The Vertigo Years (Philipp Blom)

The Vertigo Years – Philipp Blom

Recently finished reading this survey of developments in the European zeitgeist in the years 1900 to 1914. There’s not much to say about it: it’s interesting stuff, none of it very novel but presented well. While Blom maintains an annual view as his basic conceit, with one chapter nominally devoted to each year, the chapters in fact detail particular developments – the Borgesian list would include Freudianism, “velocity”, the total change in art described by Virginia Woolf, mass murderers, woman suffrage, and so forth – and could easily be read as a series of linked essays. And in fact Blom avoids presenting an overall narrative or theoretical view. We are not told in one sentence or in one paragraph or in one chapter what the period between 1900-1914 was “about”, and Blom should be praised for this. Instead, we have a sort of a cubist sketch of a world in transition (what world is ever not in transition? Very well, then: a world in a more violent and shaking transition than most worlds), seen from fourteen angles at once. Think of it as a “decade descending a staircase” or “fourteen ways of looking at a decade”. While it doesn’t explain, or seek to explain, it illustrates well a period that opened squarely in the 19th century and ended, fourteen years later, with both feet in the 20th, and to do that it must show that period as a moving object.

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