What Kind Of Literature Will This War Bring?
What Kind Of Literature Will This War Bring?
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  • 승인 2003.04.07 00:00
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Reflecting On Austen, Eliot And The Present
Literature is more than just stories and rhymes; it reflects the philosophies and realities of the times in a way no other art can. Jane Austen wrote her beloved novels at the time when Napoleon? army was dominating Europe. Anyone who has read Austen"s Pride and Prejudice knows that the only "universally acknowledged truth" was that men and women needed to get married. Elizabeth Bennett never mentions Napoleon and Mr. Darcy shows no anxiety over the fate of his country.
In creating a world so out of touch with political issues, Austen was not ignoring the wartime experience of the times. That was the wartime experience: army men concerned with courting girls rather than fighting wars and middle-class families leading uneventful, normal lives that didn? require anything outside of their petty existence.
The world of Jane Austen is phenomenally different from that of say, T.S. Eliot"s The Waste Land. Eliot wrote this epic poem after the world had seen the most tragic war in history. Every inch of the earth that Eliot depicts has been scarred and devastated and the poet mourns over how impossible it is for the continuation of existence.
The immense scale and the sheer inhumanity of the two World Wars were unprecedented. It became unthinkable for citizens to ignore what was going on. Hundreds and thousands of American citizens actively participated in the "war effort" by volunteering, purchasing war bonds or listening to radio talks. Bomb drills were conducted regularly to give citizens the feeling of participation, even though it is said that they would have hardly been effective in the case of a real event.
Now the war was something immediate and unavoidably close. As John F. Kennedy said in his inauguration speech, this was an era when Americans asked not what their country could do for them, but what they could do for their country.
Keeping this in mind, I wonder what kind of literature will spring from this wartime experience. An article in a recent edition of American newspaper, USA Today, calls it a "privatized war". Nothing is required of US citizens, but to support the war, pray for their country, and go on living as if nothing is happening.
Here at Wellesley, the "emergency preparedness guidelines" ask that students "remain calm and continue with ordinary activities". Even after the Department of Homeland Security raised the national threat level to "orange" (high risk), malls were packed with eager shoppers and my friends are parading over to NYC this weekend for some fun.
Putting my private views of this war aside, it"s odd that my experi ence in the US feels more like Austen"s world than a wasteland. Don"t get me wrong, I hardly want to receive sugar rations or experience nightly bomb drills.
However, America is at war at a time when reality cannot be ignored. CNN is airing war updates 24 hours a day. Video clips of bombings and deaths are on every channel you see. The Internet follows the events, ghastly detail to ghastly detail.
The war is so close. Yet, all the government asks from its people is their passive compliancy. If this is a war of national self-defense, then how come its citizens are totally irrelevant? It seems to me that the United States is ignoring more than the United Nations.

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