Catalogue


Prague, capital of the twentieth century : a surrealist history /
Derek Sayer.
imprint
Princeton, NJ : Princeton University Press, 2013.
description
xxi, 595 p. : ill. ; 25 cm.
ISBN
9780691043807 (hardcover : alk. paper)
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
author
imprint
Princeton, NJ : Princeton University Press, 2013.
isbn
9780691043807 (hardcover : alk. paper)
catalogue key
8807954
 
Includes bibliographical references (p. [445]-559) and index.
A Look Inside
Excerpts
Flap Copy
"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
Flap Copy
"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
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Library Journal on 2013-06-15:
Sayer's (cultural history, Lancaster Univ.) inspirations for this anticipated sequel to his Coasts of Bohemia: A Czech History are Walter Benjamin's essays in his Arcades Project citing Paris as the capital of the 19th century. Sayer argues that 20th-century Prague can lay claim to witnessing the birth of the modern and postmodern world. Not only was Prague host or home to such pioneers of surrealism as Andre Breton and Franz Kafka, but its very history, encompassing so many transformations and conjunctions, gives it a kind of surreality itself, as the author seeks to show. Focusing his lens on the years from the 1914 outbreak of World War I to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Sayer argues Prague has been an important backdrop to the darker 20th century. Sayer "hopes to rummage amid the rags and refuse of yesterday's modernity in the hope of uncovering the dreamworlds that continue to haunt." While the author sets himself a daunting task, his detail-oriented approach proves successful. VERDICT Through both the breadth and depth of his knowledge, Sayer will reward the patient reader; in the surrealist fashion, he focuses on the seemingly mundane details to provide a true biography of Prague.-Kelsey Berry Philpot, Holderness Sch., NH (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2013-01-28:
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 Andre Breton (founder of surrealism) and poet Paul Eluard. 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. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Reviews
Review Quotes
"Through both the breadth and depth of his knowledge, Sayer will reward the patient reader; in the surrealist fashion, he focuses on the seemingly mundane details to provide a true biography of Prague."-- Kelsey Berry Philpot, Library Journal
Through both the breadth and depth of his knowledge, Sayer will reward the patient reader; in the surrealist fashion, he focuses on the seemingly mundane details to provide a true biography of Prague.
"Sayer is a master of his sources: he looks back on a past still within reach, receding from us; he tracks down its threads, from liaison to liaison, from city to city. Can a research professor ever have written a book quite so triumphantly eccentric and persuaded a major academic press to publish it so splendidly?"-- Nicolas Rothwell, Australian
[T]he book . . . offers an insight into often quite extraordinary life stories connected with Prague as well as their international context.
"[T]he book . . . offers an insight into often quite extraordinary life stories connected with Prague as well as their international context."-- Marta Filipova, Times Higher Education
"[T]his is a broad cultural history . . . with Sayer ranging easily across the arts. . . . [C]ontinually illuminating."-- Andrew Mead, Architectural Review
"[Readers] will likely find themselves delighted by Sayer's erudition as he reintroduces dozens of figures, many long forgotten or scarcely known to non-Czechs, into our understanding of twentieth-century cultural history."-- Brendan Driscoll, Booklist
Sayer has written a cultural history chockablock with artists, modernist architecture, manifestos, dark comedies, and broken alliances. . . . It will be valued by those interested in European cultural history during the twentieth century and how modern art was colored by the horrors of the political landscape.
"Sayer has written a cultural history chockablock with artists, modernist architecture, manifestos, dark comedies, and broken alliances. . . . It will be valued by those interested in European cultural history during the twentieth century and how modern art was colored by the horrors of the political landscape."-- Karen Ackland, ForeWord Reviews
Sayer is a master of his sources: he looks back on a past still within reach, receding from us; he tracks down its threads, from liaison to liaison, from city to city. Can a research professor ever have written a book quite so triumphantly eccentric and persuaded a major academic press to publish it so splendidly?
" Prague, Capital of the Twentieth Century is a thoroughly engrossing book. . . . What [Sayer] says makes me wish I'd read a book like his before I went there all those years ago. I think I would have looked around the city with a greater awareness of its qualities."-- Jim Burns, Northern Review of Books
[Readers] will likely find themselves delighted by Sayer's erudition as he reintroduces dozens of figures, many long forgotten or scarcely known to non-Czechs, into our understanding of twentieth-century cultural history.
" Prague, Capital of the Twentieth Century is an erudite, comprehensive, well-illustrated and witty account of Czech art, design, architecture, literature and music in an era--stretching roughly from Czechoslovakia's creation in 1918 to the end of the second world war--when few in Paris, Berlin, London or even New York would have thought of the Czechs as not being part of western civilisation. . . . [I]n this book [Sayer] has succeeded in bringing back to life a golden avant-garde era that not long ago was in danger of being written out of history altogether."-- Tony Barber, Financial Times
Prague, Capital of the Twentieth Century is an erudite, comprehensive, well-illustrated and witty account of Czech art, design, architecture, literature and music in an era--stretching roughly from Czechoslovakia's creation in 1918 to the end of the second world war--when few in Paris, Berlin, London or even New York would have thought of the Czechs as not being part of western civilisation. . . . [I]n this book [Sayer] has succeeded in bringing back to life a golden avant-garde era that not long ago was in danger of being written out of history altogether.
[A] captivating portrait of 20th-century Prague. . . . The breadth of Sayer's knowledge is encyclopedic, and those willing to stay the course will be rewarded.
"[A] captivating portrait of 20th-century Prague. . . . The breadth of Sayer's knowledge is encyclopedic, and those willing to stay the course will be rewarded."-- Publishers Weekly
"A real page-turner that leads the reader through all possible facets of Modernism in Prague, starting with Breton's and Eluard visit to the city in 1935 and ending with the crashing of all modern and Surrealist legacy by the Communist regime in the 1940s and 50s. At the same time, Sayer's book pays also great attention to previous periods while putting also a strong emphasis on the many efforts, from the Prague Spring till today's resistance to Prague's Macdonalization, to recover the revolutionary power and intuitions of the past, in the field of art but as well as in that of daily life. . . . [A] fabulously good read. . . . Derek Sayer stands already out as one of the most convincing representatives of how to rethink our cultural past today."-- Jan Baetens, Leonardo
"A thoroughly engrossing book."--Jim Burns, Northern Review of Books
"In this erudite, witty and well-illustrated book, Sayer restores Czech avant-garde art between the two world wars to its rightful position at the heart of European culture. A worthy successor to Sayer's much-praised The Coasts of Bohemia ."-- Financial Times , "Books of the Year So Far" Summer Reading Guide
This item was reviewed in:
Publishers Weekly, January 2013
ForeWord Magazine, May 2013
Library Journal, June 2013
The Australian, June 2013
Booklist, July 2013
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Summaries
Main Description
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.
Bowker Data Service Summary
Taking as inspiration Walter Benjamin's unfinished project to characterise Paris as 'capital of the nineteenth century', Derek Sayer explores the fascinating vissitudes of fortune that have befallen Prague during the twentieth and the experience of the modern that this has encompassed.
Table of Contents
List of Illustrationsp. xi
Acknowledgmentsp. xv
Translation and Pronunciationp. xix
Introductionp. 1
The Starry Castle Opensp. 13
The Surrealist Situation of the Objectp. 13
A Choice of Abdicationsp. 22
Zonep. 33
Le passant de Praguep. 33
This Little Mother Has Clawsp. 44
The Time of Ardent Reasonp. 52
The Hangman and the Poetp. 63
Tongues Come to Lifep. 69
Metamorphosesp. 79
The Origin of Robotsp. 79
A Beautiful Garden Next Door to Historyp. 90
Suicide Lanep. 99
Franz Kafka's Dreamp. 114
Do You Speak German? Are You a Jew?p. 122
Fantasy Land. Entry I Crownp. 130
The Precious Legacyp. 137
Modernism in the Pluralp. 144
Alfons Mucha, Steel and Concretep. 144
The Ghosts of Futures Pastp. 156
From the Window of the Grand Café Orientp. 170
Granny's Valleyp. 183
The Electric Centuryp. 197
All the Beauties of the Worldp. 210
Body Politicp. 221
The Silent Womanp. 221
The Poetry of Future Memoriesp. 231
Renaissance Balletp. 242
Beautiful Ideas That Killp. 251
Sexual Nocturnep. 261
Cut with a Kitchen Knifep. 270
A War Economy, Words of Command, and Gasp. 280
On the Edge of an Abyssp. 288
The Beautiful Gardenerp. 288
The Bride Stripped Barep. 298
Gulping for Air and Violencep. 304
Orders of Thingsp. 312
L'origine du mondep. 324
Dreams of Venusp. 331
A Girl with a Batonp. 344
Love's Boat Shattered against Everyday Lifep. 356
A National Tragedy with Pretty Legsp. 356
The Poet Assassinatedp. 364
A Wall as Thick as Eternityp. 374
Didier Desrochesp. 387
Am I Not Right, Jan Hus?p. 399
Messalina's Shoulder in the Gaslightp. 409
That Familiar White Darknessp. 419
The Gold of Timep. 426
The Necromancer's Junk Roomp. 426
The Prague-Paris Telephonep. 433
The Dancing Housep. 439
Notesp. 445
Bibliographyp. 529
Indexp. 561
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.

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