Sunday, February 11, 2007

Chaos Theory

Recently I started reading again, as in not just Internet and magazines but always having a book going and reading at least a chapter or two of it a day. There's a slew of bad reasons why I'd slacked off from something for which I've often been voracious, but what seems to have brought me back is the violence.

Okay, so do I blame the malingering zeitgeist of the Iraq War or just my drive to a pulse rate sufficient to impel page-turning? I just finished E.L. Doctorow's The March, which follows a diverse number of interweaving characters through General William Tecumseh Sherman's Confederacy-breaking Civil War roll through Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.

The opening scene, where the white plantation owner and his family flee in advance of the Union Army, leaving behind the suddenly freed slaves including a character who will become very important to the story, set a tremendous sense of vision and place. And while the rolling city, the assault and support machine that is Sherman's masterpiece, is a feat of military organization, what continually strikes back at the reader is the sense of chaos that war by its nature engenders. Indeed, for a general like Sherman, to be the mechanism of that chaos is the intent -- to bring chaos and disarray by those means untenable losses onto one's enemy -- of the practice of war.

But maybe it's the Iraq War experience shading the discussion or lifting the veils; with the massive chaos ignited by the Bush Administration's De-Baathification from their side and the Abu Ghraib tortures, the squad indicted for rape and murder, the wedding airbombed by accident, the unleashing of daily deathcounts for Shia and Sunni; war isn't just hell, it's not meant to be controllable. Not 100%

I read The March on the heels of Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men, which is another very violent novel, albeit a Southwest U.S. drug war rather than military conflict. Bloodsplattered motel room carpets (and the next Coen Bros movie). I've moved onto Going After Cacciato by Tim O'Brien, listed as maybe the very best Vietnam War novel. Cacciato tells his squad he's walking to Paris and when he sets off they chase after him. A long long ways.

More war; more chaos.

It's been on my mind, how do men (and these days women) live in constant camping, constant moving, constant stripping away of any creature comforts in pursuit of a death whether theirs or their enemy's, and the wild propensity for something to go wrong, for more and worse hurt.

I've been watching HBO's Rome, where lives are taken weekly, by intent or by someone's hair-trigger rage. I was mesmerized by Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima, a desaturated black and white world illuminated by flashes of flesh tones in the explosions, every single artillery blast an agent of suffering and chaos, reordering plans in the burst of a second.

Call me a glutton for punishment, that I have Battered Entertainment Consumer Syndrome. I feed it with the squad vs. Cylon skirmishes of Battlestar Galactica, the dystopian chaos chase of Children of Men, sudden death by Idi Amin's fiat in The Last King of Scotland, the revulsive history of Nanking.

Maybe it's a no-brainer and now four years into our shanda we realize War is Chaos. Do I really have to keep this all too relevant fact on my aesthetic-appreciation front burner until the U.S. has pulled out? I can't imagine anyone believing, even with this new bullshit sales job on an Iran War, that our actions are capable of being antiseptically focused enough, that there will be no collateral damage, or an "acceptable" amount.

Yep, I'm a good DooBee who's already standing up and saying it. I could switch to a more mindless curriculum, or at least one that's less bloody and maybe even lighthearted.


But all I can think of is how much I want James Ellroy to finally publish the third volume in his staggeringly violent American Underworld Trilogy so I can lay my greedy eyes on his sweet chaos-a-go-go.

As the man once unwittingly said:
Bring it on.


Devoted reader in Delmar said...

I also am avid HBO Rome viewer despite the rediculous soap opera text quality and the cruelty (which is truly unhealthy to read/watch), wondering if this is a true picture of ancient Rome.

Mark Netter said...

I've been driven to Wikipedia to find out what might happen next (spoilers in link):