Gaslight: Lantern Slides from the Nineteenth Century

Author(s): Isabel Fargo Cole

Culture & Ideas

In this sparkling essay collection, Joachim Kalka delves into the mythos of the nineteenth century, exploring our fascination with its "auratic gaslight," its mingling of romanticism and modernity, enlightenment and darkness. "To gaze back at the nineteenth century is to confront an era which...easily inspires a kind of sentimental scorn. And yet in this era's depths lie all the things that grin at us today with the Medusa's gaze of the unsolvable problem." Here we find the roots of our contemporary preoccupations: gender roles and sexuality, terrorism and technology, mad scientists and serial killers, kitsch and commodification. With wit and erudition, Kalka musters a wealth of (pop) cultural references to draw illuminating connections between Schiller and the surveillance state, Balzac and Billy Wilder, Mickey Mouse and the arms race, the cake fights of Laurel and Hardy and the wedding cake of Madame Bovary. With a keen feel for buried tensions and ironies, he probes the suppressed biography of Wagner's Brunnhilde, or such grotesque historical phenomena as the symbiosis between anti-Semitism and German gemutlichkeit.
Kalka brings the nineteenth century to life with all its contradictions, aspirations, and absurdities, inviting us to reexamine that era and our own, and the stories we tell ourselves about history.


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A one-of-a-kind exploration of the nineteenth century that ties the time period to our own through essays on everything from Balzac to Wagner.

Joachim Kalka is an essayist, literary critic, and translator of authors such as Martin Amis, Angela Carter, G. K. Chesterton, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Christopher Isherwood. He lives in Leipzig, Germany. Isabel Fargo Cole is a writer and translator of authors including Annemarie Schwarzenbach, Franz Fuhmann, Wolfgang Hilbig and Klaus Hoffer. She lives in Berlin, Germany.

General Fields

  • : 9781681371184
  • : The New York Review of Books, Inc
  • : The New York Review of Books, Inc
  • : July 2017
  • : United States
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : 172
  • : Main
  • : Paperback
  • : Isabel Fargo Cole