The First Moderns: Profiles in the Origins of Twentieth-Century Thought

The First Moderns: Profiles in the Origins of Twentieth-Century Thought

The First Moderns: Profiles in the Origins of Twentieth-Century Thought

The First Moderns: Profiles in the Origins of Twentieth-Century Thought

Synopsis

A lively and accessible history of Modernism, The First Moderns is filled with portraits of genius, and intellectual breakthroughs, that richly evoke the fin-de-siegrave;cle atmosphere of Paris, Vienna, St. Louis, and St. Petersburg. William Everdell offers readers an invigorating look at the unfolding of an age. "This exceptionally wide-ranging history is chock-a-block with anecdotes, factoids, odd juxtapositions, and useful insights. Most impressive. . . . For anyone interested in learning about late 19th- and early 20th- century imaginative thought, this engagingly written book is a good place to start."--Washington Post Book World "The First Moderns brilliantly maps the beginning of a path at whose end loom as many diasporas as there are men."--Frederic Morton, The Los Angeles Times Book Review "In this truly exciting study of the origins of modernist thought, poet and teacher Everdell roams freely across disciplinary lines. . . . A brilliant book that will prove useful to scholars and generalists for years to come; enthusiastically recommended."--Library Journal, starred review "Everdell has performed a rare service for his readers. Dispelling much of the current nonsense about 'postmodernism,' this book belongs on the very short list of profound works of cultural analysis."--Booklist "Innovative and impressive . . . [Everdell] has written a marvelous, erudite, and readable study."-Mark Bevir, Spectator "A richly eclectic history of the dawn of a new era in painting, music, literature, mathematics, physics, genetics, neuroscience, psychiatry and philosophy."--Margaret Wertheim, New Scientist "[Everdell] has himself recombined the parts of our era's intellectual history in new and startling ways, shedding light for which the reader of The First Moderns will be eternally grateful."--Hugh Kenner, The New York Times Book Review "Everdell shows how the idea of "modernity" arose before the First World War by telling the stories of heroes such as T. S. Eliot, Max Planck, and Georges Serault with such a lively eye for detail, irony, and ambiance that you feel as if you're reliving those miraculous years."--Jon Spayde, Utne Reader

Excerpt

The century is ending. The Western world is in what might be called a fin-de-siècle mood. What sense can we make of this long era? What legacy has it left? Every day we hear more talk about how the century began, with the simultaneous invention of movies, automobiles, skyscrapers, and abstract art. The high culture we have called Modernism has now been with us for most of this century and part of the previous one, longer than any other cultural -ism since the French began naming them back in the eighteenth century. This book is an attempt to tie down Modernism's beginnings and to begin to write its history.

The result you have before you is a narrative history of ideas, a thing that has become rare. Narrative, some now say, is obsolete, to which accusation the many have replied by building our time's demand for meaningful story--indeed, for any kind of story--to something like a fever pitch. History too is now accused of obsolescence, and "theory" contends it is impossible to adopt a point of view and interpret the past from it. But it is extraordinarily hard to avoid doing that, and there are many reasons why one ought not to try. Some accuse ideas themselves of being obsolete, since all ideas are artifacts of subjectivity and cannot be passed on without intersubjectivity. This book, then, takes an old-fashioned position--that individuals can think new thoughts and communicate them. In fact, it is the collective history of a small group of people who did just that.

They are all of them individuals, and all of them are, in their way, geniuses. A genius I take to be a person who does something no one else can do until enough time has passed for a lot of other people to learn how to do it too. One can be a genius without being a hero; Valeriano Weyler in chapter 8 was, at least in my view, a classic villain. All are presented here, in a nod to a form of history as old as Plutarch, as profiles . . .

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