published online. This issue marks the real start of our project and is devoted to a topic that seemed relevant to us both for its historical meaning and its topicality. In fact, the issue hosts five contributions by authors who consider the theme of close encounters in irregular and asymmetric war from a great variety of angles and in different disciplines.

The Issue and individual articles can be downloaded at:

Issue n. 1 (2018): Close encounters in irregular and asymmetric war

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What today is referred to as “irregular warfare” is one of the most ancient types of conflict, as opposed to “conventional warfare”, which is a relatively more recent development. The combat strategies and tactics used by tribal warriors, modern guerrillas, resistance fighters and terrorists have been attracting the attention of military historians, strategists and intelligence experts, focusing on resistance, insurgency, counter-insurgency and more recently terrorism. Beside its practical efficacy on the battlefield, irregular war has always stirred popular imagination. But how do human beings experience this particular type of warfare? Does it seem more threatening and scary because it can involve civilians more deeply? Does it blur the traditional idea of war as open confrontation with a recognisable enemy?

The multidisciplinary collection of articles presented in this issue invites a reflection on irregular and asymmetric warfare that goes beyond military strategy and tactical effectiveness, and aims to examine this subject through the lens of “close encounters” in order to explore its impact on human experience. In this perspective, a few recurring elements emerge in all the seven articles: irregular warfare involves an unequal fight between unequal enemies. There is no balance of power and this asymmetry between adversaries means that lines get blurred, for example between combatants and non combatants, or between regular and irregular forces. Irregular and asymmetric warfare blurs the lines and rules of conflict, but it also resurfaces the agency of those who are invisible in war.

The first three articles in the collection are more factual and they explore the blurred identities and often divided loyalties of those involved in irregular conflicts. According to their authors, those who fight “from below”, often the less powerful, find agency.

Brad St. Croix explores asymmetric warfare within the context of a wide conflict, focusing on the Pacific theatre of the Second World War. In Hong Kong, the British had to fight an irregular force as they faced a Japanese-inspired fifth column. The author sees this as having a deeply destabilizing power for the British, even if blurring the lines between regular and irregular forces was a tactic often used by the Japanese. However, the interesting point that emerges from this analysis is that blurred lines and changing loyalties in this context were due to the multiethnic makeup of the colony. In the Battle of Hong Kong invisibility was key for the fifth columnists, who used hiding and disguise as well as tactics such as sniping to conceal their identities and destabilize the enemy. Their invisibility still represents a challenge for historians who want determine their numbers and identity.

María Gómez-Amich offers a study based on interviews with five former conflict zone interpreters who were locally recruited by the Spanish troops deployed in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2014 as part of the NATO ISAF mission. By looking at the narratives of these interviewees in the effort to analyse their agency, his study emphasizes many lines getting blurred, such as the line between east and west, foreign and local, military and civilian, but also those, perhaps less obvious, between trust and mistrust, loyalty and neutrality, which are the key ones for professional interpreters. In this context, locally recruited interpreters are given the role of gatekeepers thanks to their cultural capital and they experience blurred loyalties because they are often seen as traitors by their own group and as outsiders by their employers. Another important point in this analysis is that irregular warfare blurs the fundamental ethical principles of interpreting, as it accentuates the tension between neutrality and agency.

In his article Gian Marco Longoni looks at another contemporary example of irregular warfare: the Houthi insurgency begun in 2004 that ousted the Yemeni government in 2015. In his effort to examine the three reasons for the outcome of this insurgency, Longoni emphasizes once again the asymmetry of the conflict and the agency of the insurgents. They find agency through the use of violence and capitalize on the weakness of the Yemeni regime. But there are also other, more cultural reasons that can explain the outcome of the revolt: the Zaydi insurgents experienced a shared identity and shared narratives which can be dubbed as their cultural identity, which were keys in the context of this conflict. It seems that when cultural identity is not conflictual in itself, but clearly defined as in this instance, loyalty does not represent an issue. Asymmetry has a double impact here because while it is true that the fight is between unequal enemies, it is the insurgents who find strength in their cultural identity, whereas the regular forces are weak, dysfunctional and incapable of adequate counterinsurgency despite being the representatives of the institutions.

The second set of articles is more focused on meaning and representation. The concept of irregular and asymmetric warfare is interpreted in different ways, but both articles agree on one point: asymmetric conflict has the power to transform the individual, affecting the spheres of imagination, self-perception, and cultural reception. What these articles suggest is that asymmetric war almost always implies disequilibrium of forces and a polarisation of conflict as a struggle between “stronger” and “weaker” opponents, in particular women and children. By no accident, in fact, these articles explore the issue of close encounters in asymmetric war from the standpoint of its cultural interpretation and representation.

In her analysis of the rape scene in Elsa Morante’s novel La storia, Stefania Porcelli talks about a literary encounter with war. The author interprets the concept of asymmetry as lack of balance between the adversaries, who are fragile actors who never win against stronger enemies. In this analysis the lines between victim and oppressor, innocence and evil, become blurred, as the author stresses how Morante insists on the concept of power, and of how the powerful (represented by Gunther, stronger but doomed to succumb to history), become themselves victims. Fear, sometimes terror, is at the core of this particular asymmetric conflict, in which the victim is stripped of agency because rape “is an act of violence against a woman wholly bereft of agency” (Porcelli, p. 89). But here it also represents the loss of innocence that bears a transformative power.

Benjamin Nickl sees asymmetric conflict through the eyes of child warriors in popular fiction. In his analysis of the representation of children in arms Nickl wonders whether they are a way to represent and give meaning to the trauma of war. Child characters invite a shift in the point of view on war, which can lead to a more genuine approach, as “audiences seem willing to suspend their disbelief readily” (Nickl, p. 104) when the narrator is a child. Nickl interprets the concept of irregular and asymmetric warfare very widely, including fictional conflicts against terrible monsters or evil warlords, but what these all have in common is that they all involve a shift in the point of view and the transformational loss of innocence as consequences of the trauma caused by war.

The selected articles range over a number of wars, different from one another in time, space, scale, and context; and their authors consider the topic of “close encounters in irregular and asymmetric war” from the standpoints of different disciplines and methodological approaches, among which, for example, cultural and military history, literary studies, gender studies, oral history, translation studies, and postcolonial studies. This variety reflects the multidisciplinary project of Close Encounters in War journal and will hopefully fuel further interest in the cultural and collateral aspects of war as a fundamental aspect of human evolution and cultural specificity. Irregular and asymmetric warfare blurs the lines and rules of conflict, but it also resurfaces the agency of those who are invisible in war.

Encountering Violence and Crimes in Autobiographical Narratives of Operation “Barbarossa”

By Gianluca Cinelli

On 22nd June 1941, the German armies overcame the Russian resistance on the river Bug and started to penetrate in depth in Russia in a drunken state of exaltation. It was the triumph of the Blitzkrieg which many generals considered the only true form of military art, according to the legacy of Clausewitz and Schlieffen: the dimension of the attack was such that the commanders ignored what other units were doing, and the common motto was “forward, no matter what the others do”, in order to annihilate the enemy before this could strike back. For many a soldier this unstoppable advance was just a leap into the void, because after leaving the last villages of the Reich they found themselves alone in the vastness of an unknown land…

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