Derek Sayer

Prague: Capital of the Twentieth Century


By Esther Galfalvi

Derek Sayer’s meandering dérive through the hall of mirrors of 20th century European history may prove taxing to the scholar who expects a clearly signposted route, but exhilarating to the intellectual flâneur. The subtitle, A Surrealist History, gives the first enigmatic, elliptical tickle: Is this a book on Surrealism? Is it a book on the Surrealists? Or is it a work of Surrealism in itself? It eludes and elides easy categorisation – by design, for the point of Sayer’s psychohistorical walk is precisely to subver ‘grand narratives.’ With Prague, it seems that Sayer is not only putting a damper on a coherent interpretation of history, but setting fire to the notion of traditional, formal scholarship. Seekers of a chronological or thematic history of Prague should look elsewhere, but anyone wishing to experience an intuitive grasp of Modernism – artistic, literary, political – should buy a ticket and take a seat.