PANORAMA OF THE 19TH CENTURY by Dolf Sternberger


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The 19th century loved panoramas. Surrounding the spectator with three-dimensional scenes from history or nature, their illusions were breathtakingly real. Deli Sternberger here makes subtle use of the idea of the panorama to present an interpretation of 19th-century culture that begins with an essay on. . . the panorama. Nor is this just an easy gambit. For Sternberger places the panorama at the center of the culture. Its combination of real objects and painted surfaces and its scheme of continuous dramatic detail embodied the century's chief preoccupations: scenic realism, the relation of nature to artifice, and the organic coherence of experience. Sternberger's own panorama includes the many artifacts and ideas that justify his point of view. The railroad and industry gave new meaning to natural energy and work, while harnessing nature's forces and sending the bourgeois into exotic places. Tourism then stimulated a sensual and sensuous image of the Orient (such a contrast with the drab and inhibited bourgeois public life!) and thus fostered domestic tastes for rich color and dense pattern. The religion of compassion arose in response to imagined scenes of cruelty (especially vivisection) and masked both the loss of strong faith and the struggles of the marketplace. And Darwin's theory of evolution served to legitimate those struggles within the grandest panorama of ali: the history of nature, in which all actions serve natural ends--the panorama goes on and on, yet the surface covered is not large. Nearly 40 years old, Sternberger's book is welcome in English, for it is brilliantly imaginative, learned, concise, and readable, to be compared with the best essays of Walter Benjamin.

Pub Date: June 27th, 1977
Publisher: Urizen--dist. by. Dutton