- Paperback: 397 pages
- Publisher: Vintage Books; Revised edition (1968)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0394704150
- ISBN-13: 978-0394704159
- Product Dimensions: 4.3 x 0.9 x 7.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 19 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #307,168 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Banquet Years: The Origins of the Avant-Garde in France - 1885 to World War I Revised Edition
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From the Publisher
"A sweeping portrait of an era." --Justin O' Brien
"...a fascinating and often brilliant account..."--Alfred Kazin
"...I am full of admiration for a book which searches very deeply into the social and philosophic foundations of modern art, and presents a theory that is at once comprehensive and convincing."--Herbert Read, The London Magazine
From the Inside Flap
Portrays the cultural bohemia of turn-of-the-century Paris who carried the arts into a period of renewal and accomplishment, who laid the ground-work for Dadaism and Surrealism.
Top customer reviews
I am not sure that I got it completely, but this is what I came away with after a long and enjoyful read. What the 4 artists had in common was that they created a movement that was entirely self-referential rather than embedding itself in known (or expected) forms of discipline. Each of their visions was subjective, based on their inner worlds more than observation of the outside world. Anyone who looked at, listened to, or read their work would encounter their personal vision. Each artist expressed emotion, knowledge and projection of self with its own particular beauty. What they expressed was knowable in a single instance: they did not depend on conventional processes, but each part was a whole unto itself, to the point that there wasn't a beginning and end, just the present perception of the work.
This is best exemplified, I think, in Satie's later music. In stark contrast to traditional forms, which followed an introduction, buildup, and climax, Satie strove to evoke a mood at each instant. You don't have to listen to the whole piece as it unfolds, but merge with the emotion he is expressing. Apollinaire did similar things with his poetry, Jarry with his alter-ego persona in prose, and Rousseau with his naive primitivism. If I understand it, this is similar to, but a step beyond, Impressionism, in that it is not about perception of the outside world, but a direct link to the artist's subconscious mind. The 4 artists were coeval with the Symbolists, the Cubists who emerged slightly later, and their work came to an abrupt end with WWI, during which other artists continued to work out their ideas with dadaism and other radical refinements of their original visions. From another angle, Freud was analyzing all this in a clinical perspective.
The book is uneven. There are many biographical details that I found interesting, but was not sure of their relevance to the principal arguments, which were never succinctly stated. Much of this remains unclear to me, which is perhaps not a fault of the book, but I do feel I have to seek clearer ideas of how all these movements are inter-related. It didn't help that the only artist of the 4 whose work I truly love was Satie's, and as I discovered, I like his earlier work, which is not even part of the avant-garde that Shattuck purports to explain. I never liked Rousseau's work, Apollinaire seems obscurantist to me, and Jarry I had never heard of.
Recommended. This book is not for everyone, but even non-academics who have a deep interest in the period will find it very worthwhile.
It's Shattuck's thesis that the heady, wildly inventive 30-year period from 1885 to the start of World War 1 marked an unprecedented seismic shift in the arts that led directly to modernism ((and all the other "artisms" afterwards))--the implications and challenges of which are still being worked out today. This is not a particularly revolutionary or even original observation but what Shattuck does in *The Banquet Years* is condense, illustrate, and bring to life the argument through his fourfold biographical study.
The strength--and the weakness--of *The Banquet Years* is a consequence of Shattuck's approach. There is probably not a lot that enthusiasts of either Rousseau, Satie, Jarry, or Apollinaire alone will find new in these sketches, but odds are you won't know everything Shattuck relates about all four. On the other hand, if you aren't interested in musical theory, for instance, or the "primitivism" of Rousseau, you'll find yourself tempted to skip 25 or even 50% of this book. It would be a mistake, though, to skip any of the dishes of *The Banquet Years,* for as Shattuck shows, each of these figures is representative of one crucial aspect of the age, each brought something important to the table. Of the four, I found the inclusion of Rousseau the most problematic, but as a "bridge" between the "old" painting and the "new," Shattuck makes a case for including him--and someone like Picasso would have been simply too enormous a figure to devoted only one-quarter of a book.
In the end, *The Banquet Years* is a spirited and intelligent book about a time, a place, and a cast of characters unique in the history of art--a 30-year "party" whose guests included some of the most eccentric, brilliant, and stupendously talented individuals of our time--or any time. Here are the ideas, the gossip, the friendships, the fallings-out and the story behind the stories, poems, paintings, and songs that recorded it all and inspired generations to come...and still to come. If you know nothing, little, or not enough about this incredibly fertile period, this book will be well worth your time.