Weekly Round-Up: A Female Philoctetes

female philoctetes

Welcome to the Words After War Weekly Round-Up: “A Female Philoctetes” Edition. In this space we share links relevant to our mission of improving the military-civilian dialogue through high-quality literary programming.

This weekend I had the unique pleasure of participating in a read-through and discussion with a few veterans and the cast of A Female Philoctetes (a production from Aquila Theatre, set to run at BAM on 4/16 – 4/19). Originally written by Sophocles, Philoctetes is named for its protagonist, who was a warrior that found himself wounded and later marooned on an island for over a decade. Like many of Sophocles’ works, Philoctetes is layered with meaning, yet this play especially resonates with war veterans, as there is an unavoidable theme of how the physical and psychological wounds of war manifest themselves, long after soldiers have left the battlefield.

In the Aquila Theatre production, the title character will be played by Julia Crockett, adding further nuance and complexity to how our own society understands the trauma of war, especially when placed in the context of women service members in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

When I was a young writer still trying to find my voice, I often overlooked the influence of classical texts on my writing. But eventually, after having read Sophocles, I’d come to better understand the wartime experience. Then I got a better sense of the pitfalls of idealism after reading Cervantes. Because of Shakespeare, I understood the universal pain of an absent father. Later, I’d come to know the dangers of absolute power through the works of Melville. When I graduated from college, a friend asked me so summarize, in a single sentence, what I’d learned from all those books: People haven’t changed all that much over time.

Here we go.

  1. Filmmaker Errol Morris penned a rather fascinating four-part series, “The Certainty of Donald Rumsfeld,” in the New York Times, which is an in-depth analysis of the rhetorical devices and policy decisions of the former Secretary of Defense.
  2. For the New York Times, Charles Isherwood reviews Paula Vogel’s, “Don Juan Comes Home From Iraq,” a new play where the protagonist, a US Marine, is under such “destabilizing pressure of his wartime experience, not to mention the cruel workings of his own personal demons [he] disintegrates before our eyes.” The play is running through 4/20/14 at the Wilma Theatre in Philadelphia, PA.
  3. Novelist Ted Thompson talks with Town & Country about his masterful debut, The Land of Steady Habits, which is a worthy addition to the great commuter novels of Cheever, Updike, and Yates.
  4. Men’s Journal sheds light on one of the great tragedies of these wars: “The Interpreters We Left Behind.”
  5. In The Washington Post, Bing West, former assistant secretary of defense and combat Marine grunt, reviews American Spartan, a book about the bizarre case of Maj. Jim Gant, a special forces soldier in Afghanistan, as written by Gant’s own wife, Ann Scott Tyson.
  6. Over on The New Yorker’s Page-Turner blog, editor Barry Harbaugh weighs in on the absence of the New York book editor voice in the new essay collection, MFA vs NYC.
  7. The Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation recently completed the most comprehensive poll on the experience of post-9/11 vets to date. Of the many interesting statistics, here’s one that stuck out: One in two veterans say they know a fellow service member who has attempted or committed suicide, and more than 1 million suffer from relationship problems and experience outbursts of anger — two key indicators of post-traumatic stress. One way to treat PTSD is through the use of service dogs, and Texas Monthly ran a moving story on the journey of service dogs from their initial training at women’s prisons in Texas to a nonprofit that assigns them to wounded veterans throughout the US.

Have a great week.


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