Mark Bowden's piece on Saddam Hussain is undoubtedly one of the harder pieces of writing that we've been asked to read this semester. Keeping in mind the comment I made last Thursday about challenging ourselves to get through readings and think critically even when it's challenging, I made sure to do so with this piece.
I think that the story begins to take shape on page 284. Here, we really get an understanding for where the story is going. "It was what the world would come to see as classic Saddam. He tends to commit his crimes in public, cloaking them in patriotism and in effect turning his witnesses into accomplices."
I'm intrigued by Bowden's style. In each of the sections he introduces a new character in the story. That character plays a significant role in shaping who we know and what we know at the end of the story. I appreciate that many of the characters are reoccurring- that is, they aren't introduced and never referenced again. Wafic Samarai and Saad al-Bazzaz play very significant roles in this piece of writing.
For instance, on page 292 Bowden finishes telling one of Qanbar's stories of an encounter with Saddam's people. The strong, strong narrative and deep understanding of the implications of this story allow Bowden to make this conclusion: "Walls define the tyrant's world. They keep his enemies out, but they also block him off from the people he rules. In time he can no longer see out. He loses touch wtih what is real and what is unreal, what is possible and what is not- or, as in the case of Qanbar adn the wall, what is just barely possible. His ideas of what his power can acomplish, and of his own importance, bleed into fantasy. If I had to describe this moment in the story I was describe it as a turning point. It sets up the story about the invasion of Kuwait beautifully (although that scene occurs several pages later.)
It wasn't clear to me that Bowden actually spoke to these characters until page 295. That was the first time Bowden made reference to himself. Quite honestly, before that page I was asking myself, "how does he know this stuff?" In a similar manner to the conversation we had in class about Ben's narrative use in his story about Chester Creek a couple of weeks ago.
I particularly like conviction in his the conclusion. At first I recognized this as open-endedness but after reading the editing piece I recognize it in a different light. Every story contains an engine: the unanswered question that keeps a reader reading. But at the end the writer must "turn off" that engine. Here's how Bowden does it. "Ten years later a new President Bush is in the White House, with a new national mission to remove Saddam. So the walls that protect the tyrant grow higher and higher." We end with a scene in which Saddam returns to his secret bed. Samarai says something about his loss of touch with reality and the Bowden is able to write (conclude) "This, ultimately, is why Saddam will fail."
Yep, he's right! One year after this was published Saddam was captured. He was put on trial and hung in 2006.
Editing is my favorite aspect of journalism so it's not surprise that this section was my favorite of all the sections. The message kept reoccurring to me throughout these tets was teh importance of reading your work as a reader- not the writer. As pointed out in several of the texts, this can be a hard task! That's where editors can be of some assistance. She mentions the use of sentence fragments- which I am hesitant to use. I think you have to be a pretty established writer to use fragments. Regardless, I'm going to try to use them (if appropriate) in my narrative story. She also mentioned "trimming fat." In many cases that seems to be what editing is about and it's what make me feel most accomplished when I'm editing my work or the work of others. But like Jan Windburn and Lisa Pollak point out, editing is not always that easy. Windburn wrote, "As her editor I wanted to do more than say, 'yeah, you're right. It's not working' I had to determine why is didn't work." This is a good example of when editing can be frustrating. it's the time when a writer realizes they have more reporting to do! Anne Hull tells us that revision requires patience.
We must not be too lazy for the editing process. From this chapter I gather that editing is (almost) as essential as the reporting.
Sonia Nazario's example of condensing one hundred notebooks in 35 words was particularly helpful to me. She gave actual examples of paragraphs in her draft and how they transformed during the editing process. For me, this is so cool to see. S