Friday, 12 June 2009


There is something simultaneously marvellously perceptive and wrong about Auden's celebrated definition of war: 'War is bombing an already disused arsenal, missing it and killing a few old women. War is lying in a stable with a gangrenous leg. War is drinking hot water in a barn and worrying about one's wife. War is a handful of lost and terrified men in the mountains, shooting at something moving in the undergrowth. War is waiting for days with nothing to do, shouting down a dead telephone, going without sleep and sex and a wash." It is perceptive in its vividness and it is suitably 21st-century in its antiidealising, antiheroising eloquence. But it falls, almost despite itself, into narratavising war: 'war is a network of individual stories that make up a grand story.' How to articulate the true, martial, democractic perspective ... that although (tautologically) stories about war, from the Iliad to Saving Private Ryan, are stories, war itself is not a story.

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