Tuesday, August 03, 2004

what Paul learned from Pudding

Fussell was vigorously opposed to last year's invasion of Iraq: "If you don't get angry about this war you don't deserve to be alive." Under no illusions about the cruelty of frontline troops (in Doing Battle he describes how his own platoon murdered weeping, surrendering German soldiers, and elsewhere reflects on the fashion among American troops in the Pacific for collecting Japanese skulls), he regards the torture of Iraqi prisoners as "absolutely predictable - it's usually practised by soldiers upon each other". Sadism, he says, is ordinary in war: "That's why it has to be so carefully guarded by rules - the Geneva convention and so on."

"The greatest irony," Fussell wrote at the end of The Great War, "is that it is only now [after the relaxation of censorship in the 60s], when those who remember the events are almost all dead, that the literary means for adequate remembering and interpreting are finally publicly accessible." In a close reading of Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, he picked out Brigadier Pudding, tormented by the image of Passchendaele and its "shell-pocked leagues of shit in all directions", for whom ritualised sexual humiliation becomes a compulsive means of remembering. When OUP asked Philip Larkin for a comment on Fussell's book, the poet called this final section "obscene nonsense". Fussell, who went further than most in his discussion of the profound damage, to minds as well as bodies, that could be the long-term effect of war, says: "It strikes me as almost cruel, to write about the last seconds of the lives of young people who are scared to death, as if war were a matter of battalions and staff organisations and so on. It's unimaginative, hopeless - it doesn't do any good."

Hello to all that, interview with author Paul Fussell