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Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

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Tuesday, September 02, 2003


Various conservatives and Bushites have claimed that too much attention has been paid to pot shot casualties in Iraq. Actually, this is not new -- in Frank Bruni's biography of George W., he shows that Bush sr. went on a 'fact finding' tour of Vietnam in the sixties and came back with the same conclusion -- that basically, difficulties in South Vietnam were being exaggerated. Now, partly this is just the prejudiced eye. And partly it is a fact about modern guerilla warfare -- it operates in eerie synch with the everydayness. Because the kind of warfare that finds its main grammatical component in the 'battle' has tended towards total war, those who have been trained in that tradition simply don't understand the partial war of the guerilla. Shops are open in the cities, electricity runs, most of the time. The observer can rent a car, drive around. However, guerilla wars do not bring with them less casualties than total wars. They bring with them a different kind of casualty ratio -- since the aim is to incrementally break the opponents spirit, the means -- the sudden interjection of violence, and the equally sudden disappearance of the guerilla force. While warfare has always produced more wounded than dead, in guerilla warfare, the numbers of the dead can be, for periods of time, nugatory. The thing to look for is an increasing amount of wounded. This is happening.

The Washington Post has a belated piece on the astonishing injury counts US forces are sustaining in Iraq. It was a surprise to me that last week, 55 American soldiers were wounded. That is a major figure -- it is a Vietnam type figure. The whole article, which also discusses how the military is trying to de-emphasize the nature of the violence it is experiencing in this occupation, is definitely worth reading.

Now, onto Titus Andronicus.
There's an article in the NYT outlining the book by Brian Vickers that makes the case for co-authorship in five of Shakespeare's plays. The case seems reasonable, and was reached through the standard textual editing procedure:

"Examining factors like rhetorical devices, polysyllabic words and metrical habits, scholars have been able to identify reliably an author of a work or part of a work, even when the early editions did not give credit."

Reliably, here, is a weasel word, since we are not talking about a procedure that refers to some standard. It isn't as if someone, reading the Two Noble Kinsmen, said, hey, this sounds like Shakespeare, and then the ms was discovered with the Bard's handwriting. Not that there aren't sensibilities so fine that such a thing is unthinkable -- but there's no sensibility so fine that you could use the word "reliable," At this point, we edge into those criminological pseudo-sciences that are so popular on TV, and so pernicious in court. Vicker's procedure builds on itself. In other words, we are talking about connoiseurship, not science. What is unreasonable about the article is the imputation that doubts about the standard textual editing procedure are always motivated by some heady romantic sense of the individual author:

"Professor Vickers's book also gives a good sense of the opposing forces in the co-authorship debate. On one side are scholars who use ingenious methods to dissect a text for clues to co-authorship. On the other are so-called conservators, who ridicule those efforts and want no deviation from the idea that the entire canon was written by a solitary genius."

Actually, you can think that the texts were co-authored from other, extra-textual cues, and still doubt in specific instances that the case for, say, Titus Andronicus being "two-fifths" George Peele are overwhelming. For a discussion of the attribution to Peele, here's a link.

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