Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age

Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age

by Modris Eksteins Professor of History


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A rare and remarkable cultural history of World War I that unearths the roots of modernism


Dazzling in its originality, Rites of Spring probes the origins, impact, and aftermath of World War I, from the premiere of Stravinsky's ballet The Rite of Spring in 1913 to the death of Hitler in 1945. Recognizing that “The Great War was the psychological turning point . . . for modernism as a whole,” author Modris Eksteins examines the lives of ordinary people, works of modern literature, and pivotal historical events to redefine the way we look at our past and toward our future.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780395937587
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 09/14/2000
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 422,945
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.08(d)

About the Author

Modris Ekstein is a professor of history at the University of Toronto's Scarborough campus.

Table of Contents

Map of the Western Frontxi
Prologue: Venice1
Act 1
May 29, 191310
Le Theatre Des Champs-Elysees16
Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes21
Confrontation and Liberation39
Scandal as Success50
Ver Sacrum55
Culture and Revolt80
War as Culture90
IIIIn Flanders' Fields95
A Corner of A Foreign Field95
Guns of August98
Peace on Earth109
The Reason Why115
Victorian Synthesis128
Is There Honey Still for Tea?131
Act 2
IVRites of War139
Battle Ballet139
VReason in Madness170
Theirs Was Not to Reason Why170
VISacred Dance192
War God192
VIIJourney to the Interior208
War as Art208
Art as Form215
Art and Morality223
Act 3
VIIINight Dancer241
The New Christ242
Lest We Forget252
Itinerary and Symbol261
New Worlds and Old267
War Boom275
Life of Death277
Cloud Juggler298
XSpring Without End300
Germany, Awake!300
Victim Hero305
Art as Life311
Myth as Reality315
"Es Ist Ein Fruhling Ohne Ende!"325
Selected Sources367

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Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
jaharwar More than 1 year ago
Rites of Spring is a very interesting analysis of art and culture and the Great War, and Dr. Eksteins is a quite talented prose stylist, but the OCR of the Nook book is disgraceful. Couldn't the publisher have found a literate, financially-strapped undergraduate to proof read the OCR for a couple hundred bucks? Somebody should be ashamed of themselves and the author should be livid at this botch of an e-book.
Louiser2 More than 1 year ago
Rating the book one star on the basis of the NOOK quality, is wrong, and does a disservice to readers interested in the content, not technical issues.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book might change the way one thinks about the 20th century. His thesis, which he gets to around page 319, is that the Great War was when, to western civilization, art became more important than history. The argument is very well made. The author's perspective is clear, intense, and superbly researched. This book is a must read for students of any aspect of the first half of the 20th century.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sorry this review got so long....I got carried away....Rites of Spring is a fascinating look into the cultural tensions emerging in Europe in the years leading up to the outbreak of the First World War. I loved the use of music and art as a window into social history. It's not often you find a book which incorporates ballet and music as integral to understanding WWI history. I read this for a WWI history class. I usually develop an irritation with books I'm required to read, but this book Ifound absolutely fascinating. It is also a book were passages have stuck with me and I recall years later. I am not exaggerating when I say that his chapter on the Christmas Truce brought tears to my eyes. SPOILER............ ......... The story of a lone violin playing Silent Night, a German soldier beginning to sing. The British soldiers listening from across the barren wasteland of No Man's Land, and eventually singing along. It was such a beautifully written passage. Not to sound ridiculously sentimental, but I could hear that violin in my head. It brought the scene to a visceral level that I have rarely experienced. Honestly I would recommend this book based on that "scene" alone. However, Eksteins makes it clear that the above scene was the outlier of WWI. The Christmas Truce never happened again. In fact, it is made clear that the war devolved quickly into dehumanizing brutality. If you are uncomfortable reading descriptive accounts of the gore and violence of war,I would read with caution. In conclusion, the book really forced me to think the deep questions; about humanity and cultural influences on warfare. It is a gripping but heavy read. Sidenote: I would recommend listening to at least the beginning of Stravinsky's score for Rite of Spring before reading (its on YouTube). Hearing the disdonant and jarring nature of the score will really assist in understanding the author's argument.
TedMorgan More than 1 year ago
This is a fine cultural history that I have reread at least twice. Elegant and moving.
kant1066 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Much ink has been spilled in trying to locate the fons et origo of modernism, and Modris Eksteins is not the first historian to suggest that it occurred on or about the evening of May 29, 1913 at the Paris premiere of Stravinsky¿s ¿Le Sacre du Printemps.¿ Eksteins¿ social history, however, is as thoroughly compelling as any, re-introducing you to characters in both the balletic production, but also the broader cultural mise-en-scène: the eccentric Diaghilev and Nijinsky, the founding of the Ballets Ruses. The totally arrhythmic music, the spasmodic modes of dance, the wildness of that May night was far too much for the audience. ¿The ballet contains and illustrates many of the essential features of modern revolt: the overt hostility to inherited form; the fascination with primitivism and indeed with anything that contradicts the notion of civilization; the emphasis on vitalism as opposed to rationalism; the perception of existence as a continuous flux and a series of relations, not as constants and absolutes; the psychological introspection accompanying the rebellion against social convention¿ (p. 52). Had this primitivism been wholly confined to the stage, it may not have caused the outright riot that it did that night. But in many ways, the performance was symbolic of a number of other paradigm shifts in culture and politics which can be seen as leading up to the Great War.While it begins with no political concerns, ¿Rites of Spring¿ does move on to all the territory you would expect of a book with the subtitle ¿The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age.¿ The unification, industrialization, and modernization of Germany is synthesized nicely with the more explicitly cultural effects this wrought ¿ the rise of a certain vitalistic German idealism, especially seen in the eminent German social critics of the time, an increasing prevalent Kulturkampf, and the eschewal of what was perceived as the weak, bourgeois liberalism of the French and English. Not only did many Germans seek out a kind of Nietzschean transvalutation of values, but they saw this as inseparable from their innovative modes of warfare, especially toxic gas and submarine technology, which they saw as attempts to assert the superiority of the German Geist. (For a fuller treatment of these particular themes, see Fritz Stern¿s excellent ¿Politics of Cultural Despair: A Study in the Rise of Germanic Ideology.¿)The sections ¿Reason in Madness¿ and ¿Sacred Dance¿ discuss the extreme effects that trench warfare wrought on soldiers, painting a stark picture of the origin of the term ¿shell shock.¿ Feelings, sympathy, and memories couldn¿t survive on the battlefield; failure to expurgate them would lead to insanity. Just as he tried to delouse himself as regularly as possible,¿ wrote Jacques Riviere, ¿so the combatant took care to kill in himself, one by one, as soon as they appeared, before he was bitten, every one of his feelings. Now he clearly saw that feelings were vermin, and that there was nothing to do but to treat them as such.¿Eksteins also talks about disillusionment, which he claims, believably, never took hold in Germany during the War as it did in England and France. Where it did exist, it was much more common among the civilians than the fighting soldiers, though ¿the language and literature of disillusionment would on the whole be a postwar phenomenon ¿ everywhere.¿ Literature describing the permanent psychological effects on soldiers is much older than the Great War, but it is rarely given the important consideration that Eksteins gives it. One of the most compelling vignettes here is Eksteins¿ extended re-telling of Lindbergh¿s transatlantic flight in May, 1927. Contemporaries saw his feat as a point of historical torsion, enabling both a revival of the imagination, a rebirth of individualism, and Dionysian will. But it was also a sign for all that was gone and would never be regained. ¿Freedom was no longer a matter of being at libert
gordon361 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Modris Eksteins¿ [Rites of Spring] is not a history of WWI. It is a review of the causes and consequences of the Great War from social rather than political perspectives. The title comes from Stravinsky¿s ballet which Eksteins claims ushered in the Modern Age and gave encouragement for the conflict to come. The experience of the war and it¿s result were far from what was intended or expected and led to the manic behavior of the twenties and the build-up to WWII. Rites of Spring begins with the arts and culture of the first two decades of the 20th century and is quite full of the personalities of the time and this section can be a little intimidating to those that are unfamiliar but it sets the table well for the thesis of this work. People and events in the last half are more familiar. This is an insightful interpretation of the events of the early 20th century and a reminder to us all that it is not just geopolitical events that can entangle nations.
AlexTheHunn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
jwhenderson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Having read and enjoyed Paul Fussel's The Great War and Modern Memory I came to Modris Eksteins¿ The Rites Of Spring and discovered another great work of cultural history that both augmented and complemented Fussel's book. The author transports the reader by demonstrating the advent of the modern through a mood laced with death, movement, irony, rebellion and inwardness. The book unveils a pre-war world of German industrialization and avant-garde art, discusses the disillusionment of an unending first world war, and climaxes with the resultant rise of Nazi regime. Eksteins¿ cultural history is readable as he delves into the beginning of tthe 20th century, limning the convoluted social, political and military realities through the lens of individual lives of thinkers, artists and politicians. His aesthetic style, fleeting comparisons and iconoclastic conclusions not only mimics the modes of his subjects, but engages the interest of the reader in a manner paralleled only by authors of fiction. Taking a new approach to cultural history, The Rites of Spring challenges traditional historiography that sheds new light on the spirit of the modern age. For those interested in the nexus of traditional history and culture this is an essential book.
kylepotter on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The first few chapters a a bit dense, but this is an excellent book on the long-reaching effects of WWI on 20th century life and thought.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago