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The Interwar Period as a Machine Age: Mechanics, the Machine, Mechanisms, and the Market in Discourse

  • Richard Staley (a1)
Argument

This paper examines some of the ways that machines, mechanisms, and the new mechanics were treated in post-World War I discourse. Spengler's 1919 Decline of the West and Hessen's 1931 study of Newton have usually been tied closely to Weimar culture in Germany, and Soviet politics. Linking them also to the writings of Rathenau, Simmel, Chase, Mumford, Hayek, and others, as well as to Dada and film studies of the city will indicate central features of a wide-ranging, international discourse on the machine and mechanization. I argue that machines were so thoroughly integrated into social and economic experience that we can treat this as a distinctive new phase in the cultural history of mechanics, what some contemporaries called the “machine age”: a period in which rather than the hand mill or steam engine, the city stands as an appropriate realization (and sometimes symbol) of the significance but also ambiguities and tensions of mechanical life; and concepts of mechanization were extended to encompass the economy and market mechanisms.

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