LITERATURE AND THE CULTURE OF WAR: Interview with George Kovach, Editor, CONSEQUENCE
(Interviewer: Will Mayer, Editoral Staff for SPACES)
George Kovach is a poet and the founding editor and publisher of CONSEQUENCE, the literary magazine addressing the culture and consequences of war. He is a Vietnam war veteran and runs a series of writing workshops at the Veterans Center in Brockton, MA.
Will: What led you to create a literary journal focused on war? Did you have experiences yourself that led you to create this journal? Were there authors or works who cemented your belief in the importance of such literature?
George: I’m a veteran of the Vietnam war who, like many combat veterans from many wars, deals with the symptoms of PTSD. The consequences of war are very real for me. I’ve always had a strong interest in literature, and I believe in its unique ability to give readers emotional as well as intellectual access to extremes of human behavior. We need this kind of access to really understand war and its consequences. Today, war is part of our country’s foreign policy, not just a last resort for getting what we want. As citizens, we need more information and a nuanced understanding of what’s at stake for us as individuals and as a society. Journalism is failing us, and popular media is infantilizing us. Literature and art can contribute what’s missing in our national discourse about war, such as it is.
Will: In your editor’s note from Volume 3, you wrote extensively about the importance of translation work. You stated that the importance was not only one of a literary nature, but also one that could help lead to an understanding between cultures, even cultures formerly at odds with each other. What work does prose and poetry do to provide an outsider insight into foreign cultures that a newscast or documentary film or book does not?
George: This goes back to what I say about the ability of literature to allow us emotional as well as intellectual access. Documentary films do a pretty good job of recording the violence and destruction of war, and if they’re well done, can convey some sense of human suffering. Newscasts tend to be cursory, and often their perspective is influenced by Washington’s official war narrative or corporate agendas. The best writing about war penetrates the superficial images we see every day, and goes beyond the formulated narrative we’re used to hearing from journalists, whether they’re embedded with the military or sitting behind a desk.
I feel very strongly that we should understand the experiences of people in other countries who live with war, know it intimately, and bear the consequences in ways our own country hasn’t since the Civil War. Unless we’re soldiers or the families of soldiers, we’re removed from the wars we fight, insulated from the human devastation—an all volunteer military has a lot to do with this. To bridge the distance from our living rooms to the streets of Aleppo, we need more than dispatches from the field. We need to know the emotional cost of fighting to the families displaced by it and forever wounded by the personal loss. Unless we can truly understand how war impacts those who experience that kind of suffering, we’ll fail to fully appreciate what we do when we send our military power to wage war against people we don’t know and can’t understand. Translations of literary work by writers in those countries provide the insight and understanding that we lack. Without this we remain ignorant and unable to make informed decisions. We have to rely on that official narrative I mentioned.
Will: In Volume 5 you write: “To a shameful extent the media are to blame for the lack of serious analysis and discussion of war. Profit-driven and increasingly ideological, they allow and in some cases dictate a superficial level of discourse that insults and infantilizes us.”
I’m on board. You obviously have your finger on the pulse of world events, I’m sure that is somewhat to do with the literature that comes your way. But in a world where many media outlets are arguably becoming more and more “yellow” than they are reliable sources of information, where is it that you find yourself looking for up to date news?
George: I think its important to read widely, which is a challenge for many of us, but especially for an editor who has to stay on top of a tremendous amount of work he or she is considering for publication. I read newspaper accounts and blogs that address the culture of war. There are some helpful news aggregators like War in Context on the left and the Drudge Report on the rigtht that can save time, but I never have enough of it.
Will: In literary work related to war, is there an issue of timeliness? Are the majority of your stories about events are currently unfolding, or are they about conflicts have ended? What are the advantages and disadvantages of literature that looks back on wars of the past? What are the advantages and disadvantages of writing about present conflicts?
George: CONSEQUENCE is an independent, non-profit lit mag, and right now we can afford to publish only once a year in the spring. When we can publish more frequently, we’ll be able to focus on more current events. But you ask if there’s an issue of timeliness for a literary magazine, and the answer for us is not really. The stories, personal essays, poems and reviews we look for deal with what I think of as the culture of war. This is a timeless subject, and universal. Whether we’re aware of it or not, we’re immersed in this culture. So, in terms of when and where, we publish a broad spectrum of work. I believe that every piece that appears in CONSEQUENCE is relevant and meaningful to the ongoing discourse that we hope to enhance.
Will: What would you like to see potential future contributors to focus on?
There are many subjects that interest us. I’d like to see more work from a serious writer’s perspective about the intersection of war and secrecy, war and religion, war and political systems, and the technology of war. The way modern war has evolved to such a high-tech mode of killing and destruction needs special attention. And at all times, we look for exceptional writing that reveals a response to the culture of war that’s both personal and universal.
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