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Beautiful War

Studies in a Dreadful Fascination

Philip D. Beidler (author)

ISBN: 9780817359614

Publication Date: Aug 2019

Format: Paperback

Also available as: Hardback  

Offers a wide-ranging exploration of armed conflict as depicted in art that illustrates the constant presence of war in our everyday lives. Philip Beidler investigates the assimilation and pervasive presence of the idea of war in popular culture, the impulses behind the making of art out of war, and the debatably aimless trajectories of war itself.

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A probing and holistic meditation on the key question: Why do we continue to make art, and thus beauty, out of war?

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.


In his 'Conclusion', Beidler writes that wars now seem endless and art will always be made from them, but someone else will have to explain it. He has had enough. He is through. Goodbye to all that. To which I can only say: Thank you for your service." - The Tuscaloosa News

"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
Illustrations 37 black & white figures
Pages 200
Dimensions 229 x 152 x 10668
Date Published 30 Aug 2019
Publisher The University of Alabama Press
Subject/s Literary studies: general   Cultural studies   Films, cinema   Art forms   Media studies   20th century history: c 1900 to c 2000   Warfare & defence  
  • List of Figures
  • Acknowledgments
  • 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
  • Index
Philip D. Beidler is the William and Margaret Going Endowed Professor of English at the University of Alabama and the author of many works of cultural and literary criticism, among them The Victory Album: Reflections on the Good Life after the Good War; The Island Called Paradise: Cuba in History, Literature, and the Arts; Late Thoughts on an Old War: The Legacy of Vietnam; and American Wars, American Peace: Notes from a Son of the Empire.

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