Titel: Modern Times, Modern Places
Verlag: Knopf, US
Zustand: Very Good
Zustand des Schutzumschlags: Dust Jacket Included
Auflage: 1st Edition
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The world changed faster during the twentieth century than ever before. Science and technology set the pace, promoting men to the air like gods. There were revolutions on the streets, but also in the head: uprisings of the Marxist proletariat and of the Freudian id. The new physics of Einstein and his colleagues changed our understanding of nature by showing that matter is made up of empty space, and modern architects constructed buildings to match those new structural principles. Painters such as Picasso and Dali denied they were distorting the human form: they were simply acknowledging the ways in which modern men and women were different, both physiologically and psychologically.
Little wonder that, even before our unprecedented century has concluded, its culture has been studied, dissected, analyzed, questioned, rejected, and embraced. We are exhilarated by our own story. Yet the twentieth century's proud rejection of the Western humanist past and its newly specialized intellectual style has left our understanding of it in fragments. But rescue is at hand, for in Modern Times, Modern Places, the noted critic Peter Conrad--ranging brilliantly between literature, the visual arts, music and the performing arts, science, and psychoanalysis--connects these disparate areas and sees the modern era as a whole.
Taking his cue from the declaration of the Italian futurists that time and space had been abruptly killed off by Einstein's time-space continuum, he investigates the notion and the nature of modern times: the justified conviction that we have lived through a unique testing period in the experience of mankind. He also describes the places that were frontiers of modernity--cities like Vienna, Moscow, Paris, and Berlin; new worlds in the Americas; a preview of a possible future in Tokyo.
Did it all happen too fast and go too far? Modernity was like a roller coaster ride, during which the human race jested with disaster and delighted in the havoc created by the play of g-forces. Yet we can take pride in our century's mental achievements, as well as regretting its crimes. Despite the dangers we confront, with the uniquely clear perspective Peter Conrad provides on a phase of history that has nearly passed we are much better prepared to confront the new millennium.
"The earth," said Gertrude Stein in 1938, "is not the same as in the 19th century." And how. Covering a staggeringly vast distance, Peter Conrad traces the development of modern consciousness during the 20th century through the art and thought of Vienna, Paris, Berlin, and Tokyo. He compares the progress to that of a human life, passing from youthful zest to maturity, but only by way of anguish and torment. This sounds simplistic; the book is not. Conrad's prose is as fluid as his ideas are sharp, and the scope of his reference is vast, its application unassailable. This is intellectual writing at its most accessible. He considers Freud and Chaplin, Stravinsky and Einstein, as he pursues his theme of a planet that has shrunk, as we have grown, to a size that we can manipulate and, as Hiroshima showed, we can destroy. Society's greatest advances have been technological, he argues, yet at the expense of reducing the individualism of humankind, of "dumbing down" to a sedative senility. Wisely avoiding the business of prediction, his declaration of faith in laughter when facing the future, and in the reinterpretation of the past in order to escape it, provides a pleasantly unexpected conclusion.
Arranged in 30 chapters, each a rounded essay in its own right, Modern Times, Modern Places is a powerfully evocative appraisal of the 20th century and its achievements that succeeds, quite frankly, where many will fail. --David Vincent
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