Elegy: an intuitive chronicle of war

Pattie Belle Hastings

“There is a strange dichotomy between the beauty of the presentation of Elegy and the horrors of its content. While the book’s text was created during the Vietnam War, the overall package has more formal parallels to the recent Gulf War. In Vietnam, the media presented graphic images of carnage resulting from a country being ripped apart by conflict; conversely, the Gulf War images, tightly controlled by the government, were sanitized video-game representations that too neatly removed the look of destruction from the face of death. In Elegy, the horrors of war are not visually depicted; they lie dormant, embedded in language that has been folded inward and hermetically removed from easy observation. Visually we receive only romanticized and idealized notions that are so necessary for the perpetuation of the war business. Elegy subtly mimics the structure of U.S. agitprop while simultaneously exposing war’s grisly underbelly. This formal conflict reflects an important distinction between the personal experience of war and its second-hand representation.”

“Perhaps the most eloquent anti-war statement in the book is contained in ‘Return’ (envelope number eight). Karl recounts investigating an explosion in a bunker that killed seven and wounded three. He describes literally finding the face of one of the soldiers whose body had been removed earlier in the day. While sorting through the soldier’s personal belongings to determine if he had been suicidal, Karl found photographs of the dead soldier's girlfriend and letters from the soldier’s parents describing the gloriously mundane aspects of daily life back in the states. Karl poignantly speculates that death likely came as the soldier slept and dreamt of the simple pleasures he was missing back home. Karl concludes, ‘I just don't know what it's all about, this war and all these lives being snuffed out. I can't justify it, there is no way.... But that’s not what matters ... I'm not paid to think, just to perform as a puppet for some guy sitting on his ass somewhere, aloof from all the grit, the stench, the pain and reservations of armed conflict. I’m just sure his heart goes out to this dead GI’s parents . . . the form letter will help so much to ease the pain of loss. But that’s the way it’s always been; there are the people who think, plan, generally cause trouble through their reckless attitudes and ways and there are those who reap the ill sown deeds . . . the SP4s, PFCs.... It’s wild, but it’s the charge of the lower class peons, the light brigade all over again’...” Dan Talley, Art Papers, November/December 1992

A collaboration with artist Karl Michel. Eight letters in envelopes with paper slipcase. Two metallic ink colors printed offset with hand stamping on the envelopes. 4.25 x 5.5 inches. Edition of 625. 1992

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