The Vertigo Years
So in all my copious free time I have been completely engrossed by a new book by Philipp Blom, The Vertigo Years: Europe, 1900-1914. The premise is simple – that these years leading up to WWI were not mere prelude but years of disruption and discontinuity that so greatly rent the fabric of the known world that WWI was all but inevitable. (I’m not finished yet, so I may be wrong about the inevitable part!)
He writes, “As scientists smashed the object world into relative values and invisible forces, knocking over matter and time like Ming vases in an old aunt’s drawing room, philosophy and the arts collected the shattered remnants and went about organizing a sumptuous funeral for them.”
Right?! Blom is an amazingly talented writer who seamlessly draws the cultural and philosophical connections between art, science, politics, culture, literature and society as a whole. Juxtaposing architect Adolf Loos who -along with others-literally stripped the facades off of the Habsburg Empire; to Freud who striped the façade off of social convention; to Einstein who literally ripped apart the fabric of space/time; to Klimt, Schiele, Kandinsky and Picasso who visually affirmed multiple points of view and the triumph of subjectivity, Blom draws you into the tumult and turmoil, the velocity and vertigo of the dawn of the last century. We learn about King Leopold of Belgium’s brutal genocide in the Congo and the internal conflicts in Europe over the notion of Empire. It is absolutely compelling history – and suffusing the entire book is an awareness of how we are undergoing a similar disruption now.
I’m only as far as 1905 but I am stealing every free moment I have to work my way through the book. I will keep writing about it as I progress.We should not only look at this book as an insightful history but as a call to action. The artists and thinkers and dreamers among us must rise to the occasion of re-imagining the world as boldly as they did then, and our leaders must guide us through the changes without the devastation of global warfare.
Two thumbs WAY UP for The Vertigo Years. If anyone else is reading it, let’s get together and chat!