The article explores the complex relations between scholars and witnesses of war, taking as a test-case Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front. The article defines two types of witnesses, which lay claim to two distinct types of authority: eyewitnesses, who lay claim to the factual authority gained from the objective observation of events; and flesh-witnesses, who lay claim to the experiential authority gained from having personally undergone certain experiences.
Eyewitnesses are a valuable and relatively docile source of scholarly information, providing scholars with data about war without challenging the scholars’ ability to process this data. The authority of eyewitnesses thereby backs up the authority of scholars. In contrast, flesh-witnesses often challenge the ability of scholars to understand the experience of war. They thereby undermine the authority of scholars, and set themselves up as an alternative and superior authority on war.