Urban: thinking modernism

22 11 2018

4Yjz0 2.jpeg

Sommer in der Stadt

19 10 2017

Sommer in der Stadt:

Zucker, Benzin und Parfüm in der zitternden Luft,

Der Gehsteig glüht vor Hitze.

Eine junge Frau im samtenen Kleid –

eine fließende Kurve zum Staunen.

Ein Kind blickt mich an

durch die Lokalvitrine,

nachdenklich und naiv, so unbekümmert rein –

Ein kleiner Weiser! –

Und ich muss lächeln…


Bewegung überall: ein Werktag,

hin und her und wieder zurück,

den Geschäften nach,

Alles bebt

Und fließt

Und atmet


So schön ist das!

Ich bin am Leben!

Das Herz schlägt – ich schlage noch! –

Verliebt in diese Stadt:

Wo waren doch meine Augen früher?

Back to drawing

24 04 2016


The spring came and it happened again. Walking through Heldenplatz I suddenly saw the museums… Here is the result.

Allerlei: Stadtführung Wien

11 10 2012

En: „Ladies in gentlemen! This is the house where none of Austria´s composers lived in summer 1790″

Good old days: critical glance at the cultural myth of blameless society

10 02 2012

Almost 93 years separate us from the end of the war of 1914-1918. In minds of endless thousands of people the epoch right before the Great War is associated with the last breath of Golden Age in Europe when technical progress and aesthetic affluence were harmoniously combined together. People of that epoch do seem to be purer in their morality; they seem to have been driven by such “anachronisms” as honour, debt and patriotism. But is it really so? Did the humanity really fall so hard and degrade as seriously as many believe? Were they, our great-grandparents, really so irreproachable? To find the answers on these questions let us take a short look at the cultural situation at the beginning of the XX-th century.

At first glance one might legitimately and with light heart object the arrogant hypothesis that we remained the same. For proving such a position one should only say the world looked so much different back at those days, so that any comparisons would be populist.  We have neither colonies nor their owners, we fight for freedom and peace (even when this fight goes wrong suspiciously often), and most of the monarchies of those distant days no longer exist.

But if there would have been a possibility to be transferred to our hundred-year old past the modern observer would actually have been shocked to realize we did not go far in the development of our now so outrageously  “democratic”  societies.  In  fact,  one  often  gets  the  impression  we  did  not  invent anything smarter than just to change the names for the phenomena that continue affecting our society.

The main thing that has changed about the mass media is their spread and level of technical development. There was no television and no Internet at the beginning of the XX-th century, and radio was still at the toddler-age, when it was used for very specific needs only (such as connection between the ships at sea). Row information was still precious back at the turn of the century. Still it is interesting to know, that yellow journalism had already existed by then.

Yellow  journalism  was  the  invention  of  American  newspaper  owners,  mainly  of  Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst. Already by the beginning of the XX-th century many American and European newspapers were full of scaring titles in gigantic print and blood-curdling unchecked improbable details. As the RMS “Titanic” sank 12 years later, the information about the disaster reached America even earlier than the saved passengers were brought to New-York. The method how the journalists got the information about the wreckage is also interesting because the principle it was based on – intrusion – was what mass media used to practise up till very recent past. The journalists overheard the radio-air and witnessed the despaired calls for help of the two telegraphists from “The Titanic” and later the rescue operation of “The Carpathia” and some other ships.

Media also took active part in formation of public opinion, often in dubious and scandalous matters. Back into XIX-th century, Charles Dickens worked like a journalist and an editor for years, and caused a great social scandal by his works (books as well as articles), where he described life of the poorest Londoners. The scandal led to thorough checks of working houses and boarding schools for orphans and poor children. At the very turn of the century mass media played a great role in Dreyfus affair, forming the public opinion on both sides of the conflict. The French felt the power of the media once more when it published the information about the sale of the decorations for the Legion of Honour by a certain Daniel Wilson. The man was unfortunately the son-in-law of François Paul Jules Grévy, the President of France. The president had no other way to escape public scandal and resigned soon after.

One could be righteously furious because of the author`s usage of the term “popular culture” with regard to good old days where art seemed to be art. However, the decay of “old”, classical and aesthetic form of it has already begun. Let the author be lapidated for their cultural underdevelopment, but by the beginning of the XX-th century Picasso had already started drawing his mysterious cubic abracadabra. Yes, indeed, at the very beginning of his career the great painter went through two realistic periods: a “blue” and a “rose” one. However, it would be too naive to say Picasso did not work for commercial demand of the growing bourgeois class (i.e for the bad greedy market). I have a sneaky feeling that Picasso knew too well that people would buy any thing, regardless of its objective value, but with a “name”  – and call it revolutionary art.

Add to that Egon Schiele, the „pornographer of Vienna“, as called by Lewis Crofts. At the break of the century Mr. Schiele had already been drawing his explicit pictures for some years. It will remain a mystery forever: if he did really draw Viennese underworld, as politically correct scientists assure us, how comes his wife and her sister also belonged to that “bottom of life”? And how comes they belonged to this underworld in so earthly poses?

The development of print media market had one more curious consequence. The earliest postcards come from the XIX-th century. Back then these were puritan landscapes or famous people; first of all monarchs that were normally depicted on them. By the beginning of the 1914 one more genre of postcard pictures was developed: erotic photos. It is reasonable to object that those photos were far not as filthy and pornographic, as some content an average user can find in the Internet nowadays. The photos depicted naked or almost naked women in standard portrait entourage. The nakedness often seems to be the only thrilling peculiarity of such photos. Why dare I compare this genre with modern pornography? Well, everything begins somewhere: though art nude of the early 20th century may seem almost innocent to us, it was definitely not meant to be so back then. Keep in mind that the previous epoch shamed of saying the word „legs“ and replaced it by more „descent“ „limbs“. And now imagine how scandalous and yet monstrously popular the postcards with naked women were.

Women were one of the main headaches of the epoch. They fought for their rights. They fought desperately, violently and often just stupidly. Female society was divided into those active ladies, who wore men`s clothes, wrote petitions, and into those well-bred ladies, who observed those indignities with true horror and disgust. Demonstrations were organized regularly and the slogans and the demands were terribly well-known to modern world: equal pay for equal work, birth control,  abortions.  The  main  aim  was,  however,  the  right  to  vote.  The  culmination  of  this extravaganza happened when Emily Davidson stepped out of the fence at the Epsom Derby just to be hit by the King`s horse.

There were of course positive sides in the movement for women`s rights. Let us recall the women who did not shout and did not shock, but achieved acknowledgment by doing their job really well: Marie Curie, Maria Agnesi, Sofia Kovalevskaya. There was also Marie Stopes, a remarkable woman who propagated marriages based on respect and love, female sexual hygiene and birth control.

It can sound shocking, but the ideas of free love were also known at those times. They actually came from America, where the ideas of Owen`s communitarianism had become popular among liberal and anarchist people. Miss Victoria Woodhull even ran for Presidency in 1872 with the platform that proclaimed free love. It didn’t work of course. However, I doubt if such platform would send her into the White House nowadays. Hardly.

As the last point of this analytical baby-beating the author would like to pay attention to the social diseases of the epoch. There is hardly a person nowadays, who has never heard the words “terror” and “terrorism”. Many sincerely wonder how and from where it came from. The past seems to us virginally pure when we speak about this aspect of life.

However, those interested in political history may recall with effort, that the formal reason for the First World War was exactly a terrorist attack: the assassination of the Austrian crown prince Franz Ferdinand and his spouse. A few more would recall that the Russian Emperor Alexander II was killed by a bomb. It is important to mention, that the event of March 3, 1881 was already the eighth attempt on the life of the Russian Emperor (one could have got used by then). The event caused a great shock in society, however Russia was by that time full of terrorists, who were ready to do everything to force the government to start the reforms. In 1905 one more member of Russian royal family, this time the Governor of Moscow was killed in one more bomb attack. The most common joke of the Russian society that year was  that  His  Highness  finally  started  cudgelling  his  brains.  Political  correctness  wasn`t  that fashionable at the beginning of the XX-th century.

Not only Russia, country where people are hardened by nature and life, had troubles with terrorist attacks. Marie François Sadi Carnot, the president of the Third Republic of France, was stabbed by Italian anarchist in 1894. In 1898 the other anarchist, coincidentally also from Italy, killed the Austrian Empress Elisabeth. Not a single edge of Europe was secure from attacks, so as today actually. The main difference to the beginning of the XX-th century is in the origin of the terrorists. Back then these were the people from the same continent: from Balkan countries and south of Europe mostly (Russia, of course, had its own “inland supply” of terrorists). All of them were inspired on their acts by the idea of freedom for their nation, ethnic or religious group, they believed to fight against the capitalist enslavers.

It seems to be probable, that these motives are shared by modern terrorists as well, though nowadays they come from former colonies, now judicially independent states. Unfortunately for these countries, it is absolutely right what Benjamin Disraeli once said: colonies do not seize to be colonies because they are independent. Neither of countries which were under European rule in past succeeded in overcoming its colonial heritage. Though the people are predictably infected with post- colonial syndrome in thinking, i.e. do their best forgetting their past and avoiding uneasy memories of foreign rule, these efforts are in general almost alike to those they great-grandparents paid while belonging  to  gigantic  empires  of  the  past.  The  governmental  systems  seem  to  be  similar,  the language of former “enlightening” enslavers remains the  language of culture and public life, the colonial culture lives in people`s minds. Let us also not forget that the acknowledged independence did not abolish the economic interest of former “masters”, but just limited their presence in national economies. This factor, so as the likeness that the people try to fight leads to what can literary be called behaviour of teenage rebel in relation to his parents. It is highly improbable that the terrorists who horrified civilized Europe at the turn of the century were different from what we observe today.

To sum up all written above there is a good reason to say that the European society as it stepped in the XX-th century was neither better nor worse than what we have now. Sociocultural situations of both epochs have their advantages and disadvantages, but the main course was the same. Therefore it is irresponsible, senseless and depressive to suppose that the epoch before the outbreak of the First World War was the last Golden age in our history. The only thing that speaks for that is probably the fact the younger generation then was fascinated by Mahler instead of Fifty Cent. And this is quite a serious argument.

May 17, 2011