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Excuse the bêtise, as I work things out on paper here. A terribly unsophisticated post:

Dribblets around the web today. First Wolcott:

Yesterday, on one of the network news broadcasts (I was channel surfing so fast I’m not sure which of the big three it was), there was a report on the civilian reaction in Beirut to the attacks which showed a young Lebanese mother in headscarve, who with her children had fled from their home to safe haven, arguing that they–Hezbollah–should return the two soldiers, it wasn’t worth all the misery that was being inflicted on everyone. Whereupon a burly older man, hearing her criticism, bulled forward and angrily reprimanded, asking (demanding) to know why she was talking this way to the press, and displaced her in the camera frame to hold forth and spout defiance-militance-whatever.

It was an instructive moment, the male prerogative chestily asserting and inserting itself, and a dramatic reminder that although wars and organized violence have their social-national-ethnic-religious-tribal vectors, they are also brute expressions of patriarchal force…male arrogance and insanity sheathed in metal. The mother was sensibly, rationally decrying the cost of conflict on the lives of her children and other civilians, while the older man (a stranger? a relative?–it wasn’t clear) was trying to squelch such talk as ignorant and disloyal. He was the stand-in for every other male blowhard (on every side of the debate) who thinks he knows best and loves to hear himself talk tough. Meanwhile, the children are weeping, or being pulled in bloody pieces out of smoking debris.

And then a bit from a Doris Lessing intro to Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover:

“We are among the ruins,” says Lawrence, opening the tale which is supposed to be all about sex, and announcing what I think is the major theme of the novel, usually overlooked. It is permeated with the first world war, the horror of it. And against the horrors, the rotting bodies, the senseless slaughter of the trenches, the postwar poverty and bleakness – against the cataclysm, “the fallen skies”, Lawrence proposes to put in the scales love, tender sex, the tender bodies of people in love; England would be saved by warm-hearted fucking.

Now, looking back from our perspective of over 60 years after that second terrible war, we see Mellors, who was a soldier in India in the first world war, and Constance Chatterley with her war-crippled husband, clinging on to each other, and just ahead the next war that would involve the whole world.

It is not that, once having seen how war overshadows this tale, threatens these lovers, the love story loses its poignancy, but for me it is no longer the central theme, despite what Lawrence intended. Now I think this is one of the most powerful anti-war novels ever written. How was it I had not seen that, when I first read it?

I find myself increasingly oriented toward a strongly pacifist position. Not how I used to think of things. I was, of course, against (the) war, but not quite on the grounds of opposing war in general. Just didn’t think through things that way. Or perhaps it was there, but not quite on the surface yet. There are, of course, troubling ramifications for those who both unequivocally reject violence and who feel that the monopolization of violence is one of the working principles of an order that they work (in their microscopic, nearly useless way) to reject or overcome. Holidays for MLK, but not X. Kudos and perhaps a statue for those who advocate non-violence response to the violence of the system… prison, death, and the memory hole for those who resort to extreme measures.

And while Wolcott’s reading of the scene is gratingly “essentialist,” or so we’ve learned to call such a thing, I’m not sure that the point doesn’t hold.

I am not sure that spending more time raising my child than, say, might have been expected of me given my upbringing – not sure that dad ever once changed my diaper – very strict division of labor in that household – doesn’t have a huge amount to do with this. While our deal isn’t quite 50/50, its way closer to that than 0/100. And when you get tied up in the daily affairs of managing a small life, ensuring its fed and sleeps and is warm and happy and doesn’t injure itself by tossing itself off the sofa – it is a bit tougher to think in the abstract way that is perhaps required to come up with a plan, toward whatever end, that involves the letting of blood, the destruction of habitats, the creation of refugees (can you even imagine this? being a refugee? I cannot… I am angry when the internet goes down, when we can’t decide what to have for dinner…)

Or maybe it is the child has finally allowed me some perspective on my own makeup and behavior. I’ve a thread of hot and violent anger that runs right through the middle of me. Has something – maybe everything – to do with the way that I was brought up. Not an abusive household, at least not physically, but one that wore its awkward, ambivalent relationship to its own class transition – basically an escape from deeply provincial proletarian status and an attitude toward violence that really or in retrospect seems to have been attached to that status – on its sleeve. Granddad was the pilot and captain of a Lancaster bomber in WWII at the age of 18 or so – lied about his age to get into the RAF (the RCAF wasn’t formed at the opening of hostilities, apparently). Came home a hero to sweep up at the corn oil plant, drink himself into a diabetic stupor (lost his leg – all I remember of him, really, was his false leg…), marry a wife and bear children all of whom he would rather less than intermittently, and coach (and, I imagine, beat) my father into become a “tough” hockey defenseman, eventually offered a contract by an NHL team, which he turned down to attend university – first, of course, in the family.

I am not as tough or violent as my father, but live in reaction to / repetition of his toughness, his violence, just as he did with his father.

Or maybe its the war(s) that have lent me this perspective on myself. Or perhaps I’m finally figuring out what my work has been trying to say, indirectly, in slant. The book that I am trying to finish this summer increasingly feels like an oblique renunciation of certain embedded “violent” gestures in theoretical work that is very important to me, so important to me that one might even say that I have something like a filial relationship toward it.

After my grandfather’s death, some guy put out a book on “heroic” Canadian Lancaster crews, and used my grandfather’s story as an afterward centered on the “everypilot,” unsung heros of the war. I don’t have a copy of the book here, but I do remember that there was a story in it in which he discussed (or my grandmother narrated his discussing) visiting a children’s hospital somewhere in Germany after the war, and seeing all of these kids is pieces, crippled, disfigured, and thinking to himself “thank god I never bombed this city.” But of course, he had bombed other cities, many other cities, and in fact probably did little else, especially as the war came to its climax, than bomb German cities, civilian targets.

And I wonder where that (assuredly half-hearted) relief left him? And where it entered me?

Written by adswithoutproducts

July 16, 2006 at 10:58 pm

Posted in distraction, war

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