Tag: Shell Shock

Bolaño, Owen, Shell Shock, and Beuys, and the Charisma of Nazis

by on Nov.22, 2010

I’ve been working on a 40 page essay on Bolaño and how Art leaks, flows, or surges from the evil eye; I’ve been thinking of Nazi Literatures in the America as materializing the physical co-incidence of Art and evil—evil because it inverts, perverts, controverts the homologously normalizing forms of the body, society, and the text. Nazi Literatures in the Americas is a fake-textbook (fake, so already artificial and evil); at once bio- and biblio-graphical, it gives the birth and death dates for a collection of Fascist writers, synopses of their lives, a description of their careers and the fates of their writing. Their actual writing is absent. Bolaño’s short prose is frequently marked by flimsy/improbable/hasty frame narratives through which a comparably excessive main narrative spurts and flows; in Nazi Literatures in the Americas we get only the frame narratives, without the main narratives, the overproduction, the issue, the Art. In this sense we get only a set of collapsed evil eyes, with the Art drained out of them.
However, reading up on Wilfred Owen and shell-shock, I’ve come across information about the specific therapy administered to him in Craiglockhart Hospital. Owen’s doctor prescribed metrical poetry writing and other art activities to help his shell-shocked patients re-ordinate themselves to society’s temporality. Here is Brock’s description of shell-shock, as quoted in scholar Meredith Martin’s essay “Therapeutic Measures: The Hydra and Wilfred Owen at Craiglockhart War Hospital.”(Modernism/modernity, Volume 14, Number 1, January 2007 ):

The shell-shock patient is out of Time altogether. If a “chronological,” he is at least not a
historical being. Except in so far as future or past may contain some memory or prospect
definitely gratifying, or morbidly holding him, he dismisses both. He lives for the moment,
on the surface of things. His memory is weak (amnesia), his will is weak (aboulia),
he is improvident and devoid of foresight. He is out of Space, too; he shrinks from his
immediate surroundings (geophobia), or at most he faces only certain aspects of it; he is
a specialist à Outrance. (from Brock’s postwar volume Health and Conduct, p. 146.) (continue reading…)

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On Johannes’s Theory of Kitsch: Yeats, Owen, and Brian Turner

by on Nov.18, 2010

When I was reading Johannes’s post below, and how kitsch is used as a bulwark to protect the Highness of the High Modern, I immediately thought of Yeats leaving the War Poets out of his Oxford Anthology of Modern Verse (1936)– defending his choice against critics, he wrote in a letter:
“[…]I excluded Wilfred Owen, whom I consider unworthy of the poets’ corner of a country newspaper, […]He is all blood, dirt & sucked sugar stick (look at the selection in Faber’s Anthology– he calls poets ‘bards,’ a girl a ‘maid,’ & talks about ‘Titanic wars’). There is every excuse for him but none for those who like him. . . .”

This is dripping with kitsch signifiers– country newspaper, ‘sucked sugar stick’, even ‘dirt’ and ‘blood’, as if there is something unseemly about soldiers being dirty or bloody. In the next sentence these three sticky substances are associated with the tacky, poem-y diction of ‘bards’, ‘maid’ ‘Titanic wars’—the ‘dim lands of peace’ stuff that Pound condemns in ‘a few don’ts.; So somehow poeticisms and euphemisms here are equated with dirt, blood, and sugar stick—art at its most overstated and artsy (and thus kitschy) is equal to contaminatory and bodily things. It’s enough to remind you that ‘tacky’ has two senses– both ‘sticky to the touch’, and ‘corny/tasteless’. Yeats mobilizes both against Owen.
(continue reading…)

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