The "post 9/11 war memoirs" series so far:
I plan on critiquing/discussing the following memoirs:
I've already reviewed Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried (which I’ve written about before here), Anthony Swofford's Jarhead, Clint Van Winkle's Soft Spots, Brandon Friedman's The War I Always Wanted, Nathaniel Fick's One Bullet Away, Evan Wright's Generation Kill, Andy Rooney's My War, Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson's Lone Survivor, Craig Mullaney's The Unforgiving Minute, Donovan Campbell's Joker One, Andrew Exum's This Man's Army, Kayla William's Love My Rifle More Than You, Jon Krakauer's Where Men Win Glory, Sebastian Junger's War, Matt Gallagher's Kaboom and Michael Herr's Dispatches. (Find the reviews and essay links above.) .
Still to be read--and this should finish off the memoirs series--are Shannon Meehan's Beyond Duty, Anthony Shadid Night Draws Near, Doonesbury's Sandbox, Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Imperial Life in the Emerald City, Darrell Griffin Sr.'s Last Journey, Dave Eggers What is the What, Michale Hastings' I Lost My Love in Baghdad and e.e. cumming's The Enormous Room.
I may yet read Anthony Loyd's My War Gone By I Miss It So, Colby Buzzell's My War, John Crawford's The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell, or Patrick Hennessy's The Junior Officer's Reading Club, but I don't know. I'm ready to move onto post-9/11 war films, which feels quicker and less time consuming.
The Original Post:
We've been asked from time to time, why does our website write about art? Michael's reason is different than mine. I write about posts about art and Violence because I enjoy writing about art.
The literature I have read for this website has mainly been war novels about the military and soldiers, armies and officers. This is because it directly relates to our larger topic--modern American wars and the military that fights them--and at the same time it gives me the opportunity to critique art as a whole. In other words, the things that define a great war novel are the same things that define a great novel. Their subject just happens to be more specific.
I say this because today I am beginning a series on war memoirs written by soldiers and officers. My ulterior motive is that I want to point out the limitations of the memoir. Or put more bluntly, I hate memoirs. It is an impotent medium and bad form. I hope to destroy it, or at least wound it. The memoir is inferior to the novel, and yet it is slowly taking its place in modern literature. I vainly hope to reverse this trend.
Michael asked me if memoirs are even art. Yes, memoirs are literature, and literature is art. But this question gets at the my first critique of memoirs: they purport to be non-fiction, instead of fiction. The word “non-fiction” implies truth. It implies accuracy. It implies that the events contained within the pages actually happened to the actual people. Thus, Craig Mullaney is not a character, he is a real person. His wife Meena and his Sergeant and his men are real people, not characters. The events of Jarhead aren’t plot, they are real events.
This is a problem for two reasons:
First, to critique a memoir would mean insulting real people. I wrote a note to myself while I was reading Jarhead, “If this were a novel, I could critique this character.” Where I can describe Hamlet as a vacillating weenie, or MacBeth as a heartless usurper, to describe the Marines of Jarhead as perverts is to insult the Marine Corps, not fictional characters. To describe each narrator as a drunk would insult each writer and I don't want to do that.
Of course, each writer is aware of this problem, that they are presenting themselves and their fellow soldiers on the page. How they deal with it, I’ll cover later.
Second, it prevents literary or political analysis. If I want to debate the war, journalism is a better medium. If I want to debate art, novels are better. Instead of debating artistic choices, I’m left debating the veracity of a work--which is the only thing left to discuss--as Nathaniel Fick does in his review of Jarhead. This is boring, and not actually literary criticism.
I'll close with this: I plan on critiquing memoirs, sometimes criticizing and sometimes praising them. I won't be critiquing the Soldiers, I am critiquing their works of art. The fact I even have to write the previous sentence is why I am writing this series.