“What happened to the art and culture of bourgeois society” In this posthumous collection of lectures, fugitive pieces, and reflections written between 1996 and 2010, the prolific Marxist social and cultural historian and polymath Hobsbawm (1917–2012), author of The Age of Revolution, explores that question in the expected places (classics in music, opera, ballet, drama, and modern literature) and some unexpected ones: the changing nature of public festivals; the cultural “impact of Jews on the rest of humanity”; the “rise of politicized religion”; and the “invented cowboy tradition.” Along the way, Hobsbawm pays tribute to Karl Kraus’s The Last Days of Mankind, Richard Overbury’s The Morbid Age, and, using the book review as occasion, Hobsbawm sketches biographies of scientist J. D. Bernal and historian Joseph Needham. There’s a short answer to the question posed—technical progress and mass demand are the culprits in a vanishing society that never recovered after WWI—but Hobsbawm’s essays fascinate as they explore the impact of technological obsolescence and technological triumph (“But the new Pentecostal converts do not shy away from the world of Google and the iPhone: they flourish in it.”), among other subjects. Together with increased mobility, expanded literacy, mass demand, and globalization, bourgeois civilization “belongs to a past that is not likely to return.” Hobsbawm writes that “o class of people is enthusiastic about writing its own obituary.” This is its challenging, but often illuminating autopsy. (May)
Praise for Fractured Times:
"Hobsbawm speaks to the crucial need for engaged public intellectuals and the kind of rigorous social and political analysis so well represented by these urgent and important essays."
"Fractured Times shows this revolutionary traditionalist at his best. It is an account of the collapse of the high bourgeois culture of the nineteenth century, and an examination of the ruins it left behind in the twentieth century."
"Eric Hobsbawm’s Fractured Times is a fascinating engagement with the culture of modernity by its most brilliant and insightful historian. Whether he is writing about Jewish emancipation, the avant garde, the Western, Karl Kraus or forties jazz, these penetrating reflections of a participant observer are guaranteed to take you deeper into the perplexities of the modern than anything you have read before."
Robin Blackburn, Distinguished Visiting Professor of History, The New School
"In this wonderful collection of essays, Hobsbawm gives a theoretically informed and historically sensitive reflection on the cultural manifestations of advanced capitalism. Whether commenting on the gradual demise of classical music or the rise of the phenomenon of celebrity, the range of his knowledge is remarkable, only surpassed by his ability to integrate diverse insights into a coherent vision. This book not only confirms Hobsbawm as a great historian and political thinker but is also a compelling contribution to critical theory."
Patrick Baert, Professor of Social Theory, University of Cambridge
"Only Eric Hobsbawm could have written these engaging and moving evocations of the European world to which he was born and which is now only a memory. When he writes of culture, he writes of himself: at odds with the world, filled with its possibilities, both injured by it and alert to its paradoxes. These essays are the fruits of a master, the likes of which we will not see again."
Jay Winter, Charles J. Stille Professor of History, Yale University
"Punctuated by the four volumes The Age of Revolution, The Age of Capital, The Age of Empire and The Age of Extremes, the works of Eric Hobsbawm served for many of us as indispensable guides to the history of our own time. With his death in 2012, the modern world lost one of its greatest and most controversial historians. This volume of his last essays is a testament to his broad ranging mind, his political engagement, and his tremendous erudition."
Peter E. Gordon, Amabel B. James Professor of Modern European History, Harvard University
"It is a treasure to have the last essays from that great historian Eric Hobsbawm. It’s sad to think that there will be no more but here he is in all his strength, his extraordinary range, his ability to write with great perception on a variety of subjects, most frequently here dealing with aspects of art and culture in Europe and elsewhere. Writing with insight about art, he is also keenly aware of its limitations and failures in contributing to making a better world. He is particularly enlightening on those on the left such as J.D. Bernal and Joseph Needham. He concludes with a bravura essay on the American cowboy and the promise that America represented in the past. In a sense in this final essay he circles back to his own childhood, and his love of Karl May, the German writer of cowboy stories. Reading these wonderful pieces reminded me how lucky I was to be one of his students."
Peter Stansky, Frances and Charles Field Professor of History, emeritus, Stanford University
Praise for Eric Hobsbawm:
"One of the few genuinely great historians of our century."
The New Republic
"Eric Hobsbawm surveys the writings of modern historians with the magisterial gaze of a man who has seen both the rise of Hitler and the fall of Communism."
The New York Times Book Review
"One of the greatest British historians of his age. . . . For sheer intellectual firepower and analytical skill, Hobsbawm remained unsurpassed."
The Daily Telegraph
"A magisterial historian of the modern age . . . Eric Hobsbawm pioneered the study of popular protest, riot and revolt, and his writings were as important to social scientists as to historians."
The Times (London)
"A brilliant historian in the great English tradition of narrative history."
The last writings of an eminent British historian. Hobsbawm (How to Change the World: Tales of Marx and Marxism, 2011, etc.), who died in 2012, gathers 22 essays that represent his deep and wide historical interests: 19th-century European culture, the role of the public intellectual, and the relationship of art to science, revolution and power. Selections include book reviews, journal articles and lectures, half previously unpublished. Hobsbawm characterizes the present as intellectually shattered: "an era of history that has lost its bearing, and which in the early years of the new millennium looks forward…guideless and mapless, to an unrecognizable future." Science, religion and the arts, he contends, have lost their cultural force, and the current distrust of science marks a vast change from the 19th-century belief that it "held up the temple of progress." The author champions such influential thinkers as chemist J.D. Bernal, author of The Social Function of Science (1939), and biochemist Joseph Needham, author of a groundbreaking history of Chinese science; both men aimed to affect "changing relations…between science and society." Hobsbawm sees a "major cause for alarm" in the "rise of radical but predominantly right-wing ideologies" within Protestant Christianity and Islam. Fundamentalist movements are concerned not with fostering community but with "powerful, individual spiritual experiences." The arts, he writes, no longer "function as measures of good and bad, as carriers of value: of truth, beauty and catharsis," but instead have become merely consumer items for personal satisfaction. "Who can tell," he asks, "on what terms reason and revived anti-reason will coexist in the ongoing earthquakes and tsunamis of the twenty-first century?" Global movements toward widespread suffrage and representative governments, he asserts, are undermined by weak leadership and uninformed, thoughtless voters. Hobsbawm speaks to the crucial need for engaged public intellectuals and the kind of rigorous social and political analysis so well represented by these urgent and important essays.