Beautiful War: Studies in a Dreadful Fascination is a wide-ranging exploration of armed conflict as depicted in art that illustrates the constant presence of war in our everyday lives. Philip D. Beidler investigates the unending assimilation and pervasive presence of the idea of war in popular culture, the impulses behind the making of art out of war, and the unending and debatably aimless trajectories of war itself.
Beidler’s critical scope spans from Shakespeare’s plays, through the Victorian battle paintings of Lady Butler, into the post-World War I writings of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Virginia Woolf, and up to twenty-first-century films such as The Hurt Locker and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. As these works of art have become ubiquitous in contemporary culture, the many faces of war clearly spill over into our art and media, and Beidler argues that these portrayals in turn shift the perception of war from a savage truth to a concept.
Beautiful War argues that the representation of war in the arts has always been, and continues to be, an incredibly powerful force. Incorporating painting, music, photography, literature, and film, Beidler traces a disturbing but fundamental truth: that war has always provided an aesthetic inspiration while serving ends as various and complex as ideological or geopolitical history, public memory, and mass entertainment.
Beautiful War is a bold and vivid account of the role of war and military conflict as a subject of art that offers much of value to literary and cultural critics, historians, veterans, students of art history and communication studies, and those interested in expanding their understanding of art and media’s influence on contemporary values and memories of the past.
List of Figures
Introduction: A Dreadful Fascination
1. Arms and the Bard: Soldiering in Shakespeare
2. Bury Their Hearts at Horseshoe Bend
3. Ted Turner et al. at Gettysburg; or, Reenactors in the Attic
4. What Lady Butler Knew
5. Qingdao and the Archaeologies of War
6. Ralph Vaughan Williams's Long Journey Out of War
7. History and Memory in the Great War Paintings of John Singer Sargent
8. The Great Party Crasher: Mrs. Dalloway, The Great Gatsby, and the Cultures of World War I Remembering
9. What Kurt Vonnegut Saw in World War II that Made Him Insane (Along with Billy Pilgrim, Rabo Karabekian, Eliot Rosewater, and Others)
10. Script by Stephen Crane, Novel by John Huston, Movie by MGM
11. In the Museo de la Revolucíon; or, The Ghost of José Martí
12. By the Numbers: Americans, Vietnamese, and the Figures of Sacrifice
Conclusion: The Forever Wars
Notes on Sources and Further Reading
“Beidler is a keen observer of social architecture, and this collection includes studies of urban space from Beidler's extensive travels. Beidler's work emphasizes the study of existing works of art, but he ultimately wants to capture what he calls the archaeology of war, a complex phenomenon by which a whole people understand their identity through specific artifacts of history and memory inherited not merely from its wars, but from the way its wars have been culturally manipulated. Beidler's voice gains force and power from his own identity as a combat veteran. Beautiful War is held together by Beidler's own investment of his experience and faculties in this task of unpacking the modern fascination with war.”
—War, Literature The Arts
“As with all of Beidler’s work, this study abounds with brilliant and frightening insights. Essential.”
“Beidler offers us a dazzling array of case studies that, when taken together, convey the seemingly inexhaustible energy that Western cultures continue to pour into the representations of war via an ever-changing and ever-expanding set of technologies and the protean nature of armed conflict as a locus for collective memory.”
—Steven Trout, author of On the Battlefield of Memory: The First World War and American Remembrance, 1919–1941
“The subject of war is, of course, an important one, but what separates this book from many others on the subject is its unusual focus on so many forms of art—literature, film, music, visual art, poetry, photography, architecture, sculpture, shrines, memorials, and the museums that contain such—as they reflect on the intense human response that war induces.”
—Donald Anderson, editor of War, Literature, and the Arts: An International Journal of the Humanities