Born almost a hundred years ago in Vienna - the cultural heart of a bourgeois Mitteleurope - Eric Hobsbawm, who was to become one of the most brilliant and original historians of our age, was uniquely placed to observe an era of titanic social and artistic change. As the century progressed, the forces of Communism and Dadaism, Ibiza and cyberspace, would do battle with the bourgeois high culture fin-de-siècle Vienna represented - the opera, the Burgtheater, the museums of art and science, City Hall. In Fractured Times Hobsbawm unpicks a century of cultural fragmentation and dissolution with characteristic verve and vigour.
Hobsbawm examines the conditions that created the great cultural flowering of the belle époque and held the seeds of its disintegration, from paternalistic capitalism to globalisation and the arrival of a mass consumer society. Passionate but never sentimental, Hobsbawm ranges freely across his subject: he records the passing of the golden age of the 'free intellectual' and examines the lives of great, forgotten men; he analyses the relation between art and totalitarianism and dissects cultural phenomena as diverse as surrealism, women's emancipation and the American cowboy myth.
Written with consummate imagination and skill, Fractured Times is the last book from one of our greatest modern-day thinkers.
"What happened to the art and culture of bourgeois society" In this posthumous collection of lectures, fugitive pieces, and reflections written between 1996 and 2010, the prolific Marxist social and cultural historian and polymath Hobsbawm (1917 2012), author of The Age of Revolution, explores that question in the expected places (classics in music, opera, ballet, drama, and modern literature) and some unexpected ones: the changing nature of public festivals; the cultural "impact of Jews on the rest of humanity"; the "rise of politicized religion"; and the "invented cowboy tradition." Along the way, Hobsbawm pays tribute to Karl Kraus's The Last Days of Mankind, Richard Overbury's The Morbid Age, and, using the book review as occasion, Hobsbawm sketches biographies of scientist J. D. Bernal and historian Joseph Needham. There's a short answer to the question posed technical progress and mass demand are the culprits in a vanishing society that never recovered after WWI but Hobsbawm's essays fascinate as they explore the impact of technological obsolescence and technological triumph ("But the new Pentecostal converts do not shy away from the world of Google and the iPhone: they flourish in it."), among other subjects. Together with increased mobility, expanded literacy, mass demand, and globalization, bourgeois civilization "belongs to a past that is not likely to return." Hobsbawm writes that "o class of people is enthusiastic about writing its own obituary." This is its challenging, but often illuminating autopsy.