This is an Op-Ed piece I wrote for CEE New Perspectives, the companion blog of the academic journal New Perspectives which is published by the Institute of International Relations (IIR) in Prague.  I reproduce it here with permission.

http://ceenewperspectives.iir.cz/2016/01/08/prejudice-hysteria-and-a-failure-of-political-leadership-of-refugees-and-november-17-in-prague/

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Excellent piece by Louis Armand on Prague, mutability, and modernity.

equus press

THE PERENNIAL CITY

The truth about a city can’t be gauged from the lines on a street map. And yet how can the idea of Prague exist, except as a kind of diagram of itself, the fractured geometry of an alchemist’s necronomicon, the figura mentis,figura intellectus, figura amoris

May 1945. Edvard Beneš, the man who would come to enjoy the “doubtful distinction of having signed away his country twice,”[1] stood at his window up in Prague Castle surveying the city below. Prague had just been “liberated” by the Red Army after six years as a de facto SS statelet. During that time 345,000 Czechs (263,000 of them Jews) had been killed by the Nazis, Lidice had been razed and its inhabitants murdered, and the Czech armaments industry had fed Hitler’s leviathan. The state-of-the-art Barandov film studios had meanwhile made Prague the jewel in Goebbels’ propaganda crown, safely…

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For immediate Release: October 22, 2014

Lancaster University Professor Wins the American Historical Association’s 2014 George L. Mosse Prize

Washington, DC— Derek Sayer, professor of cultural history at Lancaster University, has been selected as the winner of the 2014 George L. Mosse prize for his book Prague, Capital of the Twentieth Century: A Surrealist History (Princeton University Press, 2013). The George L. Mosse Prize is awarded annually for an outstanding major work of extraordinary scholarly distinction, creativity, and originality in the intellectual and cultural history of Europe since 1500. The prize will be awarded during a ceremony at the Association’s 129th Annual Meeting in New York, NY, January 2-5, 2015.

Sayer’s book was selected by a review committee of AHA members including Brad S. Gregory, Chair (Univ. of Notre Dame), Celia Applegate (Vanderbilt Univ.), and Michael T. Saler (Univ. of California, Davis). “Set against the city’s recurrent and often brutal political dislocations, with vast erudition that incorporates the literature, music, arts, and architecture of Prague’s cultural avant-garde from before World War I through the Velvet Revolution,” commented 2014 Mosse Prize committee chair Brad S. Gregory, “this study is as conceptually bold as it is impressively learned.”

The George L. Mosse Prize was established in honor of George Lachmann Mosse, American cultural historian, with funds donated by former students, colleagues and friends of the late Dr. Mosse.

The American Historical Association is a nonprofit membership organization founded in 1884 and incorporated by Congress in 1889 for the promotion of historical studies. The AHA provides leadership for the discipline, protects academic freedom, develops professional standards, aids in the pursuit and publication of scholarship, and supplies various services to sustain and enhance the work of its members. As the largest organization of historians in the United States, the AHA is comprised of over 13,000 members and serves historians representing every historical period and geographical area. For further information, visit http://www.historians.org or call 202-544-2422. ###

I am very pleased to see that a recent interview I did with Lisette Allen for the Prague-based English-language website Expats.cz on my book Prague, Capital of the Twentieth Century has now been published.  Anybody interested in how I got into Czech history in the first place, where I would go if I had just one day to spend in Prague, and such, can find the full interview (along with some nice images) here.

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I am delighted that my book Prague, Capital of the Twentieth Century: a Surrealist History is the subject of the lead review in this week’s Times Literary Supplement, along with Thomas Ort’s Art And Life In Modernist Prague: Karel Čapek and his generation, 1911–1938.  In her long review essay “Surreal love in Prague” Marci Shore writes:

Sayer’s book is a pleasure to read, luscious in a sultry kind of way… Sayer meanders voyeuristically into the affairs between Franz Kafka and Milena Jesenská, Alma Mahler and Oskar Kokoschka, Leoš Janáček and Kamila Stösslová, and tarries alongside the ménage à trois of Éluard, Gala, and Max Ernst. The Vogue model turned photographer Lee Miller makes an appearance, as do the singer Jarmila Novotná, the architect Le Corbusier, the “little girl conductor” Vítěslava Kaprálová, and the Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl. The axis is Prague–Paris, but we detour to Vienna for Expressionism, Berlin for Dada, the Moravian town of Zlín for the Bata shoe factory.

While Sayer lingers at length among Surrealist erotica, he disapproves of the Surrealists’ “propensity to parlay the sordid into the sublime”.  Prague itself – krásná Praha, zlatá Praha (beautiful Prague, golden Prague) – has long been eroticized, but Sayer finds the city’s sexualization tawdry. For him, Prague is the laboratory where Éluard’s belief that “everything is transmutable into everything” is confirmed. “This little mother has claws”, as Kafka wrote of his own city. The fairy-tale picture of the castle overlooking the river conceals the necrophiliac and the sadomasochistic, and images of the pre-modern grotesque flicker across Sayer’s Surrealist narrative … If for Benjamin Paris was the capital of the nineteenth century, for Sayer Prague was the capital of the twentieth: “Prague is a less glittering capital for a century, to be sure, than la ville-lumière, but then it was a very much darker century”.

Thank you Professor Shore for a very generous review!  I am also really pleased that the TLS chose to illustrate “Surreal love in Prague” with Toyen’s painting “At the Château Lacoste” (below) and to use one of Karel Teige’s surrealist collages for the magazine cover (above).

The full text of Marci Shore’s review can be found here.

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“Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you” –said Ford Madox Ford.

Following this maxim,  Marshal Zeringue has created a very entertaining blog, “The Page 99 Test,” in which he asks authors to comment on page 99 of their book and publishes the results.  He asked me to take the test and I did.

It turned out page 99 was set in a cemetery.

You can read the results here.