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Reading: ‘Shooting Total Strangers’: Unmasking Militarism in Virginia Woolf’s ‘A Society’ and ‘Though...


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‘Shooting Total Strangers’: Unmasking Militarism in Virginia Woolf’s ‘A Society’ and ‘Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid’


Andrew John Moffitt

Queen's University, CA
About Andrew
Andrew Moffitt completed his Bachelor’s degree in English Literature at the University of Newcastle and his Master's degree in Modernities at Glasgow University. After finishing at Glasgow, he took a break from academia to teach English as a foreign language in Japan. Andrew's interest in modernist literature, especially the work of Virginia Woolf, has encompassed his academic career. He wrote both his BA and MA dissertations on Woolf, as well as his current Doctoral work, and is continually finding new depths and complexities to her literary aesthetic. Andrew's current dissertation examines the way in which literary and biological production/reproduction as ideological concepts significantly inform Woolf’s modernist, feminist and anti-Fascist artistic agenda.
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This article presents what Slavoj Žižek calls ideological ‘unmasking’ as a central feature of Virginia Woolf’s pacifist agenda. Accompanying the rise of extreme nationalisms during the 1930s and 40s, the article argues that militaristic discourse ‘masks’ the bodies of unknown others as dangerous antagonists in order to justify their violent deaths. Patriotic commemoration, however, renders domestic soldiers free from this precarity as men whom Judith Butler calls ‘grievable’ subjects, or those who continually engage in acts of warfare on their nation’s behalf because it grants them cultural visibility despite their bodily undoing. In Woolf’s pacifist writings, then, a stylistic use of terminological clashes and ambiguities undoes this antagonism by highlighting a transgressive site of shared vulnerability where a new, more peaceful language for understanding the diversity of human existence arises. Ultimately, this literary aesthetic invites reformed styles of international diplomacy by upholding otherness not as something or someone in need of erasure but a locale where pacifist thinkers can foster productive, ethically-engaged dialogue among all individuals, places, and beliefs.
How to Cite: Moffitt, A.J., 2021. ‘Shooting Total Strangers’: Unmasking Militarism in Virginia Woolf’s ‘A Society’ and ‘Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid’. Junctions: Graduate Journal of the Humanities, 5(2), pp.33–45. DOI:
Published on 05 Aug 2021.
Peer Reviewed


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