Monday, January 11, 2016

Where They Found Amusement

Scots soldier , reading in the trenches, World War 1

Another installment on Modernity, or on what came before Modernity.

A note on my diminished eyesight: 13 years ago I lost the central vision in my left eye as a result of a Macular Hole (look that one up on Google). I was already very nearsighted and wearing trifocals. My right eye is fine, and I can drive the car and read the computer without any problem; however, I have trouble with double vision when I’m reading a book. That’s why I confine my book reading to “school stuff” and listen to police procedurals and murder mysteries on my iPod.

I’m still reading The Great War and Modern Memory. It’s very dense and British, and the pages are yellowed (a 1975 paperback from Amazon) and the print is small.

I have to read it with my glasses off, the book lying on top of the closed laptop, and directly under the desk lamp, and moving the bookmark down the text.

One chapter is called “Oh what a literary war.”   I was so struck by Fussell’s observation that the soldiers of all levels of education and social status knew and quoted poetry.
He also said

“In 1914 there was virtually no cinema; there was no radio at all; and there was certainly no television. Except for sex and drinking, amusement was largely found in language formally arranged, either in books and periodicals or at the theater and music hall, or in one’s own or one’s friends’ anecdotes, rumors. Or clever structuring of words. It is hard for us to recover imaginatively such a world, but we must imagine it if we are to understand the way “literature” dominated the war from beginning to end…”
St. Giles Fair - Oxford

And yet… I remember myself and my friends away in college in 1966, and that paragraph could still be applied to us, just fifty years ago. Our college was out in the country, most of us had no car, and though we did have radios, stereos, and one television in the "smoker" at the end of the hall, we entertained ourselves with conversation and "the clever structuring of words."


Fussell did not think much of American literary culture in 1914, and says that ordinary Americans of that time didn't value "self-improvement by reading" the way the ordinary Brit did.

Also, Fussell wrote his book about World War 1 in 1975; what would he say about our world in 2016?

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