RITES OF SPRING: The Great War and the Birth of th by Modris Eksteins

RITES OF SPRING: The Great War and the Birth of th

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A perceptively researched and imaginatively organized analysis of the common roots of WW I and the modernist movement, as well as the impact of that war on subsequent events up to the collapse of the Third Reich. Eksteins (History/U. of Toronto) opens his investigation with a recounting of the events of May 29, 1913, the date of the premiere of Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring." That this was a pivotal event in the history of modernism has long been acknowledged, what has been less widely analyzed, however, are the disparities that exist among the various reminiscences of those involved in that event. Eksteins argues convincingly that supporters of the avant-garde went to the premiere expecting a scandal and did everything possible to promote the idea that a scandal had occurred. The facts, however, indicate that the demonstrations were less violent than these witnesses would have us believe. Eksteins is equally iconoclastic in describing Germany, rather than France, as the most "individualistic"--i.e., "modern"--of the European nations. Thus, in discussing the motivations of the combatants in the Great War, he points out that the British were fighting to preserve values and ideals that the pre-War avant-garde had attacked, while the Germans were fighting to change the pre-1914 world. Viewed in this light, it was the Germans who were eventually triumphant: modernism swept the globe. The author's depiction of life in the trenches is harrowing and extraordinarily moving, largely because of his use of telling anecdotal details. His coverage of the hysteria that greeted Charles Lindbergh's successful solo crossing of the Atlantic and the reasons for it is equally adept, and his juxtapositions of cultural details are thought-provoking, as when he points out that Poiret gowns, the Boy Scout movement, the Olympics, and Isadora Duncan were all expressions of German Leibeskultur. A fresh-eyed look at an oft-studied era, with impressive insight in abundance.

Pub Date: March 24th, 1989
ISBN: 395-49856-2
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
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