I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Eddie Eason, one of the officers on the board of the John Dos Passos Society. Among other topics, our interview covered the upcoming 2nd biennial John Dos Passos Society Conference in Madrid, Spain. We also discussed the literature of World War I. That is appropriate to publish today since it’s Veterans Day. Veterans Day has its roots in the Great War.
See interview below:
Eddie Eason is a lecturer in the English Department at Iowa State University. In English Literature in Transition, Eddie has a forthcoming publication that interprets the poetry of Wilfred Owen through queer relational politics. He is currently at work on a book manuscript adapted from his dissertation entitled Temporalizing the Great War: Wartime in Twentieth-Century American and British Literature. In it he argues that literature contains a unique potential—poetry’s ability to commemorate and narrative’s function to sequence—to make sense of time beyond the often reductive logic of linearity. In contrast to the temporally separate spheres of war and peace purported by propaganda, literature demonstrates that wartime has been a perpetual norm in modern life.
John Dos Passos Coggin: How did you first become interested in Dos Passos? What was the first book of his that you read?
Eddie Eason: I was first introduced to Dos Passos’ literature in a seminar on “The Great American Novel” during graduate school. We read The Big Money. I was fascinated by the ways Dos Passos blended literary conventions. I read the other novels in the U.S.A. trilogy as well as his earlier novels like Manhattan Transfer with a close interest in how his literary form evolved with each work and how that change in style may connect with historical circumstances.
JDPC: What was the topic of your presentation at the 2014 inaugural Dos Passos conference? What did you enjoy most about the Chattanooga conference?
EE: My presentation at the inaugural Dos Passos conference was entitled “‘A Time of Mourning…Too Meaningful and Tragic for Applause’: Capturing the Spectacle of Peace Through Silent Film Aesthetics in 1919.” While Dos Passos readers have noted his montage aesthetic since the early reviewers of Manhattan Transfer, I explored how his montage aesthetic enabled him to craft a counter narrative that questioned the linear transition of war to peace that propaganda purported.
I enjoyed the true comradery among conference participants. From the JDPS President at the time, Wesley Beal, to leading Dos Passos scholar, Lisa Nanney, I was welcomed into a lively discussion of Dos Passos’ life and works during conference as well as friendly outings during lunch breaks.
JDPC: How has the experience of planning the Madrid conference been so far?
EE: I have had a very smooth experience planning the Madrid conference thanks in large part to my co-organizer, Rosa Bautista. Rosa’s thoughtful ideas have made planning the conference at UAX an exciting extension of the friendly atmosphere established at the inaugural conference. And members of the JDPS have been essential in the planning and dissemination of the conference.
JDPC: Have you been to Spain before? What are your expectations of the country based on Dos Passos’ life and works?
EE: I have not been to Spain before. I am looking forward to experiencing some of the art, food, landscapes, and other aspects of culture that Dos Passos cabergoline to buy uk wrote about. I will be bending the ears of many from the JDPS who have an extensive knowledge of Dos Passos and Spain—perhaps even convincing one to give a guided tour!
And I realize that much has changed in the last century. So I am looking forward to experiencing the country in its own contemporary context. I definitely need to brush up on my Spanish!
JDPC: Your current book manuscript concerns World War I. What distinguishes Dos Passos’ Three Soldiers from WWI novels by Hemingway and other American writers?
EE: I think that Three Soldiers—as well as 1919 if you consider it a WWI novel—both have a scope that is unparalleled by any other WWI novel. Dos Passos’s WWI novels provide a unique macro-level perspective that captures the sense of mobilization unlike anything I have read about the Great War. And yet, even with such a large scale, his novels do not sacrifice the individual as reflected in the ending of Three Soldiers as John Andrews walks down the steps.
JDPC: How is your manuscript going? What are its challenges and satisfactions?
EE: Shaping a dissertation project into a book manuscript is a challenging but exciting experience. One of the challenges was leaving the dissertation alone and getting distance from it for a few months before coming back to it. Currently, I really enjoy the planning phase in which I am reevaluating the scope and reframing to focus the argument. I am excited to reapproach some chapters and that I have returned to writing daily.
JDPC: What was the last book or article by Dos Passos that you read and why?
EE: I last read Adventures of a Young Man since the last section deals with the Spanish Civil War. I am in the process of reading the rest of the District of Columbia trilogy.
JDPC: Imagine that you have met a reader who is completely new to Dos Passos. What should he or she read first?
EE: Suggesting an introductory novel for a first time reader of Dos Passos really depends on the reader’s preference since Dos Passos’ style changes from novel to novel. So if a reader enjoys realism, I would suggest Three Soldiers. If a reader enjoys high modernist experimental prose, I would suggest Manhattan Transfer. And if a reader is somewhere in the middle, I would suggest 1919 since it balances realism with avant-garde aesthetics. I also think this middle novel of the U.S.A. trilogy is the most accessible of the three since it covers the shortest amount of time.
JDPC: You have studied the works of Wilfred Owen. What is Owen’s legacy? How did his work imprint our thinking on war?
EE: Wilfred Owen, a lot like Dos Passos, was deeply concerned with how the war dead would be remembered. Just as Dos Passos suggests in the final section of 1919, “The Body an American,” Owen’s poetry locates the memory of the dead in the quotidian and in their own terms rather than in the state’s memorialization and rationalization of violence.
JDPC: What new book (2014 or 2015 publication date) do you recommend?
EE: I recommend Phil Klay’s Redeployment. Klay has an ear for the current vernacular used by soldiers, which I think Dos Passos would appreciate considering he pioneered that expectation of the war novel.