Roy Scranton

Roy Scranton's journalism, essays, fiction, poetry, and reviews have been published in Rolling Stone, the New York Times, LIT, Boston Review, Prairie Schooner, Los Angeles Review of Books, Contemporary Literature, The Appendix, and elsewhere. He is one of the editors of Fire and Forget: Short Stories from the Long War (Da Capo, 2013). His book Learning to Die in the Anthropocene is forthcoming from City Lights in September 2015. His novel War Porn will be coming out with Soho Press in fall 2016.

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08 April 2015

An Iraqi Band's (Semi) Happy Ending

Marwan Hussein, Faisal Talal, and Moe Al Ansari of Acrassicauda
Yosimar Gomez/Courtesy of Acrassicauda
Fifteen years ago, Marwan Hussein, Firas Al-Lateef, Faisal Talal and Tony Aziz were teenage headbangers in Saddam Hussein's Iraq, learning to play Metallica and Slayer off bootleg cassettes. They named their band Acrassicauda (after Iraq's ubiquitous black scorpion, Androctonus crassicauda) and joined a small but active heavy-metal scene in Baghdad.

Then, in 2003, the U.S. invaded, and life became a hellish cycle of checkpoints, explosions and murders. Marwan Hussein and Talal were almost killed by a car bomb, Aziz's house was damaged by a mortar, and the band's rehearsal space was blown up, probably by a rocket. "We've seen some shit, man," says Hussein. "You see stuff that makes you question your existence."

A few years later, Acrassicauda fled to Syria. Meanwhile, a Vice documentary, Heavy Metal in Baghdad, helped make them media darlings — and high-profile targets for extremist groups, who often attacked Western-style musicians. A flicker of fame turned Acrassicauda into permanent exiles.

Feeling responsible, the filmmakers who had made them famous helped them get refugee visas to the U.S. in 2008. The bandmates eventually wound up in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and started grinding it out on the local metal scene, scoring an opening slot for industrial-rock vets Ministry (frontman Al Jourgensen called them his "favorite metal band in the world"). They finally made it into the studio last September to cut their debut, Gilgamesh, a Kickstarter-funded heavy-metal tour de force named after an ancient Sumerian legend.

(Keep reading at Rolling Stone.)

'We Need Hope and Fear in Equal Measure': An Interview With Naomi Klein

Naomi Klein / Christopher Wahl
Ever since she released her the anti-globalization manifesto, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies, 15 years ago, Naomi Klein has been progressivism's most visible, most charmingly articulate spokesperson. In her gripping and dramatic new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, Klein turns to climate change, writes of a decisive battle for the fate of the earth in which we either take back control of the planet from the capitalists who are destroying it or watch it all burn. We caught up with her near her home in Toronto to discuss the challenges ahead and how she has willed herself to be optimistic about the fate of the planet.

RS: In This Changes Everything, you argue that global warming is both a crisis and an opportunity, on a scale we've never seen before. Bigger than the Great Depression, more momentous than the threat of nuclear war, and more hopeful than Civil Rights and the anti-war movement. What do you mean?


NK: The original title for the book was "The Message," but we dropped that after enough people told me that it was too weird and Biblical. But the idea was that climate change isn't an issue, it's a message. It is a message, telling us that our system is failing, that there's something fundamentally wrong with the way we're organizing our economy and thinking about our place on the planet.

The Right understands this better than most Liberals, and that is why they deny climate change so vehemently. The more hardcore Conservative you are, the more tightly identified you are with defending the interest of capital as an interest of the system, based on hyper-competition, the more likely it is that you vehemently deny climate change. Because if climate change is real, your worldview will come crashing down around you.

It just comes down to this core question: "Is hyper-competition going to rule our world, or is cooperation going to rule our world?" And the truth is, if hyper-competition is going to rule our world, we have no hope. None. This, I think, is one of the reasons that climate change is particularly challenging to Americans. Americans can't solve this on their own. The growth in emissions is coming from the developing world. So if we are going to get out of this, it's going to come out of a process of cooperation and collaboration. That's why it really requires a paradigm shift.

Keep reading at Rolling Stone.

26 January 2015

The Trauma Hero: From Wilfred Owen to Redeployment and American Sniper


My latest, "The Trauma Hero: From Wilfred Owen to Redeployment and American Sniper," in the Los Angeles Review of Books.

EVERY TRUE WAR STORY is a story of trauma and recovery. A boy goes to war, his head full of romantic visions of glory, courage, and sacrifice, his heart yearning to achieve heroic deeds, but on the field of battle he finds only death and horror. He sees, suffers, and causes brutal and brutalizing violence. Such violence wounds the soldier’s very soul.

After the war the boy, now a veteran and a man, returns to the world of peace haunted by his experience, wracked by the central compulsion of trauma and atrocity: the struggle between the need to bear witness to his shattering encounter with violence, and the compulsion to repress it. The veteran tries to make sense of his memory but finds it all but impossible. Most people don’t want to hear the awful truths that war has taught him, the political powers that be want to cover up the shocking reality of war, and anybody who wasn’t there simply can’t understand what it was like.

The truth of war, the veteran comes to learn, is a truth beyond words, a truth that can only be known by having been there, an unspeakable truth he must bear for society.

So goes the myth of the trauma hero.

Read more...

25 December 2014

A Christmas Sestina

by Sara Marcus and Roy Scranton



The lull of the year, its butt — streets all still
shuddering in the wake of hundreds of reindeer,
the rippled lukewarm air wheezing a dull glow.
Simon and Simone, under the mistletoe,
legs athwart legs in a clothed postcoital yoga
dozed to the dream-jazz of Manitoba Fatt.

“Christmas done come, the goose done got fat.
The cops stole my dog and raided my still.
Gyms all closed — I can’t even do yoga.
I got the broke-dick Christmas reindeer
dongle up on the tree, it just fell on my toe…”
Simon and Simone smiled, hazy eyes aglow.

Chanukah’s over. It’s not for us, the glow
burning in the second-story window. The fat-
fried pancakes, doughnuts: done. Cut now to
that scene: that screen: a still
shed, a welcome child, his head on fire, sheep, cows, reindeer,
three wise Asian-Americans teaching the Christ child yoga.

That would have changed everything. “Blessed are the yoga
cats, for they ask not what their country can do for them, but what the glow
of gomukhasana grants all sentient beings.” Let metta reign, dear
evangels of another network, let the warm yellow fat
cherubim minister ecumenically, suffusing peace, making earth still.
“Simon,” said Simone, “you’re crushing my toe.

We’re all dipped in unity, grasped by our toe-
nail as we dangle like a dongle in our untimely yoga.
“I mostly know” — Simone — “but when tense, I still
feel the flicker at the edge of the glow
like I’m just alone. You know?” A pause grows fat
like a really fat reindeer

or — see? — the sky about to rain. Dear
Chanukah, dear Christ child, dear Ramadan, dear Shinto
roadside shrine, dear Ganesh in your bath of clarified fat,
dear red-nosed reindeer, dear Officer Krupke, dear white girl doing yoga. . .
Simone chants silently: “I want to want to hug you in the glow
that is spreading now, warm and dull, through the streets so still

but I fear getting fat. I should do more yoga.”
Simone wiggled her half-crunched toe. Simon gave a shrug. Low
to the earth, he could swear he heard reindeer. An instant — then all was still.

23 July 2014

Above the BQE

Water into which all dwells falls,
Spaulding Gray, vanity helicopter,
strip this brick like it was fission.
You alone grok my demiurge.


Read more in the new Boston Review.

17 July 2014

Back to Baghdad


Baghdad by night (Karrada)
The smell hit me as I stepped off the plane: oil, diesel smog and the whiff of sulfur. Late at night and early in the morning, when the air is cleanest, this is what Baghdad smells like. As the day goes on, the odor thickens and turns metallic, until darkness falls and the fires start, filling the air with a pungent mélange of kebab and melted plastic. When I was here 10 years ago, the smell was mixed with the stench of corpses.

A week before, I’d been in a seminar room at Princeton, talking with my students about the Cold War, Don DeLillo’s Underworld and Whitney Houston’s version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The campus outside softly exhaled magnolia.

What the fuck was I doing back here? 


Continue reading at Rolling Stone, or pick up the new issue on newsstands July 18.

More photos from Baghdad

Asaib Ahl al-Haqq campaign poster, Baghdad

Near Baghdad Univeristy

Injured Iraqi Army soldier voting, election day, Sadr City, Baghdad

Mansour Mall, Baghdad

Market, Baghdad

Old City, near Mutanabbi Street, Baghdad

Pizza Hat, Mansour, Baghdad

Sadr City, Baghdad

Sculpture by Sarem Dakhel

Shorja Market, Baghdad

Baghdad

Election Day for security forces, April 28, 2014, Baghdad

Election Day for security forces, April 28, 2014, Baghdad

10 November 2013

Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene

Very satisfied to have this piece up on The Stone blog at the New York Times, on global climate change, death, and the future. The first few paragraphs follow below:

Driving into Iraq just after the 2003 invasion felt like driving into the future. We convoyed all day, all night, past Army checkpoints and burned-out tanks, till in the blue dawn Baghdad rose from the desert like a vision of hell: Flames licked the bruised sky from the tops of refinery towers, cyclopean monuments bulged and leaned against the horizon, broken overpasses swooped and fell over ruined suburbs, bombed factories, and narrow ancient streets.

I was a private in the United States Army. This strange, precarious world was my new home. If I survived.With “shock and awe,” our military had unleashed the end of the world on a city of six million — a city about the same size as Houston or Washington. The infrastructure was totaled: water, power, traffic, markets and security fell to anarchy and local rule. The city’s secular middle class was disappearing, squeezed out between gangsters, profiteers, fundamentalists and soldiers. The government was going down, walls were going up, tribal lines were being drawn, and brutal hierarchies savagely established.

Two and a half years later, safe and lazy back in Fort Still, Okla., I thought I had made it out. Then I watched on television as Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. This time it was the weather that brought shock and awe, but I saw the same chaos and urban collapse I’d seen in Baghdad, the same failure of planning and the same tide of anarchy. The 82nd Airborne hit the ground, took over strategic points and patrolled streets now under de facto martial law. My unit was put on alert to prepare for riot control operations. The grim future I’d seen in Baghdad was coming home: not terrorism, not even W.M.D.’s, but a civilization in collapse, with a crippled infrastructure, unable to recuperate from shocks to its system.

And today, with recovery still going on more than a year after Sandy and many critics arguing that the Eastern seaboard is no more prepared for a huge weather event than we were last November, it’s clear that future’s not going away. (Read more...)

31 October 2013

"The Curse of Coherence" at The Appendix


I'm delighted to have my research into a potential CIA-funded Oulipian translation of Herman Melville's The Confidence-Man published at The Appendix. The article, "The Curse of Coherence: Cold War CIA Funding for Oulipo's Confidence-Man," explores intimations a series of archival constructions suggest. Did the CIA fund an extensive translation of Herman Melville's work into French by the Oulipo, the infamous experimental coterie which included Italo Calvino, Raymond Queneau, Harry Mathews, and Georges Perec? Shocking covert file leaks expose the avant-garde OPERATION BARTLEBY...