Late last night I finished combat-veteran Roy Scranton‘s War Porn. Memorable title. Even more memorable book.
I’d warn the faint-of-heart to be prepared. Not for the reasons they might imagine, though.
Professor Scranton is no stranger to controversy, whether in book titles, book content—or literary reflection. Anyone who has read his 2015 piece in The Los Angeles Review of Books, “The Trauma Hero: From Wilfred Owen to ‘Redeployment’ and ‘American Sniper’” knows exactly whereof I speak.
For in the essay he asks us, after all, to question whether our “war literature” should embrace the “wounded warrior” more than the ones whom the warrior wounds.
Trust me: in War Porn, he practices what he preaches.
As a psychiatrist, my job is to experience the story that walks through my office door. My job is not to be overwhelmed by that story (easier said than done, some days). My job is not to script it (although, granted, I have more than a few colleagues who might disagree with that). My job is to experience it, and not just its words, but its sounds, its muscle twitches, its eyes, sometimes even its smell. I’m charged with taking those experiences and translating them into a language (and, sometimes, a neurochemistry) that is supposed to ease Life’s motion forward.
Again, often, too often, easier said than done (although, again, often and, yes, too often, I have more than a few colleagues who might disagree with that).
Don’t for a moment think that everyone who walks through my door is traumatized. A few who drop by wouldn’t even mind heading back and doing a bit more traumatizing if they could, truth be told. Not most, by a long shot. But a few. Power has its allures.
Plus destruction has certainty to it, after all. At the end of the day, there’s always a record somewhere out there in the physical world, fragmented and motionless, such that it is.
Life and certainty, on the other hand…
I’m not one of those mental-health types who guides people toward what to tell me (again, more disagreements…) I’ve always had enough to do just with what they’ve willingly told me. I’ve never found it rare to encounter veterans who have been more than willing to allude to darkness in their souls. Real darkness, nothing the veteran or I would quibble over.
After all, the painful physiology of darkness is part of what I’m there for.
We do so love our reason and cognition, though, don’t we? Thank God for the Greeks who bore us those gifts. Words, words, and more words.
Yet just like the Trojans, again and again we finds ourselves surprised by the chemical-spiritual forces hidden within those concepts.
For us humans, War colonizes what is within us, what is between us, what is among us. Just as I must remember that I will only hear askew those who have been traumatized, so will I only hear askew those who have also traumatized.
Equally, however, I must hold within me that I am, not could be, both Traumatizer and Traumatized. Otherwise I’m just playing a cruel hoax on everyone who does walk through that office door. After all, I just have the good fortune of brandishing the plausible deniability of my having never wielded a literally-lethal weapon in my hands. That’s all.
My words, on the other hand…
The good professor reminds me that I must always be willing to be created by the stories told me, even if I don’t like the resulting product. He also reminds me of my obligation, in just such cases, to create something more human in return.
Easier said, yet still must be done. No disagreements.