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Prague, Capital of the Twentieth Century: A Surrealist History

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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

Setting out to recover the roots of modernity in the boulevards, interiors, and arcades of the "city of light," Walter Benjamin dubbed Paris "the capital of the nineteenth century." In this eagerly anticipated sequel to his acclaimed Coasts of Bohemia: A Czech History, Derek Sayer argues that Prague could well be seen as the capital of the much darker twentieth century. Ranging across twentieth-century Prague's astonishingly vibrant and always surprising human landscape, this richly illustrated cultural history describes how the city has experienced (and suffered) more ways of being modern than perhaps any other metropolis.

Located at the crossroads of struggles between democratic, communist, and fascist visions of the modern world, twentieth-century Prague witnessed revolutions and invasions, national liberation and ethnic cleansing, the Holocaust, show trials, and snuffed-out dreams of "socialism with a human face." Yet between the wars, when Prague was the capital of Europe's most easterly parliamentary democracy, it was also a hotbed of artistic and architectural modernism, and a center of surrealism second only to Paris.

Focusing on these years, Sayer explores Prague's spectacular modern buildings, monuments, paintings, books, films, operas, exhibitions, and much more. A place where the utopian fantasies of the century repeatedly unraveled, Prague was tailor-made for surrealist André Breton's "black humor," and Sayer discusses the way the city produced unrivaled connoisseurs of grim comedy, from Franz Kafka and Jaroslav Hasek to Milan Kundera and Václav Havel. A masterful and unforgettable account of a city where an idling flaneur could just as easily be a secret policeman, this book vividly shows why Prague can teach us so much about the twentieth century and what made us who we are.

Review:

"Cultural historian Sayer (The Coasts of Bohemia: A Czech History) delivers a dense but captivating portrait of 20th-century Prague, a city that entered the 20th century as part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, then successively became a democracy, a Nazi-occupied Protectorate, a Soviet puppet state, and finally a 'reborn post-Communist republic.' Mainly covering the period from 1914 — 1991, Sayer highlights Prague's cultural landscape (and dreamscape), particularly the time between the world wars, when the capital was a crucible of modernist architecture and art, and a mecca for surrealist artists and writers from Kafka to Toyen, as well as appreciative Parisian visitors André Breton (founder of surrealism) and poet Paul Éluard. For Sayer, boulevards, buildings, squares, clocks, hotels, poems, paintings, and operas conjure fertile associations, allowing him to delve into the city's rich political and cultural history. Noting that Prague became a place where 'modernist dreams have time and again unraveled,' he explores the effect the Communist Party, Nazism, the world wars, and the Soviet takeover had on the city's artists and architecture. The breadth of Sayer's knowledge is encyclopedic, and those willing to stay the course will be rewarded." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Synopsis:

While the specifics of individual wars vary, they share a common epilogue: the task of finding and identifying the and#8220;disappeared.and#8221; The Bosnian war of the early 1990s, which destroyed the sovereign state of Yugoslavia, is no exception. In Working in the Killing Fields, Howard Ball focuses on recent developments in the technology of forensic science and on the work of forensic professionals in Bosnia following that conflict. Ball balances the examination of complex features of new forensic technology with insights into the lives of the men and women from around the globe who are tasked with finding and excavating bodies and conducting pathological examinations. Having found the disappeared, however, these same pathologists must then also explain the cause of death to international-court criminal prosecutors and surviving families of the victims. Ball considers the physical dangers these professionals regularly confront while performing their site excavations, as well as the emotional pain, including post-traumatic stress disorder, they contend with while in Bosnia and after they leave the killing fields.

Working in the Killing Fields integrates discussion of cutting-edge forensic technology into a wider view of what these searches mean, the damage they do to people, and the healing and good they bring to those in search of answers. Even though the Balkan wars took place two decades ago, the fields where so many men, women, and children died still have gruesome and disturbing stories to tell. Ball puts the spotlight on the forensic professionals tasked with telling that story and on what their work means to them as individuals and to the wider worldand#8217;s understanding of genocide and war.

Synopsis:

"A triumph! Sayer's indispensable work is at once magisterial and puckish, authoritative and subversive, intellectually dense and brilliantly accessible."--Michael Beckerman, New York University

"This is a fascinating and brilliantly written narrative that combines elements of literary guide, biography, cultural history, and essay. Writing with warm engagement, and drawing on his detailed knowledge of Czech literature, art, architecture, music, and other fields, Derek Sayer provides a rich picture of a dynamic cultural landscape."--Jindrich Toman, University of Michigan

About the Author

Derek Sayer is Professor of Cultural History at Lancaster University and a former Canada Research Chair at the University of Alberta. His previous books include The Coasts of Bohemia: A Czech History (Princeton) and Capitalism and Modernity. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations xi
Acknowledgments xv
Translation and Pronunciation xix

Introduction 1

  • 1 The Starry Castle Opens 13
  • The Surrealist Situation of the Object 13
  • A Choice of Abdications 22

2 Zone 33

  • Le passant de Prague 33
  • This Little Mother Has Claws 44
  • The Time of Ardent Reason 52
  • The Hangman and the Poet 63
  • Tongues Come to Life 69

3 Metamorphoses 79

  • The Origin of Robots 79
  • A Beautiful Garden Next Door to History 90
  • Suicide Lane 99
  • Franz Kafka's Dream 114
  • Do You Speak German? Are You a Jew? 122
  • Fantasy Land. Entry 1 Crown 130
  • The Precious Legacy 137

4 Modernism in the Plural 144

  • Alfons Mucha, Steel and Concrete 144
  • The Ghosts of Futures Past 156
  • From the Window of the Grand Café Orient 170
  • Granny's Valley 183
  • The Electric Century 197
  • All the Beauties of the World 210

5 Body Politic 221

  • The Silent Woman 221
  • The Poetry of Future Memories 231
  • Renaissance Ballet 242
  • Beautiful Ideas That Kill 251
  • Sexual Nocturne 261
  • Cut with a Kitchen Knife 270
  • A War Economy, Words of Command, and Gas 280

6 On the Edge of an Abyss 288

  • The Beautiful Gardener 288
  • The Bride Stripped Bare 298
  • Gulping for Air and Violence 304
  • Orders of Things 312
  • L'origine du monde 324
  • Dreams of Venus 331
  • A Girl with a Baton 344

7 Love's Boat Shattered against Everyday Life 356

  • A National Tragedy with Pretty Legs 356
  • The Poet Assassinated 364
  • A Wall as Thick as Eternity 374
  • Didier Desroches 387
  • Am I Not Right, Jan Hus? 399
  • Messalina's Shoulder in the Gaslight 409
  • That Familiar White Darkness 419

8 The Gold of Time 426

  • The Necromancer's Junk Room 426
  • The Prague-Paris Telephone 433
  • The Dancing House 439

Notes 445
Bibliography 529
Index 561

Product Details

ISBN:
9780691043807
Subtitle:
A Surrealist History
Author:
Sayer, Derek
Author:
Ball, Howard
Publisher:
Princeton University Press
Subject:
Europe - Eastern
Subject:
Art and architecture
Subject:
European History
Subject:
World History/Comparative History
Subject:
Art - General
Subject:
Military - Other
Subject:
Art
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Cloth
Publication Date:
20130407
Binding:
Electronic book text in proprietary or open standard format
Language:
English
Illustrations:
1 illustration, 1 chart
Pages:
624
Dimensions:
9 x 6 in

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Related Subjects

Arts and Entertainment » Architecture » History » Contemporary (1945-)
Arts and Entertainment » Art » Europe General
Arts and Entertainment » Art » General
Arts and Entertainment » Art » History and Criticism
History and Social Science » Europe » Eastern Europe » Czechoslovakia
History and Social Science » Politics » General
History and Social Science » World History » Eastern Europe
History and Social Science » World History » General
Humanities » Literary Criticism » General

Prague, Capital of the Twentieth Century: A Surrealist History New Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$42.51 In Stock
Product details 624 pages Princeton University Press - English 9780691043807 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Cultural historian Sayer (The Coasts of Bohemia: A Czech History) delivers a dense but captivating portrait of 20th-century Prague, a city that entered the 20th century as part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, then successively became a democracy, a Nazi-occupied Protectorate, a Soviet puppet state, and finally a 'reborn post-Communist republic.' Mainly covering the period from 1914 — 1991, Sayer highlights Prague's cultural landscape (and dreamscape), particularly the time between the world wars, when the capital was a crucible of modernist architecture and art, and a mecca for surrealist artists and writers from Kafka to Toyen, as well as appreciative Parisian visitors André Breton (founder of surrealism) and poet Paul Éluard. For Sayer, boulevards, buildings, squares, clocks, hotels, poems, paintings, and operas conjure fertile associations, allowing him to delve into the city's rich political and cultural history. Noting that Prague became a place where 'modernist dreams have time and again unraveled,' he explores the effect the Communist Party, Nazism, the world wars, and the Soviet takeover had on the city's artists and architecture. The breadth of Sayer's knowledge is encyclopedic, and those willing to stay the course will be rewarded." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Synopsis" by ,

While the specifics of individual wars vary, they share a common epilogue: the task of finding and identifying the and#8220;disappeared.and#8221; The Bosnian war of the early 1990s, which destroyed the sovereign state of Yugoslavia, is no exception. In Working in the Killing Fields, Howard Ball focuses on recent developments in the technology of forensic science and on the work of forensic professionals in Bosnia following that conflict. Ball balances the examination of complex features of new forensic technology with insights into the lives of the men and women from around the globe who are tasked with finding and excavating bodies and conducting pathological examinations. Having found the disappeared, however, these same pathologists must then also explain the cause of death to international-court criminal prosecutors and surviving families of the victims. Ball considers the physical dangers these professionals regularly confront while performing their site excavations, as well as the emotional pain, including post-traumatic stress disorder, they contend with while in Bosnia and after they leave the killing fields.

Working in the Killing Fields integrates discussion of cutting-edge forensic technology into a wider view of what these searches mean, the damage they do to people, and the healing and good they bring to those in search of answers. Even though the Balkan wars took place two decades ago, the fields where so many men, women, and children died still have gruesome and disturbing stories to tell. Ball puts the spotlight on the forensic professionals tasked with telling that story and on what their work means to them as individuals and to the wider worldand#8217;s understanding of genocide and war.

"Synopsis" by , "A triumph! Sayer's indispensable work is at once magisterial and puckish, authoritative and subversive, intellectually dense and brilliantly accessible."--Michael Beckerman, New York University

"This is a fascinating and brilliantly written narrative that combines elements of literary guide, biography, cultural history, and essay. Writing with warm engagement, and drawing on his detailed knowledge of Czech literature, art, architecture, music, and other fields, Derek Sayer provides a rich picture of a dynamic cultural landscape."--Jindrich Toman, University of Michigan

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