War Fantasies

“So it goes”. Life, death, sex, massacre. It is easy to romanticize war because it is unreal to many of us. It is a jumbling of mangled emotions, too hollow to be taken seriously and too restive to be neglected. It is the modern tragedy of Don Quixote.

An old acquaintance of mine used to bug me on and on about his war fantasies (something I assume every guy would have to some extent sooner or later in his life). Not just any  fantasies – he was very particular in his taste – they were fantasies of himself overlooking the battlefield like something of a Roman god, with war cries booming chariots racing and shields clashing, a good old fashioned Battle of Actium in all its glory.

I dismissed his naiveté with outright albeit slightly unjustified contempt, knowing that war as it is cannot be as neat as they are described in history textbooks. Ironically, I would rather believe in the wars renditioned in fictions, because the war on a grand scale is simply a show, bereaved of its humanity and are therefore too easily exploited as senseless statistics for some military agenda, whereas it doesn’t do nearly as much justice to the individuals that actually die for the war, for something they are too confused to believe in. The battlefield in Iliad and Aeneid is epical, but even if they actually exist, I doubt that it would look very similar in the eyes of the warriors to the pictures in our illusions without the fancy CGIs. If contemporary military practice can be said to be somewhat organized and disciplined thanks to advanced technology, then conventional wars can be described as a scrambling at best.

Ideologies don’t fight the war. Fame, honor, freedom, none of it matters when you are facing the blood, the dead, the splitting din and clamor, the splattering earth. War is fought by crude, slipshod human instincts, governed by a single, almost mechanic force to carry on that precedes everything else, and there is no room for the glorious, only the basest human reflexes in its bare savagery. It is every soul for itself.

To love is to love in single-mindedness, without reason, without compassion, because in fiercely clinging on to it it would have been tantamount to the will to survive. It’s like in For Whom the Bell Tolls when Robert Jordan looks at Maria in her sleep and wishes for her a good night sleep because it is the only wedding ring he could ever afford her.

“I love you. I’ll wait for you. Come back. Come back to me.” In Atonement Robbie holds on to the letters from Cecilia at first with a sense of hope; and then when “the sight of a corpse becomes a banality”, he holds on to them with almost religious rigidity, when their love becomes almost a hallucination that he forces himself to remember.

“So it goes”, like in Slaughterhouse Five. Life, death, sex, massacre. It is easy to romanticize war because it is unreal to many of us. It is a jumbling of mangled emotions, too hollow to be taken seriously and too restive to be neglected. It is the modern tragedy of Don Quixote.

This is a girl’s war fantasy.

Need A Good Fiction to Get High

Readers realize that they can no longer be satisfied by just a good story – they need a dose of heroin that would make them high.

When I first finished reading McEwan’s Atonement, I would never have thought it as the kind of fiction that could ever be translated into films, had I not watched the film in the first place. What is essential in this masterpiece is the montage of abstract conceptions, the expression of which is uniquely endowed in a writer’s command of words, which I thought would be no doubt lost in films. Yet Joe Wright did a surprisingly good job – if the film does not succeed in outlining such mentality, it certainly gives clear evidence for its existence.

The fiction industry and film, or rather the theatrical performance industry, have gone hand in hand over the centuries. Aside from plays that are written for the purpose of performance, fictions and films work in completely different departments. Fictions explore the inner faculties, the moral torment and emotional evolvement to which we have our earliest exposure from Andersen’s fairy tales. Films are concerned primarily with outward expressions, violent actions and striking narratives that move the audience to tears. It is instantaneous, impulsive, and it does not allow time for pauses, compared to the phlegmatic qualities of literature. It has always eluded me how they do so frequently collide, while it seems obvious to me that the feeling of seeing a newborn baby could never be properly depicted on screen.

But hoorah, look at the stream of successful adaptations that have contributed a lucrative sum into the business of Hollywood, and has become such a workaday practice that no one ever bother to compare them with the original work anymore.

But a closer look into more modernist mainstream fictions would reveal a clear trend – the lesser role of the dramatics. Earlier fictions are more or less distinguished by the pronounced effect of a distinct and articulate plot – Victorian romance and Gothic horrors. But as we progress into the age of Fitzgerald and Hemingway, the violent shuffling of fortunes, like in The Count of Monte Cristo, are replaced by a capacity to evoke an authentic sensation that delineates a tableau, a cross-section of a fragment of life itself. Readers realize that they can no longer be satisfied by just a good story – they need a dose of heroin that would make them high.

This is why I would be very interested in seeing a film based of Thomas Pynchon’s Crying of Lot 49. I can’t imagine how the maniacal paranoia in a disintegrative pursuit for the Tristero that reaches down into the heroine’s suppressed intentions and self-abuse could be transpired into moving pictures, to convince the audience of its inevitability despite its absurdity. The film industry has yet to learn from the fiction industry a crucial lesson to make a breakthrough that would rescue it from its current plateau – it’s no longer about what you see; it’s about what you feel.