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Lessons from Sarajevo

A War Stories Primer

Jim Hicks

Publication Year: 2013

In today’s world, our television screens are filled with scenes from countless conflicts across the globe—commanding our attention and asking us to choose sides. In this insightful and wide-ranging book, Jim Hicks treats historical representation, and even history itself, as a text, asking questions such as Who is speaking?, Who is the audience?, and What are the rules for this kind of talk? He argues that we must understand how war stories are told in order to arm ourselves against them. In a democracy, we are each responsible for policy decisions taken on our behalf. So it is imperative that we gain fluency in the diverse forms of representation (journalism, photography, fiction, memoir, comics, cinema) that bring war to us. Hicks explores the limitations of the sentimental tradition in war representation and asks how the work of artists and writers can help us to move beyond the constraints of that tradition. Ranging from Walt Whitman’s writings on the Civil War to the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and focusing on the innovative and creative artistic expressions arising out of the wars of the former Yugoslavia, Hicks examines how war has been perceived, described, and interpreted. He analyzes the limitations on knowledge caused by perspective and narrative position and looks closely at the distinct yet overlapping roles of victims, observers, and aggressors. In the end, he concludes, war stories today should be valued according to the extent they make it impossible for us to see these positions as assigned in advance, and immutable.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press


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pp. C-i

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ii-vi

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xviii

This is not a book about war. It is, in point of fact, a book written by someone who doesn’t know a thing about war. When I teach my War Stories class at the University of Massachusetts—as I have now for ten years running—starting with a similar caveat is a matter of clarity, as well as courtesy. I often have a few vets in the room, and usually students with...

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1. Case Study: Of Phantom Nations

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pp. 1-22

In 1866, after his Civil War service as a surgeon at Turner’s Lane Hospital in Philadelphia, the neurologist and novelist S. Weir Mitchell published his first work of fiction in the Atlantic Monthly. This short story, “The Case of George Dedlow,” is generally credited today as the first description in print of the strange neurological phenomenon commonly known as...

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2. Thesis: The Crime of the Scene

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pp. 23-42

The thinking behind this chapter began, in some sense, in early March 1999, after the refugee crisis in Kosovo had begun and when the NATO bombing campaign was only days away. One evening after classes, I attended a teach-in on the crisis. At that event, attended by about a hundred students and professors, a sociologist, Peter I. Rose, was the first to...

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3. Victims: The Talking Dead

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pp. 43-68

Let me begin by clearing up several possible misconceptions. A critique of the sentimental tradition in war representation does not mean that there are no innocent victims, or, for that matter, no acts of criminal aggression. Nor is there some Heisenberg-like principle for war stories, dictating that all observation is necessarily participatory, that representation...

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4. Observers: The Real War and the Books

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pp. 69-104

In one of the most quoted phrases from Whitman’s Civil War notebooks, our national poet remarks that “the real war will never get into the books.” More recently, one of the legends of French documentary cinema made the same point about his own chosen medium, with a bit more specificity. Chris Marker noted that, “As long as there is no olfactory cinema [. . .],...

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5. Aggressors: The Beast is Back

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pp. 105-124

Nations, and the people who form them, differ in the degree to which their memory of history—and the violence that punctuates it—remains active, generative of their collective identity. In the quotation from Ivo Andrić’s Bridge on the Drina, no mention is given of a specific historical moment, yet it is hard to imagine a citizen of the former Yugoslavia who...

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Conclusion: Bringing the Stories Home

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pp. 125-166

In the final seconds of Kony 2012, the son of the video’s director says, “I’m going to be like you, Dad. I’m going to come with you to Africa.” The screen is filled by the image of a total eclipse, the sun just beginning to reappear. Director Jason Russell’s voice-over then intones, “The better world we want is coming. It’s just waiting for us to stop at nothing.”...


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pp. 167-174

Works Cited

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pp. 175-182


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pp. 183-193

Back Cover

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pp. BC-BC

E-ISBN-13: 9781613762561
E-ISBN-10: 1613762569
Print-ISBN-13: 9781625340009
Print-ISBN-10: 1625340001

Page Count: 192
Illustrations: 16 illus.
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 867739518
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Lessons from Sarajevo

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Subject Headings

  • War stories, English -- History and criticism.
  • War stories, American -- History and criticism.
  • War and literature -- Great Britain.
  • War and literature -- United States.
  • War in literature.
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