The comparison with Catch-22 is warranted by the farcical outsized overdrawn dizzying exertions of a cast of warriors we observe together while out of combat and hoping to stay that way. Fug yes; now fuck yes. Yossarian’s days on ground, forlorn and scheming, between the always extended number of bombing runs over Germany he must total up for one war takes him about as far away as the heroic showcased star spangled bannering of Billy Lynn’s crew of Iraq War infantry during the halftime show, before Beyonce, at Cowboy stadium for the annual Dallas Thanksgiving Day Game, sixty years after Dresden, even as America’s Team, stoic executers— Landry of stone face, Staubach of the Navy sacrifice gone, has decayed. Like a Mission Accomplished or an Errand in the Wilderness. Did I say comparison? The template is there as well. Ben Fountain, a combat veteran of Iraq, if not of the rumble with Beyonce’s roadies and a near, quite innocently hot secret romantic tumble with a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader makes his nod to Joseph Heller— this love and theft— perfectly evident in the gut of the book. Billy’s sister— “what do you mean they are sending you back tomorrow!!??” She takes the lead and plays right up close to the “Catch” as she endeavors to keep her bro— he’s a 19 year old west Texas hill kid, home now, thank you very much. Billy does take some long walks — from the Cowboy’s owner and his flak-catchers, the stink of oilmen and their wives (think of Fountain thinking of Wolfe first then Mailer here) in a skybox hell to the half-time show to Hollywood producer pitches— the film version of the 3 minute iPhone captured attempt to save his platoon mate- KIA- and the White House meet and greet in between to wheels up 0500 back to country. Or maybe not.. read the book. My sense is that Billy Lynn’s walks, over a brief time— a flash in the field of fire… the three minute video a life time in comparison brought him the distance of Melville’s scribe Bartleby ready to take it all on in his own terms: “I would prefer not to.” We can’t be sure if Billy returns, gets on the plane, and following Tim O’Brien The Things They Carried and all the rest, as Fountain must, war stories are always true and never true.
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
Historian Eric Foner writes that the years 1962/63 witnessed the appearance of several pathbreaking books that challenged one or another aspect of the 1950s consensus on ecology, Silent Spring, Rachel Carson; the economy, The Other America: Poverty in the United States, Michael Harrington; on gender, The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan and on racism, The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin. I’ve decided to read each of these in coming months. Just finished the two Baldwin essays that comprise TFNT and can only say what has taken me so long! The title reference, unknown to me till now, is worth the price of admission: “God gave Noah the Rainbow sign, No more Water, it’s the Fire next time!” Baldwin’s first essay in the volume “My Dungeon Shook” takes the form of a letter to his 14 year old nephew. He advises his namesake that neither he, “nor time, nor history will ever forgive them that have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it, and do not want to know it.” It is this “innocence that constitutes the crime.” Later he informs young James to be aware that “details and symbols of your life…make you believe what white people say about you.” Half century separates Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (2015), a solid nod, no an inheritance, more than just by epistolary form to Baldwin. Just as Baldwin’s half century distant reach to WEB Dubois’s The Souls of Black Folk (1903) gives us a transom, a historical/literary/psychological/theological bridge through the century of the “color line.” Attention to Coates book and his prodigious critical commentary along this line, these lines, can’t yet conclude, even as book sellers/blurbers anoint, his place in this sequence of american politics and letters… but even so, as Baldwin brought the attention of 1962 readers to DuBois, Coates does now for Baldwin.
Linebaugh is a treasure. His work continues on the track that his mentor EP Thompson set him on. Digging deep into the past to recover the rich lives of those who were pushed around and off the common land by the new rich of fenced land and sheep, the city and the factory, the prison and penal exile.
“I am seeking to rescue the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the “obsolete” hand-loom weaver, the “utopian” artisan, and even the deluded follower of Joanna Southcott, from the enormous condescension of posterity.” (Thompson,1963) Why not quote the sentence that captured a generation’s interest in social history.
Linebaugh with his mate Rediker are at the top of that social history impulse with __The Many Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic __(2001)
Stop, Thief! collects Linebaugh essays and reviews from the last ten years. great reading.
Classic clear language vivid portrayal of what lies at the twisted heart of the colonizer-colonized relationship and the dynamic– violent– severance of the bond. Decolonization, Revolution, other words for what followed. By 1961 Fanon could already see the direction toward weak ineffective corrupt governance by class, ethnicity or other difference who were marked by colonizers as the legitimate heirs. , and the continued hand and fist of the former powers. Horrifying truths. Eager to read biography of Fanon now.