The Age of Extremes  

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"Eric Hobsbawm in The Age of Extremes writes that "The cultural revolution of the latest twentieth century can thus best be understood as the triumph of the individual over society, or rather, the breaking of the threads which in the past had woven human beings into social textures" and evokes this as paralleling Margaret Thatcher's claim that 'There is no society, only individuals'."--Sholem Stein

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century, 1914–1991 is a book by Eric Hobsbawm, published in 1994. In it, Hobsbawm comments on what he sees as the disastrous failures of state communism, capitalism, and nationalism; he offers an equally skeptical take on the progress of the arts and changes in society in the latter half of the twentieth century.

Hobsbawm calls the period from the start of World War I to the fall of the so-called Soviet bloc "the short twentieth century", to follow on "the long 19th century", the period from the start of the French Revolution in 1789 to the start of World War I in 1914, which he covered in an earlier trilogy of histories (The Age of Revolution: Europe, 1789-1848, The Age of Capital: 1848–1875, The Age of Empire: 1875–1914). In the United States, the book was published with the subtitle A History of the World, 1914–1991 (ISBN 978-0-679-73005-7).

The Avant-garde Dies

In the chapter “The Avant-garde Dies” in his 1995 book, The Age of Extremes, historian Eric Hobsbawm argued that mass entertainment like rock n roll destroyed the old avant-garde[1].

Some quotes:

“—the rise of a revolutionary popular entertainment industry geared to the mass market, reduced the traditional forms of high art to elite ghettoes, and from the middle of the century their inhabitants were essentially people who had enjoyed a higher education. The public of theatre and opera, the readers of their country’s literary classics and the sort of poetry and prose taken seriously by the critics, the visitors to museums and art galleries belonged overwhelmingly to those who had at least completed secondary education—“

“—higher education increasingly provided employment, and constituted the market for men and women with inadequate commercial appeal. This was most dramatically exemplified in literature . . . More dangerously, academic demand encouraged the production of creative writing that lent itself to seminar discussion, and therefore benefitted by complexity, if not incomprehensibility—“

“—in the 1960s a few intelligent critics began to investigate what had previously been overwhelmingly dismissed and rejected as ‘commercial’ or just aesthetically null, namely what actually attracted men and women on the street.”

“The achievements of post-war modernist painting and sculpture were incomparably less and usually much inferior to their inter-war predecessors. . . . It consisted largely of a series of increasingly desperate gimmicks—“

"The smell of impending death rose from these avant-gardes."

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