CENTURY'S END: A Cultural History of the Fin de Siecle from the 990s Through the 1990s by Hillel Schwartz

CENTURY'S END: A Cultural History of the Fin de Siecle from the 990s Through the 1990s

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A self-conscious meditation on the charged, world, weary, now-or-never idea of fin de si≤cle. The French invented the evocative phrase in 1886. But Schwartz (Never Satisfied, 1986) goes farther back, examining cultural signs and symptoms of the last decade of every century, starting at 1000 A.D. He views this sequence of final decades as a prologue to today. By the 1290's, Europeans, marking time by the A.D. calendar, experienced ""despair over the decay of institutions"" and ""prophetic hopes"" for a new age. In the 1690's, theological debate in England focused on the decay of the planet. In a freewheeling, thousand-year sweep, Schwartz touches on art, theology, literature, psychology, politics, and numerous historical figures. While careening between references, however, he tries to tie too much into his protracted themes. Schwartz sees manifestations of Janus, the two-faced Roman god of doorways, again and again at the turn of the century--in the 1600 opera Euridice, in the Louvre's new pyramid, black holes, and Israel, ""the primary janiform site of our fin de siecle."" Throughout, points are submerged in a mass of research (including over 50 pages of footnotes) and in mannered prose often paced like a windy chant and laced with words like ""howsoever"" and ""well-nigh."" Schwartz rightly observes that today ""the choices are etched most starkly as good will or holocaust, ecology or extinction. . ."" But he skews the characterization of the present by dwelling on UFO sightings, multiple personalities, and New Age phenomena. The common reader looking expectantly toward the year 2000 will need a more powerful telescope.

Pub Date: Jan. 25th, 1989
Publisher: Doubleday