The Great War and Modern Memory

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Fussell, Paul. The Great War and Modern Memory. Oxford, UK: Oxford UP, 1975.

Relevant here for related assertions near the beginning of the book, in Chapter IX, "Persistence and Memory," and Chapter VIII, "Soldier Boys" (in that order). In almost a throw-away bit of hyperbole embedded in a subordinate clause, Fussell refers to "the passing of the Military Services Act," with which "England began to train her first conscript army, an event which could be said to mark the beginning of the modern world" (p. 11). In Ch. IX, Fussell notes that "As early as The Naked and the Dead" (1948), Norman Mailer had begun to perceive "that 'modern society' is largely a continuation of the army by other means. As General Cummings tells Lt. Hearn, 'You can consider the Army, Robert, as a preview of the future.' Mailer has asked himself the question, What is the purpose of technological society?, and the only answer modern history has offered him is the one Alfred Kazin proposes" in Bright Book of Life (1973, p. 74), that "War may be the ultimate purpose of technological society.' It is the business of [Thomas] Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow to enact that conclusion" (320). Whatever the validity of the idea of the centrality of war to modern (and postmodern?) society, Fussell is correct, and relevant for Clockworks 2, in noting as a central fact of the war novel and war itself the "image of the vulnerability of flesh to metal" and the stress he puts upon the scene in Joseph Heller's Catch-22 (published 1961) of the young "blond, pale," scrawny "Kid Sampson" leaping "clownishly up to touch" the bottom of a light airplane "at the exact moment some arbitrary gust of wind of minor miscalculation of" the pilot "McWatt's senses dropped the speeding plane down just low enough for the propeller to slice him half away" (308).[1] SF images of penetration and violation by machines should be seen against the literary and real-world "vulnerability of flesh to metal," from Bronze-Age spears and swords to 21st-c. cluster bombs.