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Spectacular Realities: Early Mass Culture in Fin-de-Siecle Paris [Paperback]

Vanessa R. Schwartz
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

August 3, 1999 0520221680 978-0520221680 1st
During the second half of the nineteenth century, Paris emerged as the entertainment capital of the world. The sparkling redesigned city fostered a culture of energetic crowd-pleasing and multi-sensory amusements that would apprehend and represent real life as spectacle.

Vanessa R. Schwartz examines the explosive popularity of such phenomena as the boulevards, the mass press, public displays of corpses at the morgue, wax museums, panoramas, and early film. Drawing on a wide range of written and visual materials, including private and business archives, and working at the intersections of art history, literature, and cinema studies, Schwartz argues that "spectacular realities" are part of the foundation of modern mass society. She refutes the notion that modern life produced an unending parade of distractions leading to alienation, and instead suggests that crowds gathered not as dislocated spectators but as members of a new kind of crowd, one united in pleasure rather than protest.

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Spectacular Realities: Early Mass Culture in Fin-de-Siecle Paris + The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and his Followers + Colossal: Engineering Modernity - Suez Canal, Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower, and Panama Canal
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Editorial Reviews


"Schwartz weaves a multilayered history of the evolution of mass entertainments in Paris during the 19th century. . . . An engrossing study."--F. Burkhard, "Choice

From the Inside Flap

"An exciting, innovative, and significant work. The author points to how the crowd experience transcended class and gender divisions and was transformed from acts of collective violence into acts of collective consumption."—Michael B. Miller, author of Shanghai on the Métro

Product Details

  • Paperback: 243 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; 1st edition (August 3, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520221680
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520221680
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 5.9 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #844,899 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars the quintessential book on French cultural history November 3, 2003
i read this book for my history class(i am a college student) on european cultural/intellectual history. The author provides you with amazingingly creative and sharp insights on how visual images played a vital role in constructing a new modern metropolitan culture in the late nineteenth century Paris. It is not a book that just rambles about what's "cool" about Paris unlike many other books; it offers a very convincing and methodical explanation and observation on French culture at the trun of the century. If you love Paris, READ THIS BOOK!
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Reading Vanessa Schwartz's brilliant work Spectacular Realities: Early Mass Culture in Fin-de-Siècle Paris, one can get the feeling that the late nineteenth-century Parisian popular press was as omnipresent as the modern-day paparazzi. Throughout her enchanting narrative of the institutions and behaviors of an evolving mass culture, Schwartz characterizes the news consumption of a newly-literate population from the emerging print media as a key component to the identification of residents and visitors in fin de siècle Paris. The importance of print to Paris's cultural evolution does not preclude significant influences of visual media. In fact, Spectacular Realities argues that the creation and representation of Parisian society "relied on the explicit connection between written and visual texts." Schwartz's driving logic is that "a culture that became 'more literate' also became more visual as word and image generated the spectacular realities described" (3).

The book begins with a well-crafted introduction that locates the author's position contra the historical literature emphasizing written or visual texts as opposed cultural forms. Schwartz promptly introduces her post-modern view that "any history is a history of representation" (4) and she succinctly acquaints the reader with the work's star actors (the press, the boulevards, the morgue, the wax museum, panorama, and cinema).
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5.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening January 23, 2013
By Alex
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A historically contextual analysis of certain aspects of late nineteenth and early twentieth century entertainment, namely panoramas, wax museums, and the beginning of film. Very interesting.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Schwartz is thrilling November 23, 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
She writes like she loves it and can get anyone excited about Modernity and turn of the century Paris through accessible and interesting accounts and a well researched reflective perspective.
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