Fin-de-siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture, written by American cultural historian Carl E. Schorske and published by Knopf in 1980, won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction. It has been described as a magnificent revelation of turn-of-the-century Vienna where out of a crisis of political and social disintegration so much of modern art and thought was born.
Partly reconstructed from Schorske's articles in the American Historical Review, the book is structured as seven themed but interlocking chapters considering the interrelationships between key artists with the development of psychoanalysis and what was, at the time, seen as an 'end of history'.
The book is lavishly illustrated with both colour and black-and-white reproductions of key artworks, helpfully referenced from the text which explains their relevance to the themes in question.
In the 'Introduction' the author claims that the text was born from his desire 'to construct a course in European intellectual history, designed to help students to understand the large, architectonic correlations between high culture and socio-political change' (p. XVIII). In his view, Vienna was a peculiar cultural environment due to the late ascendancy and early crisis of its liberal middle class between the 1860s and the 1890s. This compression of the socio-political liberal hegemony provided the opportunity for a 'collective Oedipal revolt' against the liberal inheritance, promoted by “Die Jungen” (the Young Ones), spreading from politics in the 1870s to literature and art in the 1890s. The chronologically compressed and socially circumscribed character of the Viennese experience created a more coherent context for studying the different ramifications of its high culture (p. XXVI).
The second essay, “The Ringstrasse, its critics, and the birth of urban modernism" looks back to explore the liberal cultural system in its ascendency through the medium of urban form and architectural style … but it looks forward too … to the critical responses on the part of two leading participants in it – Otto Wagner and Camillo Sitte – reveal the emergence of conflicting tendencies, communitarian and functionalist, in modern thought about the built environment (p. XXVIII).
Schorske's work was one of the major references for Selden Edwards' The Little Book , and serves as the model for a fictional book ("Random Notes", later edited and renamed Fin de Siecle) written by one of the main characters, Arnauld Esterhazy.
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