First: some people have written to complain that I don't have a proper site feed or RSS set up. I've gone thru the settings and they seem all right for such a service, though I admit I am a klutz at that level. Feel free to check it out and let me know. And now to resume.....
MODERNISM TAKE A TUMBLE
Why not? At the end of the 19th Century, waves of immigrants shared those hopes, eager to feed, educate and advance their children as never before. Projecting this momentum to a time of future plenty seemed credible, not arrogant or silly.
Astor died with a famed flourish of noblesse oblige aboard the sinking Titanic -- the first of many garish calamities that began quenching this naive zeal for progress.
In his book "Europe's Last Summer: Who Started the Great War in 1914?" (2004), David Fromkin speaks of the decade just before calamity struck. “A panoramic view of Europe in the years 1900 to 1914 would show prominently that the continent was racing ahead in a scientific, technological and industrial revolution — powered by almost limitless energy — that was transforming almost everything.” Alas, it was not to go on. “What Europe was building up toward was not a better world, but a giant smashup, as — in the first 20th century war among modern industrial societies — the accumulated explosive power that advanced science had developed was concentrated on the goal of mass destruction. “
Soon, world war taught millions a brutal lesson -- the first use of new technology is often its horrid mis-use. Suddenly it wasn’t just conservative preachers railing against modernity, but some of society’s very brightest. Survivors of Flanders battlefields returned disenchanted with the Machine Age. Intellectuals, from Tolkien and Lewis to Eliot, veered toward romantic nostalgia while writers of the Lost Generation prescribed a compulsory literary template. Blend stylish cynicism with brooding suspicion of tomorrow. Never show enthusiasm, or admit hope for progress.
Not only in war, but also perhaps by establishing some permanent tyranny, far worse than brutal kingships of old, because the next wave of ruthless overlords would be empowered by terrifying technologies. While Fritz Lang and George Orwell disagreed over which aristocracy might achieve perpetual despotism - a capitalist elite or a communist party nomenklatura - both Metropolis and Nineteen Eighty-Four showed chilling futures in which a few could look down upon the many, like gods.
Modernism had spokesmen, too. Although he kept swinging from optimism to pessimism and back again, H.G. Wells never ceased fighting back, in the name of progress. His oft-excerpted review of Metropolis held that Lang’s dark warning was based, ultimately, on contempt. People, according to Wells, will not let themselves be made into sheep. Not in the long run.
--> on to part 6