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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

November 13, 1994|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

CIVIL WARS From L.A. To Bosnia by Hans Magnus Enzensberger (The New Press: $18; 144 pp.) "Violence has freed itself from ideology" writes the poet Enzensberger, who was born in Nuremberg in 1929. According to him, civil wars have several common denominators, primarily "the autistic nature of the perpetrators, and their inability to distinguish between destruction and self-destruction." Participants must be "selfless," exhibiting what Freud called a "death drive," and youth is "the vanguard." Television and newspapers advertise civil wars, with television depicted as a "huge piece of graffiti, an artificial replacement for the autistically-shrunken ego." We ought to stay out of the affairs of other countries; "we ought to mop up the civil war in our own country." If you think that civil wars have anything to do with "hopeless economic situation(s)," you're wrong. Country by country, it's just a bunch of thugs with a death wish. Oddly, the book ends on this note: "If the state refuses to protect them, threatened individuals or groups will have to arm themselves." This voice, so clearly the furious voice of an ordinarily gentle man, implodes in the end, condoning the very activity he's deplored throughout the book. It's the saddest ending of all.

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