Explorations in the Passage to Modernism
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Thirteen pieces by a first-rate scholar on diverse aspects of the intellectual and cultural history of western and central Europe, mainly from 1848 to 1914. Schorske, author of Fin-de-Siäcle Vienna: Politics and Culture (1980), for which he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize, and other works, has three foci: his own evolution as a historian and his impressively open response to the “new history” that has emerged during the past three decades; perceptions of, and design battles over, the modern city; and the early, formative years of modernist culture. Two of his most interesting pieces focus on the architectural shaping of the Ringstrasse, the grand boulevard that encircled the heart of post-1848 Vienna. Its magisterial buildings, Schorske says, largely reflected the values of both those loyal to Kaiser Franz Josef and those committed to a more liberal, though hardly fully democratic, state; both tendencies would be sharply criticized beginning around 1890 by such modernist intellectuals as the architect Adolf Loos and the journalist and playwright Karl Kraus. Only three of Schorske’s essays focus on one or more individuals—the English writer and utopian visionary William Morris, Wagner, Mahler, and Freud—but these are among the book’s best. Concerning the latter, Schorske traces Freud’s deep interest in the culture of ancient Egypt, as evidenced in his last major work, Moses and Monotheism, by first looking at the influence and mystique that three great western European cities (London, Paris, and Rome) played in Freud’s thought. Schorske is a very gifted writer and scholar, usually clearly and succinctly distilling his study of a great deal of material from many disciplines, avoiding historical and intellectual minutiae, and incorporating colorful anecdotes and quotes (for example, Baudelaire on the pleasure of “bathing himself in the [urban] crowd”). A pleasurable and stimulating read.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-691-05977-2
Page count: 232pp
Publisher: Princeton Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1998