RISING UP AND RISING DOWN: Some Thoughts on Violence, Freedom, and Urgent Means
William T. Vollmann, Author . Ecco $29.95 (752p) ISBN 978-0-06
This edition of Vollman's treatise on political violence, 20 or so years in the making and completed before 9/11, abridges the 3,000-plus pages of the McSweeney's edition, an NBCC Award nominee last year. As he notes in a beautifully composed introduction, Vollman assumes political violence to be a human constant and thus addresses his attention to finding out when people use violence for political ends, how they justify it and on what scales they undertake it. Following 100 or so pages of expansive definitions, a nearly 300-page section titled "Justifications" culls an enormous number of texts and commentary, from nearly all recorded eras and locales, with all manner of excuses for killing. These Vollman brilliantly distills into "The Moral Calculus," a set of questions such as "When is violent military retribution justified?"—followed by concrete answers. The book's final quarter offers "Studies in Consequences," featuring Vollman's gonzo reportage from southeast Asia, Europe, "The Muslim World" and North America (represented here primarily by Jamaica). An appendix cites the longer edition's entire table of contents. This book's rigorous, novelistic, imaginative, sonorous prose treats a fundamental topic on a grand (and horrific) scale; there is nothing else in literature quite like it.
Reviewed on: 11/01/2004