The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘war’

Before the Blast

September 8, 2016 | by

How expats fashion online identities while living in a war zone.

All photos by Deni Ellis Béchard.

A shop owner jokingly points a toy gun at the author in Afghanistan’s Panjshir Valley. All photos by Deni Ellis Béchard.

All wars have their aesthetic: the grainy newness of the World Wars, the photographer up close, in mud or water, his speed and fear palpable in the washed-out, often blurred images of men; the Cold War a stark espionage mystery, less action than mood, its clues hidden in the diplomatic formality of competing decadent powers; Vietnam a single black-and-white photo so horrifyingly violent it punctured the jingoism of American imperialism and showed its nihilistic core; and Afghanistan, its online presence as garish as the Las Vegas skyline—street shots and selfies transmuted by the virtual gears of social-media editing, their contrast, sharpness, and saturation jacked up until followers feel as if their neurons are feasting on the very opiates that keep the Taliban in business. 

And each war has its signature story. Afghanistan’s coincides with the rise of social media. In the online world where banal weekend jaunts resemble the Odyssey and afflict followers with post-feed depression—the feeling after seeing glistening legs on a beach or a sunset clipped by an airplane’s wing (not, notably, the cramped economy seat or credit-card bill)—establishing a social-media presence in a war zone is more than self-fashioning; it’s reincarnation, maybe even creation ex-nihilo. Expats’ Facebook and Instagram avatars often emerge as if by divine birth, leaving followers unable to fathom how that bookish college friend wound up motorcycling around Kabul or hiking the Hindu Kush with a few smiling local dudes in pajamas who, to the untrained eye, are obviously Taliban. Read More »

Men Go to Battle

August 19, 2016 | by

A small-budget film dramatizes the passive motives of Civil War enlistees.

Still from Men Go to Battle.

Still from Men Go to Battle.

The following are reasons that Henry Mellon, the protagonist of the film Men Go to Battle, volunteers to leave his home and fight for the Union in the Civil War: his brother, Francis, has thrown an ax at him in a spirit of fun; one of his mules has run into the woods; the local rich girl has spurned his advances; his arable land is choked with weeds; Francis is taller and more confident than he is; a rainstorm has drowned six of his chickens.

The following are not evident reasons for his enlistment: patriotism, abolitionism. Henry can neither read nor write, and he shows no interest in the world beyond his town, Small’s Corner, Kentucky. The rich girl he likes is waited on by enslaved maids.

He slips off to the army on a winter night. Weeks later, he composes a letter home, dictating to a literate comrade: “I have all the beef and salted pork I want.” Read More »

Boon Companion

August 5, 2016 | by

Evliya Çelebi’s Seyahatname is one of history’s greatest travelogues.

Evliya Çelebi painting (c) Sermin Ciddi

Edward White’s The Lives of Others is a monthly series about unusual, largely forgotten figures from history.

According to his own recollection, Evliya Çelebi, the seventeenth-century Turkish writer and traveler, experienced a life-changing epiphany on the night of his twentieth birthday. He was visited in a dream by the Prophet Muhammad, dressed nattily in a yellow woollen shawl and yellow boots, a toothpick stuck into his twelve-band turban. Muhammad announced that Allah had a special plan, one that required Evliya to abandon his prospects at the imperial court, become “a world traveler,” and “compose a marvelous work” based on his adventures.

As religious missions go, it was a pretty sweet deal—and for Evliya it came at the perfect moment. His feet itched to travel and his fingers to write, but he could never find a way of telling his parents that the life they had proudly mapped out for him—a stellar career, a virtuous wife, and a brood of smiling children—played no part in his vision of a meaningful existence. Muhammad’s intervention, whether an act of providence or not, spurred three decades of globetrotting indulgence. Evliya took in Anatolia, Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem, Cairo, Athens, Corinth, Sudan, and swathes of Europe from Crimea to—supposedly—the Low Countries. His path crossed Buddhists and crusading warriors, the Bedouin and Venetian sailors, ambassadors, monks, sorcerers, and snake charmers. Along the way he wrote the Seyahatname (“Book of Travels”), a magnificent ten-volume sprawl of fantasy, biography, and reportage that is utterly unique in the canon of travel literature, and which confirms Evliya as one of the great storytellers of the seventeenth century. Read More »

So You’re Adapting a Philip Roth Novel, and Other News

August 2, 2016 | by

From the Indignation poster.

  • Don’t learn this the hard way: it’s likely impossible to wrest a good screenplay from the pages of a Philip Roth novel. Many (okay, like, eight) have tried, the latest being James Schamus, with Indignation. All have struggled and gnashed their teeth. Leo Robson has some thoughts on why, and also some thoughts on the most singularly unfilmable Roth novels: “Sabbath’s Theater might be read as Roth’s ultimate piece of literary one-upmanship over the movies. You can picture Roth at his desk in rural Connecticut, far from the fluorescent, multiplex-ridden metropolis, writing the scenes in which Mickey communes with his lover’s ghost, yelling, ‘You filthy, wonderful Drenka cunt! Marry me! Marry me!,’ and ejaculating over her grave—and then saying to himself, with a vindicated smile, ‘Try filming that.’ ”
  • Rarely do I use this space to bring you practical advice or instruction—but you might want to know how to read a book and walk at the same time. It’s a skill I’ve tried to master for years, and I’m sick of causing traffic accidents in my pathetic efforts at “learning.” Nell Beram tells us that “it’s actually easier than it looks”: “First (and I really shouldn’t have to tell you this), stop reading when you cross the street. Second, forgo magazines. The columns are too narrow, forcing the eyes to skid to a stop at the end of a line as soon as they’ve gotten going. Plus, magazines are floppy, and the wind gets grope-y with the broad pages. So go with a book, ideally a hardback that you can hold comfortably in one hand … Your book cannot exceed fourteen ounces or it will murder your wrist.”

The Role of the Poet: An Interview with Solmaz Sharif

July 27, 2016 | by

In 2014, I heard Solmaz Sharif read “Look,” the title poem from her debut collectionLook inserts military terminology into intimate scenes between lovers, refashioning hollow, bureaucratic language from the U.S. Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms with a human touch. (Even the collection’s title has an alternate military meaning: per the Department of Defense, a look means “a period during which a mine circuit is receptive of influence.”) At a time when the U.S. automates acts of murder, Sharif insists that war is still personal—perhaps today more than ever. In one of its most quoted passages, she writes, “Daily I sit / with the language / they’ve made / of our language / to NEUTRALIZE / the CAPABILITY OF LOW DOLLAR VALUE ITEMS / like you.” 

By simply placing words from the Defense dictionary in small caps, and deploying them in scenes of intimacy,” John Freeman wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Sharif has begun the process of renaturing them, putting them in the readers’ hands for examination.” Look confirms what I’ve known since 2014: Sharif is poised to influence not only literature but larger conversations about America, war, and the Middle East. I spoke with her about her influences, the role of the poet in today’s world, and the stories behind Look.

INTERVIEWER

In an essay you wrote for the Kenyon Review, you said, “When I am asked to describe my poetry on airplane flights, at dinner parties, I describe it first as ‘political.’ Then, ‘documentary.’ And these two things seem to, for some, preclude aesthetic rigor.” There’s a popular conception that overtly political can’t have aesthetic value—that a political message degrades the aesthetics. Is your work a deliberate effort to rebut this notion? Read More »

Gunplay

June 20, 2016 | by

Illustration by Eric Hanson. Click to enlarge.

Indianapolis, 1964. My younger self owned a bandolier full of bullets; three revolvers, two with bone handles to fit a holster; a rifle; knives; a sword; a full Civil War uniform; a genuine U.S. Army helmet. From age eight to ten, I fought and died a thousand times for fun. My friends and I knew all the best ways to fall down dead, exhaling sighs of pleasure. Awaiting nuclear annihilation, we acted out gun ballets like period folk art. Here, in America’s “Gun Belt,” boys used to get their first squirrel rifle at eight, nine, ten years old; now they get pint-size assault rifles. Get them early, so they can learn to handle the violent kick of firing, learn not to hold the part of the weapon that gets so hot it smokes. And it’s not just boys. Parents can purchase special pink assault rifles for their junior misses.

In my own backyard, I was always alert for enemies. I moved with a stooped, serpentine grace, darting, pausing, looking around for people to shoot before they shot me. There was something adorable about it. We had very convincing submachine guns then. They were made by Marx out of hard molded plastic and came in black—the conventional color, suitable for playing Chicago gangsters or warriors in the European theater—or brown-and-green camouflage, for war in the tropics. There was a knob along the side to unleash a machine gun rat-tat-tat whenever we encountered the enemy. I was unaware of the irony in the brand name: we were training for our turn to halt the march of Marxism, but we were unfamiliar with Marx the mastermind. Every Friday I looked forward to the latest photos of the Vietnam War, counting the dead in LIFE magazine. Read More »