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Lessons from Sarajevo

Lessons from Sarajevo: A War Stories Primer

Jim Hicks
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Lessons from Sarajevo
    Book Description:

    In today’s world, our television screens are filled with scenes from countless conflicts across the globe—commanding our attention and asking us to choose sides. In this insightful and wideranging book, Jim Hicks treats historical representation, and even history itself, as a text, asking questions such as Who is speaking?, Who is the audience?, and What are the rules for this kind of talk? He argues that we must understand how war stories are told in order to arm ourselves against them. In a democracy, we are each responsible for policy decisions taken on our behalf. So it is imperative that we gain fluency in the diverse forms of representation (journalism, photography, fiction, memoir, comics, cinema) that bring war to us. Hicks explores the limitations of the sentimental tradition in war representation and asks how the work of artists and writers can help us to move beyond the constraints of that tradition. Ranging from Walt Whitman’s writings on the Civil War to the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and focusing on the innovative and creative artistic expressions arising out of the wars of the former Yugoslavia, Hicks examines how war has been perceived, described, and interpreted. He analyzes the limitations on knowledge caused by perspective and narrative position and looks closely at the distinct yet overlapping roles of victims, observers, and aggressors. In the end, he concludes, war stories today should be valued according to the extent they make it impossible for us to see these positions as assigned in advance, and immutable.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-256-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xviii)
  4. 1 Case Study: Of Phantom Nations
    (pp. 1-22)

    In 1866, after his Civil War service as a surgeon at Turner’s Lane Hospital in Philadelphia, the neurologist and novelist S. Weir Mitchell published his first work of fiction in theAtlantic Monthly. This short story, “The Case of George Dedlow,” is generally credited today as the first description in print of the strange neurological phenomenon commonly known as “phantom limb”—an amputee’s sensation that a missing limb is still present. Its protagonist, a triple amputee, passes his time in hospital by interviewing patients like himself:

    found that the great mass of men who had undergone amputations for many months...

  5. 2 Thesis: The Crime of the Scene
    (pp. 23-42)

    The thinking behind this chapter began, in some sense, in early March 1999, after the refugee crisis in Kosovo had begun and when the NATO bombing campaign was only days away. One evening after classes, I attended a teach-in on the crisis. At that event, attended by about a hundred students and professors, a sociologist, Peter I. Rose, was the first to speak. He began by showing us a collection of news photos which he had accumulated from a variety of conflicts over the past decades. Each photo portrayed a nearly identical image, a mother and her child, invariably in...

  6. 3 Victims: The Talking Dead
    (pp. 43-68)

    Let me begin by clearing up several possible misconceptions. A critique of the sentimental tradition in war representation does not mean that there are no innocent victims, or, for that matter, no acts of criminal aggression. Nor is there some Heisenberg-like principle for war stories, dictating that all observation is necessarily participatory, that representation inevitably changes what it observes (though it certainly can). My simple concern is with the use, and the abuse, of a form of representation that has remained relatively fixed for roughly three centuries. My suspicion is that the immobility of this form also freezes our understanding,...

  7. 4 Observers: The Real War and the Books
    (pp. 69-104)

    In one of the most quoted phrases from Whitman’s Civil War notebooks, our national poet remarks that “the real war will never get into the books.” More recently, one of the legends of French documentary cinema made the same point about his own chosen medium, with a bit more specificity. Chris Marker noted that, “As long as there is no olfactory cinema […], there will be no films of war.” (“Smellies,” I guess you would have to call them, in the way we used to refer to “talkies.”) Marker adds that this absence is “prudent, because if there were such...

  8. 5 Aggressors: The Beast Is Back
    (pp. 105-124)

    Nations, and the people who form them, differ in the degree to which their memory of history—and the violence that punctuates it—remains active, generative of their collective identity. In the quotation from Ivo Andrić’sBridge on the Drina, no mention is given of a specific historical moment, yet it is hard to imagine a citizen of the former Yugoslavia who would not recognize the passage instantly, and also know that it refers to the horrendous outbreak of the violence during the Second World War. Today, of course, the passage also carries a more contemporary resonance, and it is...

  9. Conclusion: Bringing the Stories Home
    (pp. 125-166)

    In the final seconds ofKony2012, the son of the video’s director says, “I’m going to be like you, Dad. I’m going to come with you to Africa.” The screen is filled by the image of a total eclipse, the sun just beginning to reappear. Director Jason Russell’s voice-over then intones, “The better world we want is coming. It’s just waiting for us to stop at nothing.” Viewers are then instructed to do three things: (1) sign a pledge; (2) get an “action kit”; and (3) donate money to the film’s advocacy group. And—oh yes, they should also...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 167-174)
  11. Works Cited
    (pp. 175-182)
  12. Index
    (pp. 183-193)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 194-194)