The First Moderns: Profiles in the Origins of Twentieth-Century Thought / Edition 2

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In the early 1870s, mathematicians like Cantor and Dedekind discovered the set and divided the mathematical continuum; in 1886, Georges Seurat debuted his visionary masterpiece, Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte; by the end of 1900, Hugo de Vries had discovered the gene, Max Planck had laid claim to the quantum, and Sigmund Freud had laid bare the unconscious workings of dreams. Throughout the worlds of art and ideas, of science and philosophy, Modernism was dawning, and with it a new mode of conceptualization. With astounding range and scholarly command, William Everdell constructs a lively and accessible history of nascent Modernism -- narrating portraits of genius, profiling intellectual breakthroughs, and richly evoking the fin-de-siecle atmosphere of Paris, Vienna, St. Louis, and St. Petersburg. He follows Picasso to the Cabaret des Assassins, discourses with Ernst Mach on the contingency of scientific law, and takes in the riotous premiere of Stravinsky's 'Rite of Spring'. But how are we to define the inception of an era predicated upon such far-flung and radically disparate innovations? Everdell is careful not to insist on the creative interrelation of these events. Instead, what for him unites such germinally modernist achievements is a profound conceptual insight: that the objects of our knowledge are - contrary to the evolutionary seamlessness of nineteenth-century thought -- discrete, atomistic, and discontinuous. The gray matter was found to be made out of neurons, poems out of disjunctive images, and paintings out of dots of color, all by innovators whose worlds were just beginning to align. Theoretically sophisticated yet marvelously entertaining, The First Moderns offers an invigorating look at the unfolding of an age.
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Editorial Reviews

Hugh Kenner
[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. —The New York Times Book Review
Hugh Kenner
[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. -- The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
Everdell (The End of Kings) presents one of the more accessible studies of early Modernism (up to WW I), relying on a 'big name' approach to dissect the meanings of one of the most slippery terms in all of cultural criticism.

Using geographical benchmarks to elaborate on the subject of Modernism, Everdell first presents imperial Vienna, then Paris, and finally St. Louis as examples of Modernist trends precipitating, emerging, and evolving. Dismissing Virginia Woolf's assertion that the Modern era began 'on or about December, 1910,' Everdell nimbly places such supposedly pre-Modern thinkers and artists as Mach (whose name is still used to denote the speed of sound), Seurat, and Whitman in the long evolutionary trend of Modernism, demonstrating their influence on developments like relativity theory (Einstein), the invention of film (Thomas Edison), and High Modernism (Pound, Eliot, Williams). This inclusive view expands the commonly accepted Modernist canon; it also stresses the crucial nature of influence, showing, for instance, Picasso's cubism and Kandinsky's abstract expressionism prefiguring their interwar works, and the atonal music of Arthur Schoenberg exerting influence on Philip Glass. Everdell presents an intriguing chapter on Valeriano Weyler y Nicolau, governor of Cuba, and his grisly contribution to Modern culture in 1896: the concentration camp. Hitler and Stalin get only passing references, but it is the exclusion here of Michel Foucault in the discussion of penal institutions that seems glaring. Similarly, the absence of Ferdinand de Saussure in a chapter on phenomenology, which includes Bertrand Russell and Edmund Husserl, omits a giant in the field of sign study. Still, these are minor lapses in what is otherwise a sturdy and erudite overview of one of the most complex periods of thought.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226224817
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 7/28/1998
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 509
  • Sales rank: 1,013,143
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Table of Contents

1 Introduction: What Modernism Is and What It Probably Isn't 1
2 The Century Ends in Vienna: Modernism's Time Lost, 1899 13
3 Georg Cantor, Richard Dedekind, and Gottlob Frege: What Is a Number, 1872-1883 30
4 Ludwig Boltzmann: Statistical Gases, Entropy, and the Direction of Time, 1872-1877 47
5 Georges Seurat: Divisionism, Cloisonnism, and Chronophotography, 1885 63
6 Whitman, Rimbaud, and Jules Laforgue: Poems Without Meter, 1886 80
7 Santiago Ramon y Cajal: The Atoms of Brain, 1889 100
8 Valeriano Weyler y Nicolau: Inventing the Concentration Camp, 1896 116
9 Sigmund Freud: Time Repressed and Ever-Present, 1899 127
10 The Century Begins in Paris: Modernism on the Verge, 1900 142
11 Hugo de Vries and Max Planck: The Gene and the Quantum, 1900 159
12 Bertrand Russell and Edmund Husserl: Phenomenology, Number, and the Fall of Logic, 1901 177
13 Edwin S. Porter: Parts at Sixteen per Second, 1903 193
14 Meet Me in Saint Louis: Modernism Comes to Middle America, 1904 206
15 Albert Einstein: The Space-Time Interval and the Quantum of Light, 1905 227
16 Pablo Picasso: Seeing All Sides, 1906-1907 241
17 August Strindberg: Staging a Broken Dream, 1907 251
18 Arnold Schoenberg: Music in No Key, 1908 265
19 James Joyce: The Novel Goes to Pieces, 1909-1910 283
20 Vassily Kandisky: Art with No Object, 1911-1912 303
21 Annus Mirabilis: Vienna, Paris, and St. Petersburg, 1913 321
22 Discontinuous Epilogues: Heisenberg and Bohr, Godel and Turing, Merce Cunningham and Michael Foucault 346
Notes 361
Select Bibliography 423
Index 463
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