The First Great Work of American Culture Inspired by the Iraq War?

Title, above, of a long skimming post at Daily Kos.

Video of Steve Earle’s referenced City of Immigrants.

Some corrective remarks, in my view, regarding the assessment of Three Kings: John Pilger’s view in Hollywood Hurrah.

Lists of Iraq and Afghanistan war fiction – novels, graphic novels, plays, film and video – also, nonfiction.

Upton Sinclair, Oil!, There Will Be Blood

Detailed overview of Upton Sinclair and his novel Oil! in relation to the recent film There Will Be Blood:

The usual rule among movie people is that better films are made from mediocre books than from great ones: so Francis Ford Coppola came up with a better version of The Godfather than Mario Puzo. The theory, though, is challenged by this year’s Oscar nominations for best picture. The Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men, an exceptional film, derives from a novel by Cormac McCarthy that is at least very good. And Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, a masterpiece, is adapted from Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel Oil!, which, though not one of the greatest works of American literature or even one of Sinclair’s best books, is exceptionally impressive.

The Powerful Art of Polemics and Other Political Films

Caryn James

Not so long ago, the documentary feature category was among the snooziest at the Oscars, the target of jokes that said you couldn’t lose by making a film about the Holocaust. That backward-looking pattern began to morph when Michael Moore won the 2002 award with “Bowling for Columbine,” and exploded with last year’s win for Al Gore’s one-man show, “An Inconvenient Truth.” Odd though it sounds, Michael Moore and Al Gore have made the image of documentaries – O.K., maybe not sexy, but hot.

This year all five nominees are politically charged, four are about war, and amazingly, only one feels like homework. Spurred by global conflict and by technology that allows filmmakers to turn out movies in months rather than years, these works carry urgent messages. With their pointed arguments, though, this year’s nominees also raise an inescapable question: Can they have any real political impact?

They try in extremely varied ways. Mr. Moore’s “Sicko” is wildly comic while tearing apart the country’s health care system. Alex Gibney’s “Taxi to the Dark Side,” about American abuses of prisoners in the war on terror, is eloquent.

And even the less artistic films vividly present the faces and voices of people who have witnessed some of today’s most anguishing conflicts. Continue reading The Powerful Art of Polemics and Other Political Films

Karl Wenclas, The CIA, The Paris Review, Ray Carver

Wenclas comments at his weblog

1.) Did the CIA give a “flying fuck” about the Paris Review? I’d say yes. After all, it was their money which created the publication!

2.) Their agenda was served by presenting an internationally credible journal (“Paris” Review) which presented a liberal– not radical– example of American literature.

Recall what the trend in American letters and American criticism had been before 1950. Socially active writing was strongly on the march.

(A better journal to look into is Partisan Review, once an organ for the likes of Philip Rahv, which in its later days became the home of neocons! How did this happen? We know that Partisan Review was another which received CIA funds.)

Raymond Carver is the perfect example of how the trend in literature, firmly in place by the 70’s, put there by the likes of Paris Review, had working class writers like Ray Carver– supposed icon of the working class– writing “minimalist” work which a Susan Minot and other trust-funders could model their own work after! Amazing, really. Working class art– but find in Carver’s published work much on the job, or unions, or strikes, or the boss, or anger. Not there. Why was this?

Missing are POLEMICS– the polemics of American writing of the Thirties and Forties.

Continue reading Karl Wenclas, The CIA, The Paris Review, Ray Carver

Novels of Social Protest and Cry, the Beloved Country

Critical Essays:

Public opinion seldom is changed by great bulky books of statistics and figures, charts and graphs because the message does not reach most people, as Steinbeck pointed out concerning The Grapes of Wrath. The story of one man or of a small group of people has far more effect on people than any number of essays. The reader comes to understand and identify with this man and his problems, hopes, and dreams.

Orhan Pamuk with Carol Becker

Orhan Pamuk:

I would say the literary globalization of the world had been completed years ago, when nobody was talking about globalization. With this, I imply that the art of the novel is well and kicking and that everyone from all over the world has access to and is using it. It is now a common heritage of humanity. It has what I would call an intense elasticity in that it can absorb national problems and represent national dramas, so that you can use and impose your particular understanding of this form into your corner of the world, or discuss your national debate, whatever it is, such that it will hold the nation together, because it is a text that everyone can argue with. Let me give you an example: I wrote Snow, a political novel, thinking everybody would be angry, and, yes, everyone was angry; but everyone was also reading, discussing and talking about it. I think the art of the novel, as a form, is one of the great arts humanity has developed that has continuity, that changes and survives. Over the last twenty years, we have witnessed a return to the 18th century Diderot kind of novel, which is a form that combines essays and novels together. Actually, I consider myself a sort of a representative of that “encyclopedic” novel. In other words, you can put anything into novels; novels are encyclopedias. Mallarmé’s words to that effect say that in the end, everything in the world, for the imaginative novelist or imaginative literary person, is in fact made to end up in a book. That’s how I see the world as well, because I am a novelist, and I care about the informative, encyclopedic quality of the novel.

Sara Paretsky and the Political

Ammu Joseph:

In her essay for The New York Times series, Writers on Writing, Sara Paretsky mentions a letter from a furious reader demanding to know why her books were “infested” with political issues when all she wanted was to be entertained. Her response: “When you’re writing about law, justice and society, you are either challenging or supporting the status quo. Continue reading Sara Paretsky and the Political

Sci-Fi and topical fiction

Clive Thompson

Technically, After the Siege is a work of science fiction. But as with so many sci-fi stories, it works on two levels, exploring real-world issues like the plight of African countries that can’t afford AIDS drugs. The upshot is that Doctorow’s fiction got me thinking — on a Lockean level — about the nature of international law, justice, and property.

Which brings me to my point. If you want to read books that tackle profound philosophical questions, then the best — and perhaps only — place to turn these days is sci-fi. Science fiction is the last great literature of ideas.

Continue reading Sci-Fi and topical fiction

Crusaders review

 Alastair Sooke writes

The central character of [Richard Kelly’s novel Crusaders] is County Durham-born vicar John Gore who, following an unfulfilled spell as a pastor in Dorset, accepts a challenge from the Bishop of Newcastle to ‘plant’ a church in benighted Hoxheath, a fictional and forlorn sprawl of painfully deprived housing estates, blighted with tykes in tracksuits, burnt-out cars and bloody syringes discarded on the street, on the fringes of the industrial metropolis on the banks of the River Tyne.

After moving into a run-down council flat in one of Hoxheath’s poxier corners – where the bus shelter looks like it has been ‘assailed with a sledgehammer’ – Gore toils at drumming up support among suspicious locals for his first service in the assembly hall of a nearby red-brick school.

US soldiers reading in Iraq

John Sutherland reports

The top 10 novels supplied to American fighting men by Abe [Books]…: The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J. K. Rowling; Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry; Mostly Harmless, Douglas Adams; The Collector, John Fowles; Devil’s Guard, George Robert Elford; The Unwanted, John Saul; The Alchemist, Ken Goddard; Apollyon: The Destroyer Unleashed, Tim LaHaye; Master of Dragons, Margaret Weis; The Illuminati, Larry Burkett.

There is a strong whiff of the high school curriculum (Salinger, notably) and a lot of fantasy. The presence of LaHaye’s vision of Armageddon (and the Second Coming) happening in the Middle East in the first years of the 21st century is slightly troubling.

Or greatly. Another book on the list, Devil’s Guard has been “generally regarded as sickening neo-Nazi pornography,” as Sutherland goes on to explain, glorifying warriors who slaughter “abominable sub-humans [Russians, Vietnamese], deserving only of extermination” and eventually go on to continue fighting under the American flag.

Continue reading US soldiers reading in Iraq

Politics of the Bourne Ultimatum, and other movies

The Bourne Ultimatum: rejecting the CIA” by Hans Bennett provides an overly optimistic and perhaps false view of a number of movies and novels, to my knowledge. Is violence really “not glorified at all” in Bourne, the man and the movies?; Are the “critiques of US militarism and foreign policy” actually all that “remarkable” and “scathing” in these films, especially when taken in context of the films in their entirety? Seems rather dubious. Nevertheless, the article does point out some libratory instances.

Scialabba’s View of Edmund Wilson’s Work

Some thoughtful comments by George Scialabba on the work of the great critic Edmund Wilson.

“Art, like all other intellectual activity,” Scialabba notes is in Wilson’s words:

an attempt to give a meaning to our experience–that is, to make life more practicable…. The writer who is to be anything more than an echo of his predecessors must always find expression for something which has never yet been expressed, must master a new set of phenomena which has never yet been mastered. With each such victory of the human intellect, whether in history, in philosophy or in poetry, we experience a deep satisfaction: we have been cured of some ache of disorder, relieved of some oppressive burden of uncomprehended events…. This relief that brings the sense of power, and, with the sense of power, joy, is the positive emotion which tells us that we have encountered a first-rate piece of literature.

[Wilson quote from his essay “The Historical Interpretation of Literature“]

Killing History Via Charlie Wilson’s War

Brzezinski and Charlie Wilson’s War

By Stanley Heller

Imagine, they made a funny movie about how the US helped turn Afghanistan into a killing field. It’s the film “Charlie Wilson’s War, a ligthearted look of how a skirt-chasing Congressman and a no-nonsense CIA thug helped bring mountains of weapons and money to the fanatic, women-despising “freedom fighters” who gave us 9/11. It’s certainly material for a “laugh riot”.

Tillie Olsen

Tillie Olsen: A Heart in Action – documentary.

 Jesse Hamlin:

In the film, [Alice] Walker credits Olsen with “changing the landscape of feminist writing and reading,” alluding to Olsen’s role in getting the Feminist Press to republish forgotten works by women, among them Rebecca Harding Davis’ 1861 “Life in the Iron Mills” and Agnes Smedley’s 1929 “Daughter of Earth.”

In the film, Olsen says she started writing about the lives of the working people she grew up with because “it was nearly impossible to find them in any of the books I read.” Continue reading Tillie Olsen

Antiwar Novels

Daniel J. Neumann reviewing Civilized Savages by Susan Kaye Behm:

“I wrote two anti-war novels. At a recent book-signing, I recall a man arguing with me: “Why are you against war?” And I replied, “Why are you for it?” He did not answer, but if the conversation would have carried on, I would have recommended Susan Kaye Behm’s Civilized Savages to the man, over my own books. Behm may not have had any direct exposure to war, but she offers a future that conveys the horrors of war as much as any civilian can contemplate. In short, it is an anti-war novel for those of us who have never fought in a war—which makes it the most valuable variety of anti-war novel.”