_On Killing_ and _Syriana_
Tags: literature
On Killing looks like a good book, published 1996. I learned of it by reading about how there's an online virtual war game called "America's Army" put on by the US Army, a promotion that has gotten GoArmy.com millions of hits.

I love the books one can search for text with on Amazon: it offers goodies:
10. on Page 195: "... or sadistic killers, but there is a fortuitous shortage of such individuals in society. In reality, the problem of distinguishing, murder from killing in combat is extremely complex. If we examine atrocity as a spectrum of occurrences rather than a precisely ..."
O those psychopaths!

This relates in a way to a film I screened (I like that term) last night: Syriana. The film has a scope that reminded me of why I love the genre of the novel. First, the film overviews numerous different sources of human experience (the disillusioned Arab young man, the powerful Washington, DC, attorney, the DC politicians, the DC CIA operatives, the Texas oilmen, the Middle Eastern monarchs) and points to the way that the radically different perspectives and goals of each are actually readily explainable by cultural and socioeconomic milieu. Then some plot ensues, and I actually like how director Stephen Gaghan sort of makes "plot" as such nearly impossible to follow, only for the film to place all of the actors (and I mean those that act or do somthing in the film, not the people playing characters) together in a final crescendo/climax. The genius part of the writing of Syriana is how the plot unfolds like a mystery tale -- you're left wondering how all these disparate parts will come together. But it does, and in not having a "conclusion," the film reflects a powerful truth: the world does not die with us; the transhistorical march simply moves on, and humans will be doing what ancient Greeks did and what present-day Americans, and all the rest, are doing as long as there are people.

"Only connect...." is the prologue to EM Forster's Howards End, which I couldn't really get excited about, but with the premise of that novel, of disparate experiences and people coming together, the idea that if we could only get far enough away, we could see that everything is connected -- that is straight from the genre of the novel, and seeing it in a modern context like Syriana is just powerful.

The way it connects to On Killing, for me, is that psychological processes have only been the fodder of human analysis since about 1890, with Sigmund Freud. And as a literary scholar, I can make a living interpreting literature for these psychological signs. The whole point of On Killing is the study of "killology," or how to get people who would otherwise refrain from killing other people to actually do just that; it's a matter of technology to get distance from the "enemy" before one kills them, and intense psychological "jarheading" for the grunts. Indeed, an entire world has been opened up with the study of the inner workings of the human mind, and my favorites all helped developed what we now call psychology: Stendhal, Nietzsche, Freud, Henry James. And these thinkers' ideas can be used to read all the "rest" of literature from the era that I like: 1830 to today, with all the amazing ups and downs in that time: American growth, British empire, Nazi ideology, the WWI and II post-war disillusionments and their social and artistic effects, then the modern/postmodern meaninglessness/meaning-making time.

Anyhow, this entry should be a good place to start in describing my plans toward a PhD in literature. Simply put, I want to connect world-historical transformations and their psychological effects on the human subject, as represented in the modern novel. Wow, with that frame, I could actually have talking points to present papers and be a real professor without feeling like a total fake. Writing this down makes me really happy. I guess I partially have Dan Toft, instructor of history at Buena Vista University, to thank. Maybe I'll send him a letter.

Dedicated readers, thanks for slogging through this entry. --adam

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