At first I thought I found Lt. Smash’s blog so unsatisfying because it’s bare of emotions, or almost bare. Lt Smash, an American soldier fighting in Iraq (if he’s not a hoax too), writes matter of factly in a prose that’s barer than Hemingway’s:

Reports of deaths and casualties bring mixed emotions. Sadness at the injury or loss of fellow warriors. Relief at the low numbers reported. (23/3)

I suppose the staccato of the sentences could be interpreted as manly grief. I looked at Salam Pax’s blog to see why I prefer it. An obvious reason would be that I don’t support the American soldiers, and I have sympathy with the civilian population of Bagdad, but I think there’s more. Here’s Salam:

We obviously still have electricity, phones are still working and we got to phone calls from abroad so the international lines are still working. water is still runing.

Salam uses full sentences, which I do appreciate. His occasional spelling mistakes confirm his presented identity. But what really draws me in is that he writes about details. Scouring his recent posts he doesn’t write about his emotions any more than Lt Smash, and when he does, there’s often a dose of irony surrounding his words as protection. The feeling is in the details, when the irony lets go of his language. And there are lots of details:

We got to phone calls from abroad … around 6:30 my uncle went out to get bread … the Iraqi TV was showing patriotic songs and didn’t even bother to inform viewers that we are under attack … The Iraqi Satellite Channel is not broadcasting anymore. The second youth TV channel (it shows Egyptian soaps in the morning and sports afterwards) also stopped transmitting.

Meredith uses details like this, too, and I love the posts her details come out in. Meredith has a talent for observation, and she often inserts an observed detail into a tiny story of something she’s experienced. Though the detail is not precisely related to the episode she’s relating, together they create sparks.

Nearby, a rookie policeman is hovering; waiting for jay-walkers, so he can make his first arrest. Behind him, a more senior copper watches proudly, the mother lion overseeing the cub’s first kill. (17/3)

Lt Smash on the other hand rarely notes details. A hard sarcasm filling every word. Perhaps that’s the only way he can cope with his life right now. When the sarcasm lifts set phrases appear: “We will not forget. And we will not rest as long as our freedom and safety is threatened.” But these ritual patterns of words are only another kind of linguistic protection.

The words with which Lt Smash closes his post last Wednesday aren’t observations of details, but they affect me more than anything else he writes. I think it is for their ordinariness combined with the drama and danger of his situation:

I’ve got to go to work now.
I’ll post again when I can.

1 Comment

  1. chuck tryon

    Hi, I came across your blog on Salam Pax and Lt. Smash through an article in Wired, and was pleased to see that your reaction was similar to mine, if only because it confirms my dissatisfaction with Smash’s blog. The Hemingway comparison is really helpful, too.


Leave A Comment

Recommended Posts

Triple book talk: Watch James Dobson, Jussi Parikka and me discuss our 2023 books

Thanks to everyone who came to the triple book talk of three recent books on machine vision by James Dobson, Jussi Parikka and me, and thanks for excellent questions. Several people have emailed to asked if we recorded it, and yes we did! Here you go! James and Jussi’s books […]

Image on a black background of a human hand holding a graphic showing the word AI with a blue circuit board pattern inside surrounded by blurred blue and yellow dots and a concentric circular blue design.
AI and algorithmic culture Machine Vision

Four visual registers for imaginaries of machine vision

I’m thrilled to announce another publication from our European Research Council (ERC)-funded research project on Machine Vision: Gabriele de Setaand Anya Shchetvina‘s paper analysing how Chinese AI companies visually present machine vision technologies. They find that the Chinese machine vision imaginary is global, blue and competitive.  De Seta, Gabriele, and Anya Shchetvina. “Imagining Machine […]

Do people flock to talks about ChatGPT because they are scared?

Whenever I give talks about ChatGPT and LLMs, whether to ninth graders, businesses or journalists, I meet people who are hungry for information, who really want to understand this new technology. I’ve interpreted this as interest and a need to understand – but yesterday, Eirik Solheim said that every time […]