English Question

English Question


How do these texts explore or stage situations in which the practice of real wars inevitably transgress the supposed “rules” or “norms” of classical, European, or civilized war? How does each text, more or less explicitly, deal with the role of this transgression (in the form of “irregular” warfare, torture, genocide) plays in colonial war? Who takes responsibility or not for such transgression? How do these texts show the ways in which imperial powers ideologically justify their own employment of extreme violence by dehumanizing the enemy? How do imperial powers disavow their own violence by representing the enemy as a “savage” or “barbarian” who disregards any rules of war? How do violence against women and/or rape figure in the representation of extreme violence?

Finally, how do these texts insert themselves as testimony, autobiography, ideology, historical fiction, or narrative into the war that they describe? What role do writing or literature play within war?

The first essay should be 750-1000 words and should be about this excerpt below:

Carolyn Forche?, What You Have Heard is True 

Leonel was also adamant that I think for myself, that I let go of my preconceptions, although I hadn’t, until then, been aware of having any. But all right, I thought. How to do that? Leonel had complained of my daydreaming, that I wasn’t paying proper attention to things around me in my waking life, so from now on, I would pay attention, and try to see as much as I could, not the world as imagined in my continuous waking dream, but as it was, not only the obvious but the hidden, not only the water ca?ntaros but their weight, not only their weight but why it was necessary to carry water such distances. I would try to learn from Leonel how to listen to what was said but also to what was not said, and I would also try to learn how to detect deception in others, which, he assured me, is a skill that can be acquired. I would learn to review my experiences for the missed details, and to keep in mind that while I was observing others, they were also observing me, and I would become less (how did he put it?) readable, and when necessary, I would attempt, in his words, to “manage the perceptions of others” so that, of the ‘five versions of the truth,’ in any given situation, mine might prevail. ‘This place is a symphony of illusion,’ Leonel often said, ‘and an orchestra needs a conductor.’


Leonel began driving slowly into the road. It was hot in the Hiace even with the windows rolled down. He was biting on his cold pipe, as he often did when he wanted to think, and ahead of us the road shimmered, and the stink of fire was still in the air and the whirr of blood in my ears and when I put my hands to my face, it felt wet, so that must have been why he kept looking from the road to me and back, but he wasn’t saying anything, not even asking what I had seen, and then, in the next moment, I felt myself lurching forward, and vomited onto the dashboard. At the sight of this, I began to sob and, at the same time, tried to wipe the vomit up with my sweater. Finally, I threw the sweater on the floor and, still crying, turned away from him. Still, he said nothing. He stopped the Hiace and pulled hard on the emergency brake, I remember the sudden grind of it, almost as if he were angry but still nothing.

‘Good,’ he said finally, ‘cry, go ahead.’ He didn’t reach out to me or offer any comfort, didn’t tell me that I had done well or that I was brave or that he was proud of me. I tried to stop.

‘You know, Papu, I didn’t think you would get this far. I didn’t. I want you to pay attention now, and feel what you are feeling, really pay attention because you can learn from this. This is what oppression feels like. Now you have begun to learn something. When you get back to the States, what you do with this is up to you.’

The second essay should be 750-1000 words and should be about 

David Diop, At Night All Blood Is Black

They will all die without thinking because Captain Armand has said to them, “You, the Chocolats of black Africa, are naturally the bravest of the brave. France admires you and is grateful. The papers talk only of your exploits!” So they love to sprint onto the battlefield to be beautifully massacred while screaming like madmen, regulation rifle in the left hand and savage machete in the right.

But I, Alfa Ndiaye, I understand the true meaning of the captain’s words. No one knows what I think. I am free to think whatever I want. And what I think is that people don’t want me to think. The unthinkable is what is hidden behind the captain’s words. The captain’s France needs for us to play the savage when it suits them. They need for us to be savage because the enemy is afraid of our machetes. I know, I understand, it’s no more complicated than that. The captain’s France needs our savagery, and because we are obedient, myself and the others, we play the savage. We slash the enemy’s flesh, we maim, we decapitate, we disembowel. The only difference between my friends the Toucouleurs and the Se?re?res, the Bambaras and the Malinke?s, the Soussous, the Haoussas, the Mossis, the Markas, the Soninke?s, the Senoufos, the Bobos, and the other Wolofs, the only difference between them and me is that I became savage intentionally. They play a role only when they crawl out from the earth, but I play a role only with them, inside our sheltering trench. In their company, I laughed and I even sang off-key, but they respected me.


I finally caught wind of the whispers and learned that my strangeness had been transformed into madness, and madness into witchcraft. Soldier sorcerer.

Don’t tell me that we don’t need madness on the battlefield. God’s truth, the mad fear nothing. The others, white or black, play at being mad, perform madness so that they can calmly throw themselves in front of the bullets of the enemy on the other side. It allows them to run straight at death without being too afraid. You’d have to be mad to obey Captain Armand when he whistles for the attack, knowing there’s almost no chance you’ll come home alive. God’s truth, you’d have to be crazy to drag yourself screaming out of the belly of the earth. The bullets from the enemy on the other side, the giant seeds falling from the metallic sky, they aren’t afraid of screams, they aren’t afraid to pass through heads, flesh, to break bones and to sever lives. Temporary madness makes it possible to forget the truth about bullets. Temporary madness, in war, is bravery’s sister.

But when you seem crazy all the time, continuously, without stopping, that’s when you make people afraid, even your war brothers. And that’s when you stop being the brave one, the death- defier, and become instead the true friend of death, its accomplice, its more-than-brother.