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Old 07-19-2014, 11:25 PM   #1
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July 2014 Discussion: Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age

I saw a film today, oh boy.
The English Army had just won the war —
A crowd of people turned away,
But I just had to look,
Having read the book.

— "A Day in the Life" (Lennon–McCartney
)

Okay, that was probably written with WW II in mind, but it's still an appropriate introduction to the July 2014 MobileRead Book Club discussion of Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age by Modris Eksteins. What did you think?
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Old 07-20-2014, 11:09 AM   #2
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Old 07-27-2014, 06:16 PM   #3
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I finally finished Rites of Spring. Although it was entertaining enough for a history book, for some reason it was slow-going for me. The author's main premise appeared to be that all of history as it unfolded in the first half of the twentieth century could be traced to changing sensibilities in art. An interesting premise, but one I felt that, despite the intense research put in by the author, was left, at the end of the day, unproven.

I plan to comment on this book further, but in the meantime I'd like to comment on a quote within its pages that reminded me of a quote from, of all people, Douglas Adams. I'll simply lay the two quotes before you by way of illustration.

Quote:
.....Karsavina in her autobiography has an anecdote to relate about Nijinsky that reveals as much about the latter’s mentality as it does about the effect of his agility. Somebody was asking Nijinsky if it was difficult to stay in the air as he did while jumping; he did not understand at first, and then very obligingly: “No! No! not difficult. You have to just go up and then pause a little up there.”
Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age by Modris Eksteins

Quote:
.....“The Guide says that there is an art to flying,” said Ford, “or rather a knack. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.” He smiled weakly. He pointed at the knees of his trousers and held his arms up to show the elbows. They were all torn and worn through.
.....“I haven’t done very well so far.” he said.
Life, the Universe and Everything by Douglas Adams.
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Old 07-27-2014, 09:16 PM   #4
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I don't know if everyone had the same experience, but in my copy of the book—purchased from Amazon—I found quite a few typos.
Quote:
• Calmette was to move from one onslaught to the next in 19121913.
• “1 esteem the moral values of war on the whole rather highly,” he told a friend.
• As an example of the scale of casualties, the nth Brigade had, by December 20, only 18 percent of its original officers left and 28 percent of its men.
• In 19 × 5 Zeppelin raids on London and Paris began, and by early 1916 these raids were being undertaken as far north as Lancashire.
• Some military historians, in defense of the commanders of the wart have argued that there was no alternative to trench warfare on the Western Front, and rather than being the product of a failure in imagination, as is usually claimed, trench warfare constituted a reasonable way of trying to deal with the tremendous technological and scientific advances in warfare.
• “1 hope to play the game and if I don’t add much lustre to it I will certainly not tarnish it,” wrote a young British volunteer before the Somme.
• On November ii, 1918, the day of the Armistice, Henri Berr, the French historian, wrote the concluding sentences of an introduction to a book about the war
• Officially, the war had ended eight and a half years earlier, on November ii, 1918.
• On November n, 1920, the unknown soldier was borne from France and buried at Westminster Abbey, and within two days 100,000 wreaths had been laid at the cenotaph in Whitehall.
• Their art. was rooted in ugliness.
• Germans were con vinced that the war in 1939 was a question of survival, an inescapable continuation of the 1914–1918 struggle.
Whoever scanned this book did a less than stellar job of proofreading their scan.
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Old 07-27-2014, 10:38 PM   #5
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I had the same experience, and it was almost irritating. It should be reported to the publisher, I guess, although that's never gotten any results in the past for me. Too often I wish that a representative of the publisher would actually read an ebook before it is published.

Although I finished the book, I've been too busy to mull it over as it deserves. But I'm very glad I read it. The descriptions of the battles and life in the trenches was hard to read.

I needed a break but wanted to stay with the Great War, so I immediately began reading Of Love and War by the historian Paul Doherty. It is a mystery set immediately after the war, but with flashbacks of life in the trenches. It was as though Eksteins wrote about what happened and Doherty wrote 'and here's an example'. Powerful. In fact, I now need a couple of days R&R from the Great War to replenish my Kleenex supply and think of something pleasant.
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Old 07-28-2014, 12:23 AM   #6
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...I needed a break but wanted to stay with the Great War, so I immediately began reading Of Love and War by the historian Paul Doherty. It is a mystery set immediately after the war, but with flashbacks of life in the trenches. It was as though Eksteins wrote about what happened and Doherty wrote 'and here's an example'. Powerful. In fact, I now need a couple of days R&R from the Great War to replenish my Kleenex supply and think of something pleasant.
Interesting you should say that. Today I finally bought The Guns of August by Barbara W. Tuchman, largely on the strength of the comment that forefront in Kennedy's mind during the Cuban Missile Crisis was his familiarity with that book and the knowledge of how small incidents quickly escalated into The Great War.
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Old 07-28-2014, 09:23 AM   #7
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I don't know if everyone had the same experience, but in my copy of the book—purchased from Amazon—I found quite a few typos.
The epub from Kobo was the same.

Quote:
Originally Posted by BelleZora View Post
The descriptions of the battles and life in the trenches was hard to read.
I've read a lot of memoirs set in the trenches as well as histories and fctions and they make me sick and I've had enough. I thought that the weakest part of this book, as I willing to take it as a given. I just finished Joseph Boyden's Three Day Road and I found it ultimately too predictable. With all the searing memoirs, I guess I'm over the fictional accounts.

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Interesting you should say that. Today I finally bought The Guns of August by Barbara W. Tuchman,.
I read it years ago and couldn't remember it at all, so this past spring I listened to the audiobook as read by Nadia May, which I highly recommend. It's over 50 years past publication and it seemed to me as fresh as anything which has come out for the centenary.

I'm going to repeat most of what I said in my earlier post. I think this is a terrific book. Eksteins’s synthesis of the various forms of modern art as both representative of the mindset that led to the Great War and the outgrowth of the carnage is provocative and compelling. He does a wonderful job evoking a world on the cusp and the day to day reality at the individual level that engendered a seismic societal shift.

I especially like the analysis of conditions and the mindset in Germany leading to the war. In my reading about the Great War, it’s always Germany that’s the stumbling block to my understanding. It’s easy to see what motivated the Kaiser and the officer class, less so why they got such popular support. It’s also fascinating to see Germany as the vanguard of modernity especially when the Nazi regime would force a return to classicism and kitsch.

That said, I think sometimes Eksteins’s arguments get away from him. I don’t think he adequately supports all his contentions. Moreover, I think he gets carried away by language and ends up not getting his point across; I’m sure he knew what he meant, but the reader has to take it on faith. Often I’d read a sentence, stop and think, “What is he trying to say here?” go back and reread and then give up. It shows how he internalized the zeitgeist in that he’s very fond of paradox, but ultimately paradox, while expressive of a situation, begs the question. But perhaps I’m just tired of paradox as a rhetorical device, as it was popular in early 20th century writing, which I’ve been reading lately.

Eksteins also concentrates on the protagonists in the west. The backward-looking Russian and Austria-Hungary and Ottoman empires get relatively little mention, and I don’t think they fit his thesis as well, but I also can see how the book would have gotten too big.

I hadn't planned it that way, but a book I'm currently reading, The Generation of 1914, by Robert Wohl, is any interesting juxtaposition. Where Eksteins focuses on high culture and the performing and plastic arts, Wohl's focus is on broad culture, especially writing, coming out of the middle class. While Eksteins is the better read and more exciting and even enlightening in its connections, I find I'm ultimately more persuaded by Wohl. I think there's a longer lag for high culture to penetrate and express the mindset of even the educated classes than Eksteins suggests. Wohll also gives equal weight to all the major combatants. A heads up, though, for anyone who's interested, is that the formatting of my epub from Kobo is appalling. It's the next thing to being entirely unreadable.
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Old 07-28-2014, 01:43 PM   #8
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The foregoing makes me glad that I didn't buy the ebook (CDN $ 19 at both amazon and Kobo ). Unfortunately, that leaves me waiting on an overdue book from the library.

I read "Rites of Spring" twenty years ago, and thought it was quite a good book at the time. I'm eagerly anticipating reading it again, particularly for the discussion of the impact on visual art.

The Canadian War Museum is running an exhibition this summer comparing the work of Otto Dix with the Canadian Group of Seven artist A.Y. Jackson. Jackson was wounded at Sanctuary Wood in June 1916 and became a war artist following his recovery in hospital at Etaples. Dix was an active combatant through the war; he fought at the Somme in 1916, on the Eastern Front, and in the 1918 Spring Offensive. He received the Iron Cross 2nd Class and was promoted to vizfeldwebel, which was considerably better than Hitler did. He continued to paint during the war, in what must have been very trying circumstances.

I felt the Dix works on display (which covered his career, not just the WW1 years) to be profoundly moving and disturbing, becoming if anything more disturbing through the Weimar Republic, during the years his art was supressed by the Nazis, and in the Cold War, whereas the war seems to have had a much smaller impact on Jackson's work.
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Old 07-28-2014, 05:07 PM   #9
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I appreciate the comments so much. This thread is slow to get started, but we have no time frame that must be met. I have no mental energy at the moment to offer much myself, but bfisher's comments sent me on an internet search.

The first two articles are from The Guardian. These were the sites that I found particularly interesting.

The first world war in German art: Otto Dix's first-hand visions of horror

Art of the apocalypse: Otto Dix's hellish first world war visions – in pictures

The Online Otto Dix Project
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Old 07-28-2014, 05:43 PM   #10
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Another link in which Rites of Spring is mentioned: Art forever changed by World War I.
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Old 07-29-2014, 09:05 AM   #11
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The foregoing makes me glad that I didn't buy the ebook (CDN $ 19 at both amazon and Kobo ). Unfortunately, that leaves me waiting on an overdue book from the library.
I bought the ebook for a buck during the 90% off madness at Kobo last winter. I intended to replace my old paperback which I've dug out and see that, unsurprisingly, it has pictures which also didn't make it to epub.
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Old 07-29-2014, 09:09 AM   #12
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Old 07-29-2014, 09:57 AM   #13
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From my current read, The Generation of 1914:

Quote:
"We fight for our Yolk and spill our blood and hope that the survivors are worthy of our sacrifice."
Now, I like eggs as much as the next person, perhaps even more, but I'm not gonna spill my blood for my yolk. I can always have yogurt.
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Old 07-29-2014, 10:06 AM   #14
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Old 07-30-2014, 08:46 AM   #15
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Now there's a production of The Rite of Spring I'd like to see.

Quote:
Nijinsky, dressed in leotards at a time when skin-tight costumes were still thought to be improper, provoked in the audience a collective salivation and swallowing as he descended, hips undulating, over the nymph’s scarf, and quivered in simulated orgasm. That was simply the culmination of a ballet that broke all the rules of traditional taste.

Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age by Modris Eksteins, page 27.
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