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Journey to the Abyss: The Diaries of Count Harry Kessler, 1880-1918
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Journey to the Abyss: The Diaries of Count Harry Kessler, 1880-1918

4.3  ·  Rating Details ·  64 Ratings  ·  8 Reviews
These fascinating, never-before-published early diaries of Count Harry Kessler—patron, museum director, publisher, cultural critic, soldier, secret agent, and diplomat—present a sweeping panorama of the arts and politics of Belle Époque Europe, a glittering world poised to be changed irrevocably by the Great War. Kessler’s immersion in the new art and literature of Paris, ...more
Hardcover, 960 pages
Published November 15th 2011 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2011)
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Geoff
Dec 17, 2011 Geoff marked it as to-read
I'll not be Time-bound; for what good are words and this life of reading if not to take me out and away from this miserable epoch, delimit this one life and then breach the boundaries I come up against? What good are words and this life of reading and writing except to wage constant war on Time and all its petty minions? What are words but ways to recover lost kingdoms & preserve in amber our own, to resurrect lost worlds or descry potential new ones? Look at me now! I'm born anew! To a duke ...more
Simon
Jun 26, 2014 Simon rated it it was amazing
A slow, magnificent read. Kessler knew everyone worth knowing in the Europe between 1880 and 1918, and was diligent in keeping an account of his life as both a German and a member of the international culture that knew no boundaries. In the end he was dragged (somewhat willingly) into the disaster of World War I, despite his contempt for the Wilhelmine government.

The book is so dense that reading it took weeks. The editorial work is outstanding, and that's part of the problem. The footnotes wil
...more
Debn
Feb 05, 2013 Debn added it
This book is outstanding - not just a window on a lost world, but a window on one of the most engaging, frustrating, eloquent, enigmatic & admirable human beings to live through some of the most turbulent times in German history. In these diary entries (beautifully translated and annotated by Easton) Kessler's personal diary reveals how he transitions from a reflexively conservative aristocrat to a military nationalist to a socialist, and all the while is a cosmopolitan, a humanitarian, a mo ...more
Laura Jordan
Jul 08, 2012 Laura Jordan rated it it was amazing
This book was so rich, so dense, that there really wasn't any point in trying to get through it quickly. So I parceled it out into manageable bits, reading 20 pages a day -- it took me six weeks. But there really was so much to be gained from doing it this way. I felt like I really got to know Kessler, the world that he inhabited, his social circles, and his way of thinking. After I finished up the last page today, I realized that I was a little sad to be leaving someone whose company I had come ...more
Andrew
Jun 15, 2012 Andrew rated it it was amazing
The German count was described by W.H. Auden as "probably the most cosmopolitan man who ever lived." Kessler was fluent in English, German, French and Greek and travelled actively through Europe and the Americas while pursuing his art and diplomatic careers.

The book is fascinating as an insight into an artistocrat's world. Famous people pop up with stupid ideas (Degas: "Compulsory education is an infamy"); dinner conversations course among people like George Bernard Shaw and Rodin; and great col
...more
John
Oct 20, 2015 John rated it it was amazing
what a different time...
Marc Bosma
Sep 11, 2016 Marc Bosma rated it liked it
Ik heb de versie in Privé-domein gelezen. Heel intrigerend om een beeld te kunnen krijgen van deze tijd en van de vele verschillende domeinen waarin Kessler actief was. Invloedrijke man. Bv. rond Volkenbond, links democratische beweging in de Weimar republiek, bevordering kunst, behouden archief van Nietzsche etc.
Alexandra
Nov 10, 2016 Alexandra rated it it was amazing
i read this slowly over the last few years, and kessler became a friend of sorts. i did not always agree with his arrogant judgements, but he had a beautiful mind. i hope the rest of his diaries are translated. reading such a personal account of WWI in the time of Trump helped shine a light on the uncertain times in the USA right now.
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Diaries of Harry Count Kessler 1 5 May 02, 2012 01:25AM  
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Harry Clemens Ulrich Kessler was an Anglo-German count, diplomat, writer, and patron of modern art. English translations of his diaries "Journey to the Abyss" (2011) and "Berlin in Lights" (1971) reveal anecdotes and details of artistic, theatrical, and political life in Europe, mostly in Germany, from the late 19th century through the collapse of Germany at the end of World War I until his death ...more
More about Harry Graf Kessler...

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“Berlin. November 18, 1917. Sunday. I think Grosz has something demonic in him. This new Berlin art in general, Grosz, Becher, Benn, Wieland Herzfelde, is most curious. Big city art, with a tense density of impressions that appears simultaneous, brutally realistic, and at the same time fairy-tale-like, just like the big city itself, illuminating things harshly and distortedly as with searchlights and then disappearing in the glow. A highly nervous, cerebral, illusionist art, and in this respect reminiscent of the music hall and also of film, or at least of a possible, still unrealized film. An art of flashing lights with a perfume of sin and perversity like every nocturnal street in the big city. The precursors are E.T.A. Hoffmann, Breughel, Mallarmé, Seurat, Lautrec, the futurists: but in the density and organization of the overwhelming abundance of sensation, the brutal reality, the Berliners seem new to me. Perhaps one could also include Stravinsky here (Petrushka). Piled-up ornamentation each of which expresses a trivial reality but which, in their sum and through their relations to each other, has a thoroughly un-trivial impact.

All round the world war rages and in the center is this nervous city in which so much presses and shoves, so many people and streets and lights and colors and interests: politics and music hall, business and yet also art, field gray, privy counselors, chansonettes, and right and left, and up and down, somewhere, very far away, the trenches, regiments storming over to attack, the dying, submarines, zeppelins, airplane squadrons, columns marching on muddy streets, Hindenburg and Ludendorff, victories; Riga, Constantinople, the Isonzo, Flanders, the Russian Revolution, America, the Anzacs and the poilus, the pacifists and the wild newspaper people. And all ending up in the half-darkened Friedrichstrasse, filled with people at night, unconquerable, never to be reached by Cossacks, Gurkhas, Chasseurs d'Afrique, Bersaglieris, and cowboys, still not yet dishonored, despite the prostitutes who pass by. If a revolution were to break out here, a powerful upheaval in this chaos, barricades on the Friedrichstrasse, or the collapse of the distant parapets, what a spark, how the mighty, inextricably complicated organism would crack, how like the Last Judgment! And yet we have experienced, have caused precisely this to happen in Liège, Brussels, Warsaw, Bucharest, even almost in Paris. That's the world war, all right.”
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