Derek SayerPrague, Capital of the Twentieth Century: A Surrealist History

Princeton University Press, 2013

by Amanda Swain on July 24, 2015

Derek Sayer

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Prague, according to Derek Sayer, is the place "in which modernist dreams have time and again unraveled." In this sweeping history of surrealism centered on Prague as both a physical location and the "magic capital" in the imagination of leading surrealists such as André Breton and Paul Éluard, Sayer takes the reader on a thematic journey from the beginning of the 20th century to the immediate post-war era. In this interview, Sayer talks about why surrealism – and, more importantly, why Prague – is central to understanding the 20th century and modernism. Through works of literature and works of architecture, Sayer demonstrates how Czech modernists pluralized visions of what modernist art should be. These Czech artists and architects were largely ignored in post-World War II exhibitions and histories of surrealism and modernism. With this book, Derek Sayer returns them to their proper place in the narrative.

Prague, Capital of Twentieth Century: A Surrealist History (Princeton University Press, 2013) received the 2014 George L. Mosse Prize from the American Historical Association. The 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 the Renaissance. The book also received an honorable mention for the 2014 Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize, awarded to the "most important contribution to Russian, Eurasian, and East European studies in any discipline in the humanities or social sciences," by The Association for Slavic, Eastern European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES).

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