A Review of Eric Hobsbawm’s Posthumous Essays

In his article for the Guardian, Richard Evans discusses the late Eric Hobsbawm’s posthumous collection of essays, and how they reflect the changes in the historian’s views over time. Here is an extract:

What Hobsbawm’s Marxism also did, however, was to turn him from a lifelong optimist – while it was still possible for some to think, even with reservations, that it provided hope for the future – into a bewildered pessimist when it became obvious, from 1990 onwards, that it didn’t. Hobsbawm’s pessimism comes through in many of the essays in this book more clearly than in any other work he published after the fall of communism. The cultural experience, he says, is “disintegrating”. Classical music has no future, only a past. In many parts of the world, state subsidies of the arts are being replaced by market forces, to disastrous effect. (“It is not going to happen in the UK,” he says, but in this case he wasn’t being pessimistic enough.) Nevertheless, his vision of culture’s future is too gloomy. Modernist music may not be very popular in the concert halls, for example (as he repeatedly points out), but it goes out to millions in the form of film scores. Looking around at the visual arts or the theatre, there’s not much sign of decline. As so often, his arguments invite as much dissent as agreement, the sign of a truly creative historian. As the American economic historian David Landes once remarked, you come away from a Hobsbawm book feeling like you do after a vigorous game of squash: exhausted and invigorated at the same time.

For the full article, visit bit.ly/XkfD66

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