By Thomas Ort
In so much histories of Europe ahead of the 1st global battle, glossy lifestyles in Habsburg Mitteleuropa takes on a decidedly gloomy solid. Centering on Vienna within the twilight years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, such money owed describe the failure of rationalism and the increase of a perilous politics of delusion. This publication tells a special tale, highlighting a new release of Czech writers and artists exotic by way of their affirmative come upon with the trendy global within the first many years of the 20 th century. Novelist and playwright Karel Čapek, besides different individuals of his cohort, embraced the chances of the post-Habsburg period. Tracing the roots of Čapek’s iteration to cubist paintings and turn-of-the-century philosophy, writer Thomas Ort indicates that the shape of modernism they championed led no longer into the thickets of fascism or communism yet in reality in the direction of liberal political beliefs.
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Extra info for Art and Life in Modernist Prague: Karel Čapek and his Generation, 1911-1938
In some respects, this was a more merciful fate than that suffered by his closest peers, all of whom ended in concentration camps or in exile. Langer and Kodíček, as Jews, wisely escaped Czechoslovakia in the wake of the Nazi occupation in 1939 and spent the war years in London working with Beneš’s government-in-exile. Peroutka was confined to German prisons and camps for nearly all of the war but had the luck and resources to survive. Josef Čapek was not so fortunate. Having refused entreaties to flee Czechoslovakia in 1939, he was arrested by the Gestapo on September 1 or 2, immediately upon the outbreak of the war, and spent its entire duration in Nazi camps (Dachau, Buchenwald, and Sachsenhausen, among others), dying in its last days sometime after April 9, 1945, at Bergen-Belsen.
The predictable but unintended consequence, however, was the extreme politicization of culture. Czech nationalists celebrated every advance of the Czech arts as a political victory and correspondingly perceived every slight as a (German) political attack. 16 They knew that in German eyes they did not constitute a Kulturnation and that Czech culture was considered an inferior, derivative mix of German and Slavic influences. Conservative critics met such charges head on, stubbornly insisting on the authenticity, antiquity, and, more often than not, the superiority of Czech national culture.
Whatever this defeat, the Čapek generation remains a vivid example of the alternatives that existed to the totalizing visions of the 1920s and 1930s, marking a cultural and intellectual trajectory grounded in acceptance of the fragmentation and differentiation of modern life instead of their overcoming. In the uses it found for intuition, it stands too as a reminder that the irrational can be mobilized not only for the destruction of liberal society, but also, in certain forms, as a means of its defense.
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