Wednesday, 15 February 2006

Half-Comment, Half-Post: I Christen It "Compost" [WARNING: The following post reads like a comment. Just so you know. 'Cause I set high standards for posts around here. I like them to be freestanding and am disappointed when they seem otherwise. And so I have banished it below the fold . . . where it will frolic in fields of flowers with all your beloved dead pets.] N. Pepperell of Rough Theory points to her desire to engage in gender-neutral online debates as one of the reasons she doesn't post under her full name. I should begin by noting that I hadn't realized she was a woman despite her having commented here fairly frequently over the past few months . . . but neither did I assume her a man. Be gentle, dear readers, as I blunder through this minefield: the operative question here is how I could have failed to notice the import of gender entirely. The answer? If someone's name fails to mark their gender it doesn't pique my curiosity. I'm more interested in what "entities" have to say than in communicating with them as people. Not that I don't acknowledge them as human beings, mind you, because I do. But online all the identitarian benchmarks can fall to the wayside without damaging the intensity of intellectual interaction. Like Pepperell, I would prefer my words not be implicated in the masculinist discourse I've taken pains to remove myself from elsewhere. And that's what trips up so much online communication. Because I've done what I've done elsewhere and previously instead of always here and immediately, I leave myself open to charges that I'm ignoring what I've failed to explicate here. This is why I'm such a devoted bridge-builder. WHAT? YOU? A BRIDGE-BUILDER! Yes. (Stop laughing.) I am. (I really am.) A bridge-builder. (Don't make me turn this car around.) Despite the fact that my posts on the Valve tend to generate more comments than any post which doesn't include the word "Zizek" in it, none of the principle combatants considers me anti-intellectual or unnecessarily hostile. (I can provide definitive proof of this but am satisfied to let the statement stand and have Matt, LB, CR, Ken Rufo, &c. waiting in the wings in case anyone doubts me on this one.) Despite regularly ruffling everyone's feathers I have somehow maintained my integrity and popularity. The reason, I believe, is that I confront arguments instead of people and proffer counter-arguments instead of attacks. I don't think this an inherently masculine or feminine so much as an acquired trait. I've trained myself to respond in such a way that the compact that is "the benefit of the doubt" is never broken no matter how heated the debate becomes. (Speaking of which: I've been grading and grading and grading all day . . . and so may need a heartier benefit of a greater doubt than is typical.) Belle (if I may) notes that seriously blogging transforms fun into work. I don't think that's quite right. The thing about studying...
Herr Loves a Good Joke . . . er. (Groan.) Few would dispute the claim that Michael Herr's Dispatches stands somewhere near the summit of journalistic achievement. You have your Capote boosters , your Mitchell partisans and your rabid Joan Didion fans . . . but even they would admit that while Herr lacks their beloved's body of work, Dispatches alone earns Herr the right to be mentioned in the same breath. Unless you ask Herr, who now insists that Dispatches is a novel with all the trappings one expects from fiction in which the author writes "what he knows." The vivid characters are composites, the dramatic moments were invented &c. I'm tempted to dismiss his claims to having invented these characters as part of what had been (before the memoir craze of recent years) a structural bias against the literariness of literary journalists, the best of whom only filter the brilliance of others. Who wants to filter genius? More to the point: Who can't? Anyone can filter. Only geniuses are geniuses. Such seems the reasoning behind Herr's '80s argument and his subsequent struggle to have Dispatches declared fiction. I don't buy it. My main objection is that it dehumanizes the grunts he lived with in Vietnam. My secondary one is that it suggests that Vietnam couldn't do to kids what everyone knows it did. Some of the more sensational scenes in Dispatches do seem invented . . . but so do commonplace accounts of daily life during the Vietnam War. In short: Herr wants credit for what historical context created. I don't want to give it to him. At least not for Dispatches. But I'll give it up for Full Metal Jacket . "Wasn't Full Metal Jacket was based on Gustav Hasford's The Short-Timers?" I admit: The first half of the fim was lifted verbatim from "The Spirit of the Bayonet" section. But the second half of the film contains numerous reworkings of material from Dispatches and, more importantly, doesn't end with Cowboy's death like "Grunts" did. The novel concludes with Joker killing Cowboy after he's been mortally injured by a sniper. Then they return to base. In the film the Lusthog squad tracks down the sniper. Rafterman shoots her down . . . but let me step back and let the ironies compound. In the screenplay for the film Herr creates a composite of Hasford's "Joker" and Michael-Herr-working-journalist-in-Vietnam. Hasford's Joker is a combat correspondent like Herr . . . only Joker went through BT and is actually a Marine. Herr was a combat correspondent for Esquire. But when Herr adapted Hasford's novel he had Joker experience much of what Herr did and wrote about in Dispatches. He grafted Dispatches onto The Short-Timers. Thus we see Dispatches' most memorable dialogue crop up in Full Metal Jacket. To wit: DOORGUNNER: Anyone who runs is a V.C. Anyone who stands still is a well-disciplined V.C. You guys oughtta do a story about me sometime. JOKER: Why should we do a story about you? DOORGUNNER: 'Cause I'm so fucking good! That ain't...

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