War Porn, American anti-war novel


This video from the USA says about itself:

Identity, Experience, & Storytelling: A Conversation with Roy Scranton

18 March 2016

A discussion between Roy Scranton and Jennifer Ahern-Dodson about being a writer and reader in contemporary society. Scranton talks about how he approaches his own writing and assesses the writing of others, as well as how to draw on his own experience as a writer of fiction, non-fiction, and literary criticism.

Read more here.

By Eric London in the USA:

War Porn by Roy Scranton

The anti-war novel re-emerges in American literature

22 August 2016

After 15 years of permanent war, it is no surprise that the “war novel” has emerged as a predominant form of contemporary American literature. For the most part, contemporary war literature reflects the degree to which militarism and the celebration of American imperialism have been consciously elevated by the ruling class as “official” culture.

The most brutal of these works unapologetically glorify the death and destruction wreaked by the US armed forces on the impoverished people of the Middle East and Central Asia. Books with titles like “Kill Bin Laden,” “No Easy Day” and “Band of Sisters” repeat themes of love of country, battle heroism, and other such nonsense. The jackets of these books feature laudatory endorsements by generals and intelligence officials.

There are also many writers of a second type who attempt, without much success, to address general themes like the difficulties of reintegration into civilian life, the hardship of war, and the repressive atmosphere attendant to military life. Books like “The Yellow Birds,” “Youngblood” and “Thank You For Your Service” generally take the position that soldiers are placed in morally ambiguous positions by the contradiction between the essentially “good” character of the wars and the obvious fact that “war is hell.”

Whatever aesthetic skill the authors of these books possess is wasted by the fact that they are based on lies. It is widely understood that the US government and corporate media engaged in a fraudulent conspiracy to launch the wars in order to capture resources and secure the profits of Wall Street and the oil corporations. Fifteen years later the wars continue, with over one million dead. The destruction has triggered one of the largest migrations in human history. Those books which cover up these truths will be forgotten within a handful of years, and rightfully so.

But there is a third, emergent genre of war literature which is reacting against the first two types. Books like Phil Klay’s 2014 short story compilation Redeployment mark an important step toward an honest appraisal of the devastating impact that 15 years of the war on terror have had on social, cultural and individual life. Klay, a returning soldier, begins his book: “We shot dogs. Not by accident. We did it on purpose and we called it Operation Scooby.”

In August, SoHo Publishing released “War Porn,” by Roy Scranton, who spent 2002 to 2006 as a soldier in Iraq. The novel consciously challenges the pro-war propaganda literature that has dominated the literary scene for the last decade. It is an advance from Redeployment and it foreshadows the emergence of a new canon of contemporary literature that is consciously anti-war.

Scranton’s debut novel intertwines the stories of three people in the early days of the US invasion of Iraq. There is the US soldier who returns home and commits a crime as horrendous as those he committed in Iraq, and the Iraqi mathematician who aids the US occupation and ends up its victim. Then there is the autobiographical left-wing US soldier who serves alongside soldiers whose readiness to kill is justly presented as a dangerous form of mental illness.

Though the title strikes the reader as an attempt at shock value, the inside jacket explains that “war porn” means “videos, images, and narratives featuring graphic violence, often brought back from combat zones, viewed voyeuristically or for emotional gratification. Such media are often presented and circulated without context, though they may be used as evidence of war crimes.”

The sensory material from which Scranton has drawn to write his novel consists of evidence of the most horrible war crimes committed by the US occupation forces against the people of Iraq. He portrays the material honestly and devastatingly.

Take, for example, Scranton’s description of the beginning of the US bombing campaign in March 2003:

“Day and night, bombs crashed into Baghdad. You watched it on TV, you heard it on the radio, you saw it from the roof and when you ventured out into the street: soldiers and civilians, arms and legs roasting, broken by falling stone, intestines spilling onto concrete; homes and barracks, walls ripped open; Baathists and Islamists, Communists and Social Democrats, grocers, tailors, construction workers, nurses, teachers all scurrying to hide in the dim burrows, where they would wait to die, as many died, some slowly from disease and infection, others quick in bursts of light, thickets of tumbling steel, halos of dust, crushed by the world’s greatest army.

“As the bombing grew worse, the terror of it stained every living moment. Sleep was a fractured nightmare of the day before, cut short by another raid. Stillness and quiet didn’t mean peace, only more hours of anxious waiting—or death. Even the comfort of family rubbed raw.”

The crimes Scranton describes have also shaped the political consciousness of hundreds of millions worldwide, and Scranton is writing on behalf of those upon whom the wars have left an indelible impression. He is attempting to take the images and experiences of 15 years and to present the wars as they really are.

One scene gives the reader a sense of Scranton’s laudable literary approach. He depicts an old blind man sitting in a park who “remembered the British biplanes of his youth.” He recalls Iraqi independence and “the shining dream of nation.” The old man ponders the exploitation of Iraqi oil by foreign corporations, the Nakbha in 1948, and the rise of the Baathists, who cut off his tongue for an unknown political offense. He sits amidst the US invasion, “listening to the thunder.” Scranton describes the man and explains: “For do I not yet write? Do I not mark the truth in my book? Do I not chronicle my poem for the ages, to be sung by my children’s children’s children? They would blind me, but I see the truth. I see the truth and I write the truth, and our truth shall outlive theirs.”

This is a healthy development for contemporary literature both in terms of its historical understanding and in terms of its objectivity. Scranton’s war is not one of equally valid narratives or ethically ambiguous situations. As the author recently tweeted, with sarcasm: “You know what would be awesome? More veterans whining about how nobody understands the moral complexity of being an imperial stormtrooper.”

But War Porn does not feel forced or pedagogical. The author has a real aesthetic skill and is moved by a genuine sympathy for humanity. One finds in his novel very little cynicism. Absent is the concept that war is the inescapable product of a violent human nature. To the contrary, one character, a teenaged Iraqi girl, is angry that the stress of the war is giving her acne and split ends, and fears the possibility of dying without having first fallen in love. Her greatest philosophical preoccupation: can Michael Jackson be reconciled with the Quran?

Scranton’s attempts to depict beauty amidst the backdrop of the war are not saccharine. A returning US soldier ponders “feeling the war slip off like an old jacket,” echoing Hemingway’s brilliant and simple line from A Farewell to Arms: “the war seemed as far away as the football games of someone else’s college.”

The descriptions of Iraq in the hours before the bombing, for example, are striking. The Iraqi main character, Qasim, is awoken from a nightmare and looks out the window of his room at Baghdad:

“Dawn shone in a red line. Black palms rose like minarets and the minarets rose like rockets: the sky floated black under a starry blue sea, and that’s how they’d come at him, like sharks. Had it begun yet? Were the lights in the sky the sea, or the city?”

After the bombing begins, Qasim’s family watches their city under siege on CNN: “They watched balls of fire rise up in the night across the Dijlah, red and gold flowers blooming in the black water. They saw their city in green from above, in videos made by the men who were killing them, bright neon stripes cutting the screen, pale green explosions below.”

The publication of these lines, and of the book as a whole, has an objective significance. The hatred for war that exists among broad masses of the world’s population cannot be silenced by the lies of the government and its media and literary propagandists. Roy Scranton’s War Porn expresses and helps advance the profound social anger that is emerging amidst the rumble of a society devastated by imperialist war.

Finally, a Realistic Iraq War Novel. Roy Scranton‘s ‘War Porn‘ bucks the trends of recent fiction about soldiers. By Tom A. Peter: here.

Spanish poet Federico Garcia Loca


This video says about itself:

19 August 2016

Eighty years ago, toward the start of the Spanish Civil War, renowned poet Federico Garcia Lorca was killed by the forces of Francisco Franco and his poems were banned. Nevertheless, his work continues to grow in popularity until today.

Anton Chekhov on stage in London, England


This video from the USA says about itself:

The Seagull – 1975 – Anton Chekhov – John J. Desmond – Blythe Danner – Frank Langella

A group of friends and relations gather at a country estate to see the first performance of an experimental play written and staged by the young man of the house, Konstantin (Frank Langella), an aspiring writer who dreams of bringing new forms to the theatre.

By Jack Dunleavy in England:

Vivid and artful

Tuesday 9th August 2016

An Anton Chekhov marathon leaves Jack Dunleavy emotionally battered but deeply satisfied by the experience

Young Chekhov: Platonov, Ivanov, The Seagull
National Theatre, London SE1
5/5

What’s more daunting, seeing three plays in one day or paying £150 to do so?

Young Chekhov at the National Theatre takes this question as its secret theme.

In a new version David Hare explores the shortcomings of art and love, the importance of money and the perils of boredom.

The protagonists in Anton Chekhov’s early work are a trio of manchildren, each going through a different kind of quarter-life crisis.

In Platonov, the title character has more women on his plate than he can handle. James McArdle is excellent in the main role, armed with the pick-up artist’s weapons of choice from Casanova to The Game — flouncy shirt, big boots and plenty to drink. Whether he’s lying to a lover or just lying on the floor drunk, Platonov is exasperatingly forgivable.

Play number two, Ivanov, is about a penniless landowner who can’t bear the company of anyone he knows, most of all his consumptive wife (Nina Sosanya).

Chekhov’s signature flickering between comedy and tragedy is pulled off excellently in Platonov, but jars a little in this one.

Geoffrey Streatfeild is so convincingly miserable as Nikolai Ivanov that the laughs are generated more often from farce than wit.

The day builds to a climax with The Seagull, Chekhov’s first real masterpiece.

This is a story about endless struggles — old art and new, one generation and the next, the sexes, cities and the country.

To no-one’s surprise Anna Chancellor gives the standout performance of the entire day as Arkadina, the once-famous actor and mother of avant-garde playwright and nervous wreck Konstantin (Joshua Jones).

Chancellor serves a cocktail of ego, magnetism and just a slice of panic. True to her character, she demands the audience’s attention and praise even in the background.

Is it worth the time and money? The plays don’t necessarily end when the curtain comes down. Part of the fun is how the Chekhovian spirit seeps throughout the intervals and into the next production.

Chekhov’s world isn’t the happiest place to spend the day, but it is vivid and artful. His protagonists may destroy themselves by questioning their place in life, but for nine hours in the Olivier theatre the audience knows they’ve come to the right place.

Runs until October 8 2016. Box Office: (020) 7452-3000

Chilean poet Pablo Neruda remembered


This video says about itself:

13 July 2016

Celebrating the life of Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, who was born 112 years ago. While still remembered all over the world for his Nobel Prize-winning poetry, Neruda also held strong political convictions that may have even led to his death.

Love & Friendship, unpublished Jane Austen novella now film


This video says about itself:

Love & Friendship Official Trailer #1 (2016) – Kate Beckinsale, Chloë Sevigny Movie HD

Lady Susan Vernon takes up temporary residence at her in-laws’ estate and, while there, is determined to be a matchmaker for her daughter Frederica — and herself too, naturally.

By Joanne Laurier in the USA:

Love & Friendship: An early Jane Austen work adapted

8 June 2016

Written and directed by Whit Stillman; based on an unpublished novel by Jane Austen

Whit Stillman’s new film, Love & Friendship, is based on a novella by Jane Austen entitled Lady Susan, which the British author probably penned in the mid-1790s, when she was 19 or 20. Complicating matters, however, Stillman has actually borrowed the name of his film from another piece Austen wrote when she was merely 14. Neither work was published during Austen’s lifetime.

In England in 1790, the widowed Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) is more or less fleeing the estate of the married Lord Manwaring (Lochlann O’Mearain), leaving that household and its relationships in some disarray.

Penniless and without prospects, Lady Susan takes up residence (“We don’t live, we visit”) at the home of her brother-in-law, Charles Vernon (Justin Edwards), and his wife, Catherine (Emma Greenwell). Catherine is not looking forward to her captivating but troublesome guest—“the most accomplished flirt in England.” Susan’s lady-in-waiting and unpacker of her clothes is unpaid, as the former feels “the paying of wages would be offensive to us both.”

Men are nothing but prey to Susan and she sets her sights on the naïve younger brother of Catherine, Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel), heir to a considerable fortune. While Reginald is in the process of falling victim to Susan’s duplicitous charms, Catherine and her parents (James Fleet and Jemma Redgrave) plot to break up the budding love affair.

Meanwhile, back in the land of feminine wiliness (and, of course, such wiliness was forced on women by their social vulnerability), Susan’s co-conspirator is the American Mrs. Alicia Johnson (Chloë Sevigny), who is, if anything, a bigger schemer than her friend.

If Alicia continues her friendship with Susan, however, her husband (Stephen Fry) threatens “the severest punishment—sending me back to Connecticut.” Susan worries Alicia might get “scalped” in that “nation of ingrates”—this is in the wake of the American Revolution—and observes in regard to the Americans, “Only having children makes you understand such behavior.” Susan also opines that “facts are horrid things” and laments that Alicia’s husband is “too old to be governable and too young to die.”

As Susan is tightening the net around Reginald, her daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) shows up at the estate, having left a school where, according to her mother, “the fees are too high to even think of paying.” Frederica is horrified by her mother’s proposal that she should be married off to Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett), a wealthy but hopelessly silly man: “Cowper the poet? He also writes verse? Most impressive!” (William Cowper 1731–1800, an English poet much admired by Austen). James has, according to Susan, “the one thing of value—his income.”

“But marriage is for one’s whole life!” Frederica protests. “Not in my experience,” replies her mother, who in the end, creates the dynamic that she desires and deserves! (Lady Susan, in Austen’s novella: “My understanding is at length restored, and teaches no less to abhor the artifices which had subdued me than to despise myself for the weakness on which their strength was founded.”)

Whitman’s [sic; Stillman’s] version of Austen’s Lady Susan is conscientious. He spent some years transforming an epistolary novel into a screenplay, and the results indicate the pains taken.

Stillman (born 1952), the son of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administrative aide, is best known for three brittle, articulate films he did in the 1990s, Metropolitan (1990), Barcelona (1994) and The Last Days of Disco (1998), which were fairly realistic depictions of life within a layer of the upper middle class, or, as the director termed it, the “urban haute bourgeoisie.”

In regard to The Last Days of Disco, which also featured Beckinsale and Sevigny, the WSWS commented: “Stillman’s films are intelligently written. His direction is discreet and well-paced. He has a feel for the dynamics and conviviality of people in social settings. Indeed his group scenes are invariably greater than the sum of the one-on-one encounters that go on. …

However, “Stillman makes fun of his characters’ brainlessness … and then asks us to take their emotional traumas seriously. He wants credit both for exposing their amusing prattle (which also serves the purpose of demonstrating that he is smarter than they are) and for demonstrating sensitivity about their dilemmas. … Alternately sneering at, speaking through and seeking sympathy for his characters Stillman is incapable of providing a satisfying perspective on them. One doesn’t know which attitude to trust.”

In fact, Stillman wanted credit for making relatively sharp and incisive films about a certain milieu without ever having made up his mind about the overall society to which it belonged. Some of the same issues hold true for Love & Friendship .

A lot of obvious care went into the look of the film. The performances are all noteworthy. Beckinsale tackles her demanding role with finesse and intelligence. Sevigny is sufficiently conniving. The general artistic level of Love & Friendship is raised by the contributions of outstanding character actors who bring substance and verve to the project.

Our times cry out for savage satire. The endless wars justified on the basis of hypocrisy and lies, the ever more noxious politicians, the dreadfulness of the media and the celebrity culture, the gaping social inequalities––all this demands mockery, derision, ridicule, most especially in the US.

One only wishes this latest Austen project could be half of that, even in historical guise. But Whitman’s Love & Friendship is too polite, too blunted, too oblique. The fact that the writer-director can come up with a number of pointed, scathing lines makes it all the more unfortunate that he pulls his social punches.

Stillman wants to have his cake and eat it too. Why make this sort of social satire if one does not have present circumstances in mind? However, it is demanding too much of and is unfair to Jane Austen to make an unpublished novel of hers the medium for a serious critique of contemporary life. It doesn’t wash.

Furthermore, what would Austen have thought about the quality and maturity of the work, Lady Susan, on which the film is based? In her best-known novels, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Emma (all published between 1811 and 1816), she went considerably beyond her undeveloped adolescent writings. Those later novels presented considerably more of a broader and deeper picture, which helps explains their tremendous success. Whitman has chosen something earlier and narrower, although, unlike much of the fiction of the time, it does portray the female on equal footing with the male as predator.

Austen (1775-1817) lived through a period of vast upheaval (the American and French Revolutions, the Napoleonic Wars and the Industrial Revolution). She herself was known for her conservative, staid social outlook, but this does not mean she went unaffected by the tumultuous times. Of course, although it may never have occurred to her, the very fact that she, as a woman, was writing and publishing novels––and eventually making a name for herself by doing so––was itself a product of a transformative age. In fact, Austen belonged to that group of remarkable women writers who left such a mark on English literature, including Fanny Burney, Maria Edgeworth, Mary Shelley, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Elizabeth Gaskell, Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë, and George Eliot.

Austen, above all, was a great realist, who penetrated the everyday appearance of life and the official motivations of her characters to reveal what lay beneath. It fell to Sir Walter Scott, probably the most popular author on earth at the time and very much the opposite of Austen in terms of style and subject matter, to pay her one of the most heartfelt and accurate tributes.

Scott noted in his private journal in 1826: “Also read again, and for the third time at least, Miss Austen’s very finely written novel of Pride and Prejudice. That young lady had a talent for describing the involvements and feelings and characters of ordinary life, which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with. The Big Bow-wow strain [!] I can do myself like any now going; but the exquisite touch, which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting, from the truth of the description and the sentiment, is denied to me. What a pity such a gifted creature died so early!”