If I did not warn it already, I apologise, but to my faithful reader[s] (ok so I'm being slightly optimistic there) this post regards some of my theoretical work that I have done over the last year or so. Not that it won't be interesting...I promise! I should also point out that a paper on this very idea was written in conjunction with my colleague and friend Theresa (from James Cook University) and we are still awaiting to see if it is published this year sometime.
It seems good timing then with the passing of another Anzac day to consider the role of horror and dread which is embedded in our hero worship in the west. In particular with reference to those who paid the 'ultimate' sacrifice for this country (or Empire in the case of WW1), the manner in which culture sacralises them is fascinating, but should not be approached with a cynical eye, thus deterring from its high value. While the hero (or in this case the Anzac) is narrated by themes of patriotism, nationalism, pride, mateship, courage, remembrance, pride and all those emotions that effectively bring tears in some cases to people's eyes when the 'last post' is played or the 'Ode' is recited, there is a darker side to this which is worth considering.
In order to foreground this, we need to remember that sacrality at times has a dual dimension or pole. This early modernist writer Robert Hertz pictured above (part of Emile Durkheim's academy who sadly was killed himself on the 13th of April, 1915 in combat duty at Woevre with a pile of unfinished theoretical and anthropological contributions left unfinished - and a wife left behind most importantly) managed to expose quite well by examining anthropological texts from Indonesia - mainly. In his most impressing piece, The Pre-Eminence of the Right Hand, he contends that sacredness is bound by both reverance, awe, inspiration but also horror and dread. To comprehend this, consider the sacred nature of deity, especially in ancient Israel. On one hand, the Israelites were in awe and inspired by their God, but at the same time, they were in constant fear of his power and the ability he had to 'destroy' them for disobedience. Thus, keeping commandments followed after this dual nature. I should point out now that this idea is not what I contend is exemplified in Anzac Day. But, the pilgrimage to Gallipoli and other places of 'secular' sacrality and more importantly the experience that is felt there, cannot be simply related as an awe inspired moment.
Rather, there is a certain element of dread and horror which can be viewed as complimentary to the entire Anzac experience. In particular, as books from Scates (2006) and others show, many report as they walk battlefields (or mass memorials - such as Australia's War Memorial) that they are exposed to emotions of horror when they are confronted aesthetically and imagine the conditions and the terrible plight of the soldiers involved in the war itself. There are even minor reports of feeling as if the 'ghosts' of the dead still rest uneasily in these areas. One painting that perhaps portrays this 'haunting' image is that of Will Longstaff's Menin Gate at Midnight, a personal favourite of mine (pictured below). Furthermore, the horrifying images and tales from soldiers and official photographers on the frontline further conjure images that deeply impact upon anyone's consciousness when they are viewed. However, the most common report of the terrifying realities of war comes when people visit war cemeteries such as that in found dotted across Gallipoli itself, or those dotted across the Somme or Passchendaele. It is here that the modern day pilgrim confronts the harsh reality of death, and the tragedy of those who had their lives cut short.