Fractured Times – Culture and Society in the Twentieth Century
By Eric Hobsbawm
Little Brown – £25.00
According to The Guardian, the author of this profoundly provocative and exceedingly well written book is ”arguably Britain’s most respected historian of any kind, one of a tiny handful of historians of any era to enjoy genuine national and world renown… Both in his knowledge of detail and in his extraordinary powers of synthesis, Eric Hobsbawm was unrivaled.”
Having written sixteen books before his death in 2012 (among them: The Age of Revolution 1789-1848, The Age of Capital 1848-1875, The Age of Empire 1875-1914 and The Age of Extremes 1914-1991), I have to confess that Fractured Times – Culture and Society in the Twentieth Century is my first.
And what a thoroughly consummate, thought provoking and utterly stimulating book it is.
With the beguiling and social flowering of the last century’s belle epoque, these twenty-two chapters examine the kernel of its inevitable disintegration. Whether by way of globalisation, paternalistic capitalism or the nigh onslaught of a very wide and varied consumerist society, no stone appears to be unturned. Hobsbawm simply writes with all the intellectual prowess of one who is evidently on top of his game.
A literary seismic cross between the English actor, playwright and comedian, Stephen Fry, and the American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, logician, political commentator and activist, Noam Chomsky, Fractured Times shoots straight from the hippest of historical hips, immediately.
From the opening premise of the book’s Preface (wherein Hobsbawm detonates his claim with: ”[…] we no longer understand or know how to deal with the present flood drowning the globe in image, sound and words, which is almost certain to become uncontrollable in both space and cyberspace […]. I hope the present book can help to bring more clarity to this discussion”); to it’s opening chapter ‘Manifestos,’ where literally on page one, he entertainingly writes: ”I started my intellectual life at school in Berlin at the age of fifteen with one manifesto – Marx and Engels’s Communist Manifesto. I have a press-photograph of me in my eighties reading the Italian newspaper Il Manifesto, which is, I think, the last European paper to describe itself as communist. Because my parents were married in the Zurich of the First World War among Lenin and Dadaists of the Cabaret Voltaire, I would like to think that a Dadaist Manifesto issued a loud fart at the moment of my conception, but unfortunately the first Dadaist was recited three months before this could have happened. […]. None of the mission statements I have come across says anything worth saying, unless you are a fan of badly written platitudes. You can’t walk more than a few yards through the undergrowth of print without stubbing your toe on some example, almost universally vapid in sentiment, telling you the equivalent of ‘Have a nice day’ and ‘Your call is important to us.”
Finally, here we have a writer with all the chutzpah of an acute intellect, who emphatically calls many of the shots as they so desperately need to be. Especially in this day and almost redundant age of such ‘vapid,’ translucent, media bollocks.
Lest it be said that the ideology of ”Your call is important to us,” is, in truth, about as important and invalid as George Osbourne’s dental records. For no-one, but no-one, fundamentally gives a pristine toss about anything. Nada. Nothing that is – other than what’s in it for them. And as ”what’s in it for them,” either evolves around oral sex or the economy, is it any wonder that today’s arts: ”walk the tightrope between soul and market, between individual and collective creation, even between recognisable and identifiable human creative products and their engulfment by technology and the all-embracing noise of the internet?”
Fractured Times is a brutally honest, and highly considered account of all what it’s more than fraught, yet apt title suggests. Replete with a magisterial and academic skill that is second to none, it has to be one of the finest books I’ve read so far this year.