Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Critical look at Military History: Jean Norton Cru's War Books

After fighting in WWI, Jean Norton Cru realized that the prevailing accounts that made up a widely accepted military history were written by high ranking officials, most of whom never experienced front line combat. War Books is the result of Cru's effort to sift through the romanticized image of a soldier in war. His aim is to get to the true individual accounts of those who lived, toiled, and experienced the war on the front lines and endured life in the trenches.
Cru clearly outlines how he went about the critical process of dissecting military history. He lists age-old legends and common notions that civilians have about war and sets out to dispel them with the compilation of writings from those who really lived it. Cru helps you realize that as a civilian, one really knows nothing about being a soldier.
Cru identifies the main flaw in popular military history:
"It is inferior because it concerns itself with special facts, facts which the witnesses, the chroniclers, the historians of the time, all those whose writings constitute our only documents, have exercised their wits to misrepresent, through motives of patriotism, of vainglory, or of tradition."
 and Jean Norton Cru really hoped to provide a work that would prompt people to see that war is not glorious in any way:

"These testimonies will teach...that man comes to the point of making war only by a miracle of persuasion and deception...; that if people knew what the soldier learns at his baptism of fire, nobody would consent to a solution by force of arms; not friends, not enemies, not government, not legislative bodies, not voters, not reservists, not even professional soldiers."
War Books is great because it can knock some sense into any civilian that claims to know what it is to fight in a war and reminds the reader why war is completely senseless and unnecessary. It can also enrich one's perspective because it provides a raw and arguably more accurate military history; a favorable alternative to the common history that is rife with distorting pride.
More specifically, it can provide essential background knowledge for the English literature major because it was compiled by a veteran of World War I; a war characterized by an inhumanity that helped inspire Modernism and some of the greatest English poets and writers.

Get War Books now, on sale from SDSU Press.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Comic Relief for us all!: Hector Ortega's The Comic Trial of Joseph K. from SDSU Press

Hector Ortega’s stage adaptation of Franz Kafka’s The Trial is eerily pertinent to our times. Accused of some unknown crime and put through a wacky, illogical judicial system, Joseph K. feels the strange uncertainty of having his fate in the hands of simple-minded power trippers. What makes this The Comic Trial of Joseph K. is Ortega’s ability to pick up on Kafka’s humor latent in the original. It’s this humor that makes the gravity of Joseph’s circumstances easier to swallow and it breathes a sharp wit into the stage version. The book includes essays analyzing Ortega’s adaptation, giving the reader a better understanding of Joseph’s character and the importance of the comic element. The most beautiful is Ortega’s own essay in which he expresses a genuine passion for Kafka, his personal character, and his work.  Here are some excerpts from Ortega's essay:

"The truth is that the 'Kafkaesque' situation in which we continuously see ourselves involved in the offices of bureaucracy keep on making us experience feelings of impotence; we feel controlled by superior authoritarian forces that manipulate our lives."
Ortega also writes about the common misconception that Kafka had a dire attitude. The truth was that he held out hope for mankind, something so beautiful that we all need to inspire passion and action in us -not from fear- but from a source of love. 

"Kafka, like all prophets, is a man full of rage and pain, but, in spite of all commonplaces, like all prophets of desperation he is a man full of love for mankind, with hope in humanity. From him I have received the most hopeful and desolate phrase I have ever heard; it is a phrase from his diary: 'Even if there is no redemption in this world, we should all live as if there were.' It is the most beautiful example I have found of human dignity."
 It's with that same Kafka attitude that we face things like the Supreme Court saying that corporations are people and Congress passing next year's defense spending bill. Hector Ortega's The Comic Trial of Joseph K. can be inspiring now more than ever. Ortega brings out Kafka's view that no matter how far authority imposes injustice we must keep in mind that there are no "others," we work against injustice all while knowing that eventually everyone will be reminded of the things that make us human. Franz Kafka's convictions are the kind that can help shift the trajectory of mankind for the better.

Purchase a copy of Hector Ortega's The Comic Trial of Joseph K.: Text and Context from SDSU Press.