Jump to content


Photo

A Good War Is Hard to Find: The Art of Violence in America (2006)

by David Griffith

  • Please log in to reply
31 replies to this topic

#21 Peter T Chattaway

Peter T Chattaway

    He's fictional, but you can't have everything.

  • Member
  • 29,294 posts

Posted 28 February 2012 - 02:18 AM

Persiflage wrote:
: Historically speaking, Greece, Sweden and Britain had been around for hundreds of years age-wise before any of them got around to abolishing slavery. It took the infant nation United States less than one hundred years of existence to abolish slavery . . . By that timeline, the U.S. abolished slavery earlier than any other nation in the history of the world.

This is a rather bizarre argument.

The United States was a collection of British colonies that rebelled against Britain and, in doing so, ended up PRESERVING slavery within their borders for a few decades after the rest of the British Empire had abolished it.

That might not have been the INTENTION behind their rebellion, but it was certainly a CONSEQUENCE of their rebellion -- and the fact that, a few generations later, they were prepared to slaughter hundreds of thousands of their own citizens in order to catch up to the relatively peaceful abolitionism of the rest of the world doesn't necessarily speak all that well for them, either.

But that's a tangent from my main point here, which is that calling the United States an "infant nation" is somewhat misleading within this context.

#22 J.A.A. Purves

J.A.A. Purves

    Chestertonian, Rabelaisian, Thomist, Christian

  • Member
  • 3,017 posts

Posted 02 March 2012 - 06:02 PM

Edited to add: Ok, this discussion is starting to look quite intensive. But, NBooth is taking me through some lines of thought I haven't considered before. I'm enjoying pursuing them. And while the two of us may pursue them further elsewhere, I still don't mind cautiously pursuing a few of Griffith's ideas on this thread since we'd both be entirely happy to welcome the thoughts of anyone else lucky enough to read Griffith's book.

I really think this section of our discussion is reflective of a standard historical tension. During the Civil Rights movement, apparently a lot of desegregation-favoring Liberals urged the African American community to wait, to be patient--that eventually desegregation would become inevitable. But patience is the luxury of the unoppressed; when you are a slave (or a woman or a Native American, depending on the historical placement) the situation is an existential one. You can't afford to wait if you and your family are under the lash every day ... What is delusional is extrapolating the idea out to say that America is somehow uniquely moral or exceptional in a way that sets it outside or above other nations. America's history is often little more than a long failure to live up to its espoused ideals. Heck, we still fail to live up to our espoused ideals, and that's a problem. But here's the thing--saying that we fail to live up to those ideals is precisely to argue that those ideals matter.

... and talk about exceptionalism is problematic for that very reason. When I think of American Exceptionalism, I think of Manifest Destiny; I think of slaves and women and the long history of failure. Which is to say--I value the experiences of the outcast over the triumphalist experiences of the powerful. There is no way that you can look at American history from that perspective and see it as anything else but a sadly unexceptional. But it's precisely because I respect those founding values that I'm so hard on the nation. Put another way, when an individual claims to believe certain truths and acts in exactly the opposite manner, we call them a hypocrite. We don't congratulate them on having the right ideals and suggest that there's something exceptional or remarkable about them being less of a hypocrite today than they were tomorrow.

... Oh, "just war theory" is a whole 'nother kettle of fish that I'm not sure I want to get into (suffice it to say that I don't think pre-emptive wars on "Terror" qualify). But let me back up and re-state that the issue of scapegoating/projection doesn't void the evil of al-Qaeda. What it does is force us to turn our lens back onto ourselves. There's a danger in being to certain that you're on the side of Righteousness and Truth, no matter who your enemy is (the evils of Hitler, if I can Godwin for a moment, do not excuse the internment of Japanese Americans) ... There's a danger in patting oneself too hard on the back--it can throw your shoulder out of joint, for one thing. I agree that there are lots of things to like about America, but being too jealous of our "exceptionalism" can lead too easily--in the last decade or so has led too easily--to a refusal to learn from other [successful] nations and an insistence that our way must be the best way.

As I understand him, Griffith is arguing for the importance of art and images partly because, historically, much of American art portrays and engages with historical injustice and oppression. Mistreatment of the Native-Americans, slavery, human rights violations in the post-Civil War south, civil rights oppression of women - all of these things have given rise to art, in images as well as in music, film, and literature. But, at the same time, he's not arguing for sociological separated multicultural "studies" that reinforce stereotypes and tend to separate minorities from everyone else. Instead, he's teaching his students to appreciate how works of art concerning war and oppression can teach all of us about ourselves and about our identity, morally and spiritually. It's not just the art of an oppressed minority that we should consider. It's also how the majority responds to the art, expression and voice of the minority that we should consider. How Americans respond to a short story like Dry September by William Faulkner is of significant spiritual importance - to our moral health, both individually and as a nation. Griffith's worry is that the glut of desensitizing violent images in our culture is taking away the ability of his students to understand with any depth the insights that stories like Faulkner's have to offer us.

If American history is the story of a constant struggle to follow certain principles, then it is vitally important to remember the hypocrites of American history. These historical examples will serve to point out to us our own indulgence in modern hypocrisies. Slavery was the morally defining issue lurking behind almost every political battle in the first half of American history. It was an American self-contradiction. And it took Americans like Alexander Hamilton, John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster and Abraham Lincoln to figure out how to end it (and ending it was only the beginning of new battles). The historical tensions you are alluding to include the historical fact that, if the men who wanted to ban slavery refused to compromise at the Constitutional Convention, then the Constitution would never have been finished let alone ratified - and the United States probably would never have existed. So yes, that's right, the United States' very existence was partly based upon a compromise by anti-slavery political thinkers who, like James Wilson, decided to insert a few ticking clocks into the Constitution that were intended to end slavery at a later date. This historical tension is again demonstrated by men like FDR and Earl Warren (a civil rights hero) who decided for Japanese internment camps against the arguments of J. Edgar Hoover and Robert Taft.

I think another part of this historical tension is that the story of Manifest Destiny does not just include Polk's use of overblown rhetoric. It also includes the opposition to Manifest Destiny as expressed by an old Daniel Webster and a young Abraham Lincoln. It's easy to say that Americans did this or that injustice or accepted this or that hypocrisy. But the heroes in our history are exactly the men and women who fought to stop these injustices and eliminate the hypocrisy. I'd continue to defend the idea of American Exceptionalism, not because it's reason to believe we're morally superior to other human beings in the world, but because the very idea of founding a government upon a precisely written out "natural law" and "natural rights" political philosophy is, in fact, rare. It's an experiment that I believe in and don't want to lose. It's an experiment that we want more nations to attempt. And it's a foundation that many of us feel that the modern age is more willing to throw under the bus and move on to a different political philosophy altogether. Our modern culture is growing, as de Tocqueville predicted it would, at increasing odds against the very political philosophy that made our existence possible in the first place.

One of the first paragraphs I wrote for my book review, which I intend to finally finish this weekend, is as follows:

American culture is a good reason for the rest of the world to reject anything we try to do for them. We are supposed to hold to certain inalienable truths about mankind as self-evident, but because of the way we live and act, our pretending to act for these goals smacks of outright arrogance and hypocrisy. Why should any God-fearing Muslim, in Afghanistan, Iraq, or, for that matter, even Iran, want anything to do with what now remains of Western culture? How easy do we make it for them to think of us as corrupt, depraved, hard-hearted and evil? Quite easy.

Persiflage wrote:
: Historically speaking, Greece, Sweden and Britain had been around for hundreds of years age-wise before any of them got around to abolishing slavery. It took the infant nation United States less than one hundred years of existence to abolish slavery . . . By that timeline, the U.S. abolished slavery earlier than any other nation in the history of the world.

This is a rather bizarre argument.

The United States was a collection of British colonies that rebelled against Britain and, in doing so, ended up PRESERVING slavery within their borders for a few decades after the rest of the British Empire had abolished it.

That might not have been the INTENTION behind their rebellion, but it was certainly a CONSEQUENCE of their rebellion -- and the fact that, a few generations later, they were prepared to slaughter hundreds of thousands of their own citizens in order to catch up to the relatively peaceful abolitionism of the rest of the world doesn't necessarily speak all that well for them, either.

But that's a tangent from my main point here, which is that calling the United States an "infant nation" is somewhat misleading within this context.

It's also quite possible that by separating themselves from Britain, they made it easier for Britain to abolish it. Slavery in Britain was not as strictly divided by race as in the United States (many British slaves were Irish as well as African.) The economic vitality of half of the United States was based on a Southern economy that relied upon slavery to make profits. Eli Whitney's invention of the cotton gin transformed the American economy in ways that it didn't change Britain's. This probably would have been quite different if Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia were all part of the British Empire in 1793 and the profits of the cotton boom were enriching Great Britain (William Wilberforce would have had a much steeper battle on his hands). So it's by no means a foregone conclusion that Britain would have ended slavery when they did if the American colonies had not rebelled, and thus not necessarily true that the American revolution preserved slavery.

Massachussets abolished slavery in 1781. The Constitutional Convention was in 1787. The cotton gin changed everything around 1783. By 1804, all the Northern states had abolished slavery and American politics became obsessed for the next five decades in a struggle between the "free" and the "slave" states (a balance the Southern states fought tooth and nail to keep because they knew slavery would be abolished if they became a significant minority in Congress). Great Britain abolished slavery in 1833. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation was in 1863 (issued immediately after the Battle of Antietam).

The idea that the United States was an "infant nation" is based on the idea that the Constitution that they crafted was fundamentally different than any other type of self-government attempted in countries like Greece, Rome or Great Britain (let alone others). It's every sentence and clause was carefully selected to create a balance based on a particular "natural rights" philosophy. This was a political philosophy that was not shared by many Americans (as evidenced by the anti-federalists). And early American history is a story of conflict between these political philosophies (one of which, with its ideas of government still resting in the origins of the "divine right of kings" allowed for slavery). Russell Kirk noted that the anti-federalist political philosophy was essentially attempted in France. John C. Calhoun and southern secessionists held to this same political philosophy. Lincoln, and his intellectual ancestors, did not. Even today, there are Republicans, conservatives and libertarians who still will not grant that the Civil War was fought over slavery (and the political philosophy that supported its existence). The point here is that the Constitution was written through the triumph of one political philosophy over that of another. And the idea of the "infancy" and "exceptionalism" of the United States, is in its unique and historically recent founding upon this particular philosophy.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pb3txlrBZaE&feature=fvst

The more I think through this, the more Griffith is reminding me of Alexis de Tocqueville's discussion of arts and culture in Democracy in America. I think Griffith is asking us, even if he himself hasn't worked his way through all the connections, whether our entertainment culture (and its spiritual and moral affects in shaping us and how we think) is leading us against the very ideals and principles upon which the American government was based. Culture fosters philosophy. And there is a good question as to whether our culture is currently undermining the very political philosophy which we are purporting to the rest of the world to be the right one.

Edited by Persiflage, 02 March 2012 - 06:12 PM.


#23 NBooth

NBooth

    Magpie of Ideas

  • Member
  • 2,715 posts

Posted 03 March 2012 - 10:11 AM

Edited to add: Ok, this discussion is starting to look quite intensive. But, NBooth is taking me through some lines of thought I haven't considered before. I'm enjoying pursuing them. And while the two of us may pursue them further elsewhere, I still don't mind cautiously pursuing a few of Griffith's ideas on this thread since we'd both be entirely happy to welcome the thoughts of anyone else lucky enough to read Griffith's book.


Agreed (with the necessary reversal of identities). I'm finding this discussion very rewarding, but would hate if anyone felt locked out.

In fact, I want to bracket the broader political/quasi-psychological discussion for a moment and look at some stuff that's more directly related to the book (with citations!):


As I understand him, Griffith is arguing for the importance of art and images partly because, historically, much of American art portrays and engages with historical injustice and oppression. Mistreatment of the Native-Americans, slavery, human rights violations in the post-Civil War south, civil rights oppression of women - all of these things have given rise to art, in images as well as in music, film, and literature. But, at the same time, he's not arguing for sociological separated multicultural "studies" that reinforce stereotypes and tend to separate minorities from everyone else. Instead, he's teaching his students to appreciate how works of art concerning war and oppression can teach all of us about ourselves and about our identity, morally and spiritually. It's not just the art of an oppressed minority that we should consider. It's also how the majority responds to the art, expression and voice of the minority that we should consider. How Americans respond to a short story like Dry September by William Faulkner is of significant spiritual importance - to our moral health, both individually and as a nation. Griffith's worry is that the glut of desensitizing violent images in our culture is taking away the ability of his students to understand with any depth the insights that stories like Faulkner's have to offer us.


I happen to believe in the value of having sociological separated multicultural studies programs precisely because a lot of these literatures don't get play in "regular" lit studies. But let's bracket that as well. I like what you're saying, but I have a couple of caveats:

[1] I would be very suspicious of diagnosing anyone's moral health based on their ability to appreciate Faulkner. I mean, I appreciate him, but it's not difficult to see reasons why the general public might not that have nothing to do with desensitizing images. Besides, Faulkner was largely a failure until well after his "major" period had passed (he was, in fact, out of print for much a good while after The Sound and the Fury was published. It took The Portable Faulkner, IIRC, to put him back on top--and by then he was, as I understand it, past his best work).

[2] Be that as it may, I don't recall Griffith really plugging in to image at all in that section--he focuses on the need for a "hero" who "wins" and a "villain" who loses (a "scapegoat" [147]). He goes on to talk--not about images--but about euphemisms. When he finally gets around to the photos, he is interested in how they are constructed linguistically: "the moral reality of the actions photographed and video-taped at Abu Ghraib are shaped in large part by the language learned [i.e. "rough them up"] to describe the actions that went on there" (153). He goes on to talk about legality vs. morality (158). The issue doesn't seem to be that people weren't shocked by the images--it's that they passed by them, refused to look, papered over them with legalities and self-assuring words.

[3] Which is to say, the more I think about this book, the less I'm convinced that it actually is about image-culture or desensitization in any meaningful way. I think--and you touch on this in the quote above, albeit in a different sense--it's about how we respond to moments--in film or photographs or prose--that threaten (here it comes again) our self-image. What Faulkner and O'Connor and Blue Velvet and Abu Ghraib all have in common is that we cannot look on them indifferently. We must either look and confront ourselves, or walk by--ignore--dismiss--what have you.


The more I think through this, the more Griffith is reminding me of Alexis de Tocqueville's discussion of arts and culture in Democracy in America. I think Griffith is asking us, even if he himself hasn't worked his way through all the connections, whether our entertainment culture (and its spiritual and moral affects in shaping us and how we think) is leading us against the very ideals and principles upon which the American government was based. Culture fosters philosophy. And there is a good question as to whether our culture is currently undermining the very political philosophy which we are purporting to the rest of the world to be the right one.


Ok, there's a lot to unpack here. First--de Tocqueville ain't my bag, so I did a little searching around. He didn't think democracies could produce good art, no? [He also said Americans hate abstraction, which is funny in the context of this discussion].

Second, I think you might be making a massive shift here in terms of Griffith's thesis. Part of the problem is that I'm not sure he has a thesis. My growing complaint about the book is that he doesn't nail anything down. Heck, even having a "References" section would have been nice. But, if there is a thesis to this text, I'm pretty sure it's not about entertainment culture undermining American values. The book ends with Griffith standing at the statue of Commodore Perry and seeing that Perry's quote "We have me the enemy and he is ours" has been Pogo-ized to read "he is us."

Now, there's a couple of things going on here. The statue is an afterthought--it's positioned to give us the "key" to the book (that is, it is the accidental point at which we assume "meaning" will break through)--and, what's more, it's purposefully put out of chronological order. And, what's more, it's set up so that historical time is also suspended--symbolically, at least. So we have Perry and all the vets smoking around him, the past and present. Battle of Lake Erie (that is, the War of 1812--effectively putting him outside the issues of slavery and the War on Terror, though having the vets around brings him into communion with twentieth/twenty-first century warfare). And we have the quote, which is an example of someone bringing Pogo back to his roots:

Posted Image

Ok, then. What do we have? A temporally-suspended quotation from a funny paper brought back to its origin. We have a number of years stacked on top of each other [1812/1953/1970] spanning a good slice of the history of the United States--and coming further up to our time, with the un-dated graffiti. From this, it seems evident that Griffith's point isn't intended to be just about modern culture. If it were, Griffith could have ended things at the museum, with the kids going off for their coffee, bored with the display. But no, he chooses to take us back to 1812 (the symbolism here is pretty heavy-handed, so forgive me if I keep repeating it) in order to confront us with an overwhelming question: Who is our enemy? Who has always been our enemy? And his answer--Us.

Now, I don't want to go too far here because I think Griffith pulls up short. He doesn't really push the idea as far as it could go--that there are always two Americas chasing each other through time, that the contradiction at the heart of American life runs clear back to the beginning of the nation (I say nothing of other nations here, not because they don't have such contradictions, but because Griffith doesn't address them).

In short, what I think Griffith is onto is precisely the opposite of what you're suggesting: Griffith is not suggesting [beyond a few lines here and there] that our current culture is undermining our values; he's suggesting that we--as humans, not as an abstracted "culture" (which has never existed in a strong sense anyway, and increasingly doesn't exist at all)--deny our values, ignore them, massage them. That politically this takes the form of "bad apples" rhetoric when confronted with Abu Ghraib; that individually this takes the form of exulting in the violence of Pulp Fiction or Palanuik without giving any thought to what's going on--or even, in the case of the rape scene, by deliberately forgetting it. This isn't an error brought on by image-culture; it's as old as the nation, as old as the human. We can call it sin if you want to use theological terms.

Now, you might say that "we're all sinners" is a trite conclusion. I agree. Griffith simply doesn't explore the idea in the amount of depth that I would like. He needs more psychology. He needs more philosophy. We've established that he needs more history. He could have used some stuff from Camera Lucida to beef up his point (actually, this book reminded me of the Barthes work on a couple of occasions--both are meditations on photography, asking what personally draws the author to the photograph, etc etc etc). But, short as the book is, it does serve as a--what? Punctum isn't the word I want, but it's close enough--it serves as a small point where much larger concerns can force their way in. Some of them are political. Some may be sociological. But I'm thinking that reading the book as either without reading it as somehow existential [not in the school-of-philosophy sense, but in the simple sense of "having to do with problems of human existence"] makes it a far simpler work than it really is.

EDIT: Not to overburden an already-too-long post, but this discussion has sent me back--as it inevitably would--to David Dark's The Gospel According to America. (David Dark Thread Linkage). Though it's by far the least of Dark's books, I think it gets at a lot of what we've been discussing here and what Griffith hints at in his own work. Consider, for instance, the conclusion to chapter 1:

With all these hazards in mind, we now turn to what might be viewed as recurring heresies within American culture [...] When viewed alongside of what we believe of this coming, already/not-yet kingdom, America's efforts at self-improvement, law and order, and the uprooting of every perceived threat will often have the appearance of a carefully orchestrated mass delusion. For a nation, being quick to admit as much, not slow to repent or righteous in its own eyes, will probably be as close as any human instrumentality (or principality or power) will come to glory.


I offer the quote, not as proof or argument, but to point out a line of thought running (I think) parallel to the themes we've touched on in this thread.

Edited by NBooth, 03 March 2012 - 11:57 AM.


#24 NBooth

NBooth

    Magpie of Ideas

  • Member
  • 2,715 posts

Posted 13 March 2012 - 10:57 AM

The discussion around this book seems to have died down a bit, but I thought I would throw this in here. While thinking about this book, I keep coming back to two other authors: David Dark (quoted above) and Slavoj Žižek. Žižek is as different from Griffiths as he could be--a Lacanian-Marxist-Athiest--but there's a certain amount of overlap in their ideas. After reading A Good War, I ordered Violence: Six Sideways Reflections, just to see if the connection I was making between the two authors was valid. Here's what Žižek has to say on the Abu Ghraib scandal (from pages 145-150 of my copy, which is the British, not the American edition; it's in Chapter 5):

In his reaction to the photos showing Iraqi prisoners tortured and humiliated by US soldiers, George Bush, as expected, emphasized how the deeds of the soldiers were isolated crimes [...] And, effectively, the fact that the case turned into a public scandal which put the US administration in a defensive position was itself a positive sign. In a really 'totalitarian' regime, the case would simply have been hushed up.


Then he talks a bit about David Lynch and continues:

It is this feature that brings us to the crux of the matter: to anyone acquainted with the American way of life, the photos immediately evoked the obscene underside of US popular culture--say, the initiation rituals of torture and humiliation one has to undergo in order to be accepted into a closed community [...] In Abu Ghraib, the rituals were not the price to be paid by the prisoners in order to be accepted as 'one of us' but, on the contrary, the very mark of their exclusion.


Then there's some stuff about A Few Good Men and a quotation from Hitchens from around the time the photos came out. Žižek isn't impressed by Hitchen's claim that there were only two explanations (a few bad apples or direct orders):

The problem is that the Abu Ghraib tortures were neither of these two options: while they cannot be reduced to the simple evil acts of individual soldiers, they were, of course, also not directly ordered--they were legitimized by a specific version of the obscene Code Red [the fictional order in A Few Good Men ] To claim that they were the acts of 'mutineers, deserters, or traitors in the field' is the same nonsense as the claim that the Ku Klux Klan lynchings were the acts of traitors to the Western Christian civilization and not the outburst of its own obscene underside [...] Bush was thus wrong: what we are getting when we see the photos [...] is precisely a direct insight into American values, into the very core of obscene enjoyment that sustains the US way of life.


Now, the correspondence between the two authors isn't one-to-one. Griffiths works less on theory and more on intuition, which gives his pronouncements less certainty than Žižek's (this is not a bad thing, exactly, though I tend to prefer theory). And Griffiths is a Theist (and a specific sort of Theist) while Žižek is not [a fact that makes Žižek's handling of religious symbols interesting and provocative, btw]. But if we take Griffiths' work as a "sideways reflection" of its own, I think he intuits some ideas that are very similar to those laid out by Žižek.

Edited by NBooth, 13 March 2012 - 10:59 AM.


#25 J.A.A. Purves

J.A.A. Purves

    Chestertonian, Rabelaisian, Thomist, Christian

  • Member
  • 3,017 posts

Posted 13 March 2012 - 11:00 AM

The discussion around this book seems to have died down a bit ...

I'm still working my way through writing a book review. Once I finish it, I'll have some questions and comments on your last couple posts.

#26 NBooth

NBooth

    Magpie of Ideas

  • Member
  • 2,715 posts

Posted 13 March 2012 - 02:56 PM


The discussion around this book seems to have died down a bit ...

I'm still working my way through writing a book review. Once I finish it, I'll have some questions and comments on your last couple posts.


Fair enough. I'm looking forward to reading the review.

#27 J.A.A. Purves

J.A.A. Purves

    Chestertonian, Rabelaisian, Thomist, Christian

  • Member
  • 3,017 posts

Posted 07 April 2012 - 10:13 PM

My book review.

It was a rough one.

#28 NBooth

NBooth

    Magpie of Ideas

  • Member
  • 2,715 posts

Posted 08 April 2012 - 12:13 AM

My book review.

It was a rough one.


I'm really appreciating this review (spoken in the present tense because I suspect I'll need to go back and re- and re-re-read it). For one thing, it helps clarify for me some of the points at which I think I was talking past you in this very thread; for another, there's just so much to work with:

There is far more to human rights abuse questions than who the perpetrators are. When Edmund Burke famously alluded to how evil is successful, he was looking at the majority ... of us. We would all like to believe that most of us wouldn't do things like Graner and England, and we would probably be right. But we would also like to believe that most of us, if we saw something evil happening, would act - would actually do something to stop it. On this point, history has not encouraged this belief. In fact, the images and and the violence that entertains us so often in our culture today does not encourage this belief either.


The comment about wanting to believe that we're not like England reminds me of René Girard--a previously unknown-to-me author whose I See Satan Fall like Lightning wound up being my Holy Week reading somehow. Of course, Girard argues that we would without doubt behave like England et al because of the force of mimetic contagion--but that's a whole 'nother kettle of fish. Girard's theory has issues that go pretty deep, even though--at least, from this exposure--he's a stimulating read.

That's to the side, though. This is a great review, and I'm going to have to read over it several more times before I feel able to say more about it.

#29 J.A.A. Purves

J.A.A. Purves

    Chestertonian, Rabelaisian, Thomist, Christian

  • Member
  • 3,017 posts

Posted 09 April 2012 - 01:39 PM

Thanks.

For all the reading I've done in political philosophy and history, I'd never been directly confronted with how engaging in war affects and shapes a culture and the people within it, or how art about war or art about violence and social injustice can challenge our self-perceptions and assumptions about why we decide to do what we do. That turns out to be ultimately why I value Griffith's book on the subject. The fact that he brings C.S. Lewis, Flannery O'Connor and Susan Sontag to the discussion, among others, doesn't hurt either.

#30 NBooth

NBooth

    Magpie of Ideas

  • Member
  • 2,715 posts

Posted 25 April 2012 - 11:20 AM

This seems like as good a place to drop this link as anywhere else: Mark Zoller Seitz just tweeted a link to a two-year-old video essay on 24 which deals with the issue of torture in American film and television:

[A]fter the Supreme Court's Miranda ruling held that suspects had to be advised of their rights prior to questioning, left and right-wing philosophies started fighting it out on movie screens. Representatives of law and order were shown harassing and abusing suspects to get information. When so-called good guys started to torture villains—or just plain suspects—we were put in the uneasy position of wondering whether it was permissible to commit evil in order to prevent it.

Generally speaking, if a villain did it, it was evil. But if a hero did it, it was necessary roughness.

Post-9/11, the concept of "civil liberties" jockeyed for supremacy in a traumatized nation more inclined to err on the side of caution. Caution meant torture. 24used torture as both plot device and a way to make audiences momentarily consider real-world consequences of the Bush administration's new edicts.


FWIW, thanks to this discussion I've started to amass a list of books dealing with the issue of violence. I've got Walter Wink's The Powers that Be ("the myth of redemptive violence") next on my list (after a short history of the Hiroshima bombing). I can't say the issue really interested me all that much before--beyond a mild theoretical interest--so the move is entirely because of this thread.

#31 NBooth

NBooth

    Magpie of Ideas

  • Member
  • 2,715 posts

Posted 02 July 2014 - 05:29 PM

David Griffith gets a shout-out in The Millions' latest essay on Flannery O'Connor:

 

One of the most original examinations of [O'Connor's] work and influence is A Good War is Hard to Find: The Art of Violence in America, a sequence of essays by David Griffith. Griffith examines American conceptions of violence in the art and thought of Andy Warhol and Susan Sontag, in films like Pulp FictionBlue Velvet, and The Exorcist, and in everyday life (one essay is titled “Regarding the Electric Chair My Wife’s College Boyfriend Built in His House”). Griffith’s locus is the Abu Ghraib prison photographs. He thinks O’Connor would have found them “grotesque,” but in her own definition, that the grotesque “makes visible hidden ‘discrepancies’ between character and belief.” Abu Ghraib unwound American innocence through shock, in the same metaphorical way her fiction disrupts and disturbs us. Similarly, American public reaction to the photographs — the tendency to identify the perpetrators as in no way representative of “us” — is reflective of O’Connor’s “judgment of what she saw as the modern attitude toward ‘redemption’: Everyone wants it, but no one stops to consider its real cost.”

 



#32 Josh Hamm

Josh Hamm

    Member

  • Member
  • 59 posts

Posted 04 July 2014 - 01:47 AM

That reminds me: I really need to revisit Griffith's book.  I bought and read it years ago, and it sent me reeling after a first read through; it's rare that a book gets to me to think in new ways like this one did. There is undoubtedly a lot more to be gleaned from it than one read through can offer.  And, I have A&F to thank for introducing me to it, back when I was still lurking; I purchased it because of J.A.A Purves' review and the thoughtful discussion on this thread.