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Prague, Capital of the Twentieth Century


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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations xi Acknowledgments xv Translation and Pronunciation xix Introduction 1 *1 The Starry Castle Opens 13 *The Surrealist Situation of the Object 13 *A Choice of Abdications 22 2 Zone 33 * Le passant de Prague 33 *This Little Mother Has Claws 44 *The Time of Ardent Reason 52 *The Hangman and the Poet 63 *Tongues Come to Life 69 3 Metamorphoses 79 *The Origin of Robots 79 *A Beautiful Garden Next Door to History 90 *Suicide Lane 99 *Franz Kafka's Dream 114 *Do You Speak German? Are You a Jew? 122 *Fantasy Land. Entry 1 Crown 130 *The Precious Legacy 137 4 Modernism in the Plural 144*Alfons Mucha, Steel and Concrete 144 *The Ghosts of Futures Past 156 *From the Window of the Grand Cafe Orient 170 *Granny's Valley 183 *The Electric Century 197 *All the Beauties of the World 210 5 Body Politic 221 *The Silent Woman 221 *The Poetry of Future Memories 231 *Renaissance Ballet 242 *Beautiful Ideas That Kill 251 *Sexual Nocturne 261 *Cut with a Kitchen Knife 270 *A War Economy, Words of Command, and Gas 280 6 On the Edge of an Abyss 288*The Beautiful Gardener 288 *The Bride Stripped Bare 298 *Gulping for Air and Violence 304 *Orders of Things 312 * L'origine du monde 324 *Dreams of Venus 331 *A Girl with a Baton 344 7 Love's Boat Shattered against Everyday Life 356*A National Tragedy with Pretty Legs 356 *The Poet Assassinated 364 *A Wall as Thick as Eternity 374 *Didier Desroches 387 *Am I Not Right, Jan Hus? 399 *Messalina's Shoulder in the Gaslight 409 *That Familiar White Darkness 419 8 The Gold of Time 426 *The Necromancer's Junk Room 426 *The Prague-Paris Telephone 433 *The Dancing House 439 Notes 445 Bibliography 529 Index 561

About the Author

Derek Sayer is Professor of Cultural History at Lancaster University and a former Canada Research Chair at the University of Alberta. His previous books include The Coasts of Bohemia: A Czech History (Princeton) and Capitalism and Modernity. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.


Winner of the 2014 George L. Mosse Prize, American Historical Association Honorable Mention for the 2014 Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize, Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies Special Mention for the 2014 F. X. Salda Prize, Institute for Czech Literature of the Czech Academy of Sciences One of Financial Times ( Best History Books of 2013 "[A] pleasure to read, luscious in a sultry kind of way."--Marci Shore, Times Literary Supplement "[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 "[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 "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 "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 "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 "[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 "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 "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 "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 "A thoroughly engrossing book."--Jim Burns, Northern Review of Books "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 "This is a remarkable, unusual and fascinating book... [T]he book brings together fantastic material from history, literature, art, politics, architecture and poetry, giving the readers an incredibly rich and diverse picture of modern Prague."--Michael Lowy, Debatte "Sixty-two well-chosen illustrations, detailed descriptions, and many extended quotations from sources greatly enliven the book and make the author's argument convincing."--Choice "[A] fascinating, forgotten, cultural history."--Diane Coyle, Enlightened Economist "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."--Czech Literature Portal "Prague is not, strictly speaking, travel writing but it is, among other things, an excellent example of what travel writing is becoming, if indeed it hasn't already done so... People are no longer so easily satisfied by the mere travel impressions of some outsider much like themselves. Instead they gravitate towards writers who actually have lived not simply in, but inside, a location for an extended period, as one lives inside one's clothes."--George Fetherling, Diplomat and International Canada "Derek Sayer's meandering derive through the hall of mirrors of 20th-century European history may prove taxing to the scholar who expects a clearly signposted route, but exhilarating to the intellectual flaneur... Sayer has an admirable eye for (sometimes excruciating) detail; coupled with occasional glimmers of wry humour, this produces an intimate and absorbing experience while slowly, unobtrusively deconstructing the reader's understanding of history... His Prague is woven around the reader slowly and silently, page by page, until we cannot help but be made aware of the final image--neither beautiful nor ugly, but undeniably real."--Esther Galfalvi, Gorse "This is a beautiful, erudite, fascinating ... book. Densely researched and resolutely nonlinear, it demands the reader's commitment."--Andrea Orzoff, Austrian Studies Newsmagazine "Sayer covers much ground in this informative and well-illustrated book and its scope is much larger than the title would suggest... Sayer presents a book that is thoroughly researched, highly informative and covers a range of Prague-related topics. It is recommended for postgraduate students, researchers and scholars with an interest in the history of arts, urban history and the cultural history of inter-war Czechoslovakia in particular."--Andrea Talaber, European Review of History "Sayer's intimate knowledge of the writers he quotes, his vast erudition and fondness for the various aspects of Prague's history and topography make this book a joy to read. It will appeal to intellectual and cultural historians interested in the overlapping of modernism and modernity as well as those looking for new ways to write about history and place, but it will surely also attract a broader readership."--Claire Morelon, Social History "Let's hope that the accolades Sayer's book is receiving will help redraw the existing maps of European twentieth-century culture and place Prague not in the political East, but in its centre."--Veronika Ambros, Canadian Slavonic Papers "Beautiful, erudite, fascinating."--Andrea Orfozz, Austrian Studies Newsmagazine "A remarkable, unusual and fascinating book."--Michael Lowy, Debatte Journal of Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe

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