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Roy Scranton's journalism, essays, and reviews have been published in Rolling Stone,, the New York TimesBoston Review, Los Angeles Review of BooksContemporary LiteratureThe 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 the fall of 2015.

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.

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


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... 

27 April 2013

Lament of the Makers: Opening Remarks

My opening remarks for the symposium "Lament of the Makers: Conceptualism and Poetic Freedom," held at Princeton University, April 26, 2013.

I write, or some thing called an I writes I, or some thing--some animal--I call an I performs a series of internal locutions and external gestures to produce language both imagined--aurally, that is, through the activated echo of my own voice played back without external vocalization, in between errant guitar licks and phenomenological noise--I mean, trying out phrases to ring them, to test their imagined sound and immanent logic, then typing them--some thing called an I performs an act of signification in relation to imagined others, say you, so something is happening now, these opening remarks--language both imagined and now concrete, a thing in the world, first a google doc on a screen at a research station in a university library (and at once a google doc in the cloud, data on a server somewhere in The Dalles, Oregon, Council Bluffs, Iowa, or Hamina, Finland, pulses flickering on and off, ones and zeros, light, energy, all over), then and now again (although now as I write this, the now to which I refer is of course strictly imaginary, a premonition plummeting toward me out of the future, and the now when I speak now of course is not the same now that I’d written) now concrete in the passage of air through vents of flesh in my neck, vibrations striking the eardrums of many language-hungry humans in a room, maybe even some interested and attentive ones.

I’ll try to be brief.

Lament of the Makers: Conceptualism and Poetic Freedom

Yesterday, here at Princeton, we hosted a symposium on "Conceptualism and Poetic Freedom." Our speakers included Vanessa Place, Mónica de la Torre, Jena Osman, Timothy Donnelly, and Kent Johnson. It was an rich afternoon of intense discussion, and I feel lucky to have been a part of it. Joshua Kotin helped bring it all together, and Jeff Dolven moderated the panel with his usual insouciant brilliance. As well, we were very grateful for the support of the Lewis Center for the Arts, the Program in Latin American Studies, the Princeton University 250th Anniversary Fund, and the English Department.

The afternoon proved unforgettable, and the discussion goes on. Vanessa Place's keynote is being published on the Harriet Blog in five parts. I am publishing below my prompt, from the email I sent all the participants, which was intended to open up the conversation. My next post will be my opening remarks. More may follow. And so the semiotic circulation continues. 

Thanks to everybody who participated and who made the event possible.

07 March 2013

America ("Song of Pleasure")

Written for a performance of Cornelius Cardew’s Schooltime Compositions, staged on November 4, 2008 by the theater group Object Collection. This piece uses material from Cardew’s score.

This talk is different from the one I had planned. Twenty thousand, twenty thousand five hundred and forty. Twenty-one thousand. Behind the digital noise in my ears the hum of recycled air, the vibrato of engines. This talk is different from the one...

Every time I fly I think of leaving America and coming back. I think of coming back and leaving. I think what is this I’m leaving, a land mass, a language, a principality of the earth, friends and family. I think what is this I’m coming back to, the harsh nasal tone, the blind self-regard, the guts and assets, money, America.

This talk is different from the one I had originally planned.

a visit

ﺍﻝ ﻤﺩﻴﻥ ﺨﻀﺭﺍﺀ
the green city

ﺼﺎ ﺤﺏ

I had meant to record something on the Staten Island Ferry, some- thing on a boat, maybe Central Park. I had meant to talk about what I was asked to talk about, performance and politics, say something philosophical, maybe deep. I had meant to name-check Merleau-Ponty. I had meant to name-check, cite, and argue. Twenty-one thousand three hundred and eighty-six. Twenty-one thousand seven hundred and two. Twenty-two thousand. Twenty-two thousand five hundred sixty-one. 

Every time I fly I think of trying to get away from America, of trying to get out from under the shadow, of trying to see things without a dollar bill in the middle. I think of my uniform, and my rifle, and I think of places in other tongues, I think of the rest of the world.