Thinking with History: Explorations in the Passage to Modernism

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9780691059778: Thinking with History: Explorations in the Passage to Modernism


In this book, the distinguished historian Carl Schorske--author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Fin-de-Siécle Vienna--draws together a series of essays that reveal the changing place of history in nineteenth-and twentieth-century cultures. In most intellectual and artistic fields, Schorske argues, twentieth-century Europeans and Americans have come to do their thinking without history. Modern art, modern architecture, modern music, modern science--all have defined themselves not as emerging from or even reacting against the past, but as detached from it in a new, autonomous cultural space. This is in stark contrast to the historicism of the nineteenth century, he argues, when ideas about the past pervaded most fields of thought from philosophy and politics to art, music, and literature. However, Schorske also shows that the nineteenth century's attachment to thinking with history and the modernist way of thinking without history are more than just antitheses. They are different ways of trying to address the problems of modernity, to give shape and meaning to European civilization in the era of industrial capitalism and mass politics.


Schorske begins by reflecting on his own vocation as it was shaped by the historical changes he has seen sweep across political and academic culture. Then he offers a European sampler of ways in which nineteenth-century European intellectuals used conceptions of the past to address the problems of their day: the city as community and artifact; the function of art; social dislocation. Narrowing his focus to Fin-de-Siécle Vienna in a second group of essays, he analyzes the emergence of ahistorical modernism in that city. Against the background of Austria's persistent, conflicting Baroque and Enlightenment traditions, Schorske examines three Viennese pioneers of modernism--Adolf Loos, Gustav Mahler, and Sigmund Freud--as they sought new orientation in their fields.


In a concluding essay, Schorske turns his attention to thinking about history. In the context of a postmodern culture, when other disciplines that had once abandoned history are discovering new uses for it, he reflects on the nature and limits of history for the study of culture.


Originally published in 1999.


The Princeton Legacy Library uses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.


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Review:

As a tool for analysis, Carl E. Schorske writes, history can be used in two very different ways. We can study the past in order to "orient ourselves in the living present," in the hope, perhaps, of not reliving yesterday's tragedies. In doing so, we treat history as a static object and object lesson. Alternately, we can view our lives as part of a continuum, "linking or dissolving static elements in a narrative pattern of change," making history a living thing.

Either way, in Schorske's view, history takes center stage as a way to examine the human enterprise. In the essays contained in Thinking with History, he looks from both viewpoints into the beginnings of the modern era, writing of such groundbreaking artists and thinkers as Gustav Mahler, Richard Wagner, Sigmund Freud, and Rainer Maria Rilke, whose relationships with the dominant cultures of 19th- and early-20th-century Europe were frequently tense, and whose work constituted powerful critiques of their time. Schorske forges connections between our time and theirs, writing, for instance, that 1860, the year of Mahler's birth, was "the beginning of a heady liberal 'glasnost' and 'perestroika' ... in the Habsburg Empire." But he finds many differences, too, to suggest that some things do change with time, and even for the better. Schorske's book is a thoughtful look into the recent past, of particular value to readers with an interest in intellectual history and historiography. --Gregory McNamee

About the Author:

Carl E. Schorske is Professor of History Emeritus at Princeton University. He is the author of Fin-de-Siecle Vienna: Politics and Culture (Knopf) and German Social Democracy, 1905-1917: The Development of the Great Schism (Harvard). He coedited, with Thomas Bender, Budapest and New York: Studies in Metropolitan Transformation, 1870-1930 (Russell Sage Foundation) and, also with Thomas Bender, American Academic Culture in Transformation.

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