The Twenties

I'm not sure what this text is. Could be thoughts rambling on a cyberpunk background, loosely bracketed by the 1920ies at their head and the 2020ies at their tail. Could be more. It works by association.

First I was idly looking up when William Gibson's Agency might be published.1 Through Hinterlands I came to Last Studio Standing and finally somehow found Neon Dystopia:

[...] what truly lies at the heart of the noir is a deep-seated cynical (or sometimes outright nihilistic) worldview that came about as the result of late-stage, post-war capitalism. As it is considered to be a force to be reckoned with in the postmodern movement, almost nothing is romanticized or held sacred in the noir, deconstructing the so-called fundamental goodness of humankind’s technological and sociological progress that were presented in modernism.2

If this wasn't the most convincing definition of film noir ever written, then it was how I would like a most convincing noir to be like.

I am intrigued by the story of Lang visiting New York for the first time, and witnessing "the great metropolis of the modern world ... and his alarm at a city that seemed animated by the perpetual anxiety born of universal exploitation"3

[Figure 1: Matte Painting by Scott Richard for the Movie A City to Make Me]

Metropolis was released in 1927. The visit to Neuyork (that's how Lang spells it in his Film-Kurier article) took place in 1924.4

The Twenties. Golden, elated, dark, dirty, bright, roaring and frantic, des années folles. Swing was in the air, but had not become a fixed style yet. It was a conflicted world. An in-between world. World war I was just over, its aftermath physically effecting peoples lives in Europe. People were shocked by the atrocities to the bones. At the end of the war many German soldiers were still in the field, without hope for supplies. The ensuing rebellion of sailors5 initiated the November revolution which swept away the monarchy. Not much later the German army and paramilitary freikorps overthrew the Bavarian Soviet Republic. A dearth, unemployment, then a buzzing economy for several years, which was then followed by the Black Friday of 1929. And world war II was yet to come. There was hope. There was desperation. There was style. There was misery. There were strong contrasts. Hyperinflation, political assassinations, stab-in-the-back conspirationists, weimarian republicans, revolutionaries, inspired activity in arts and sciences, expressionism, constructivism, Heisenberg, das geheime Deutschland,6 Brecht, Tucholsky.

The Twenties were of an unprecedented intellectual fecundity, nourished by a nervous, neurotic feeling of insecurity and unbehaustheit7 which after the war pervaded the intellectual as well as the political life und let people search restlessly for the archimedean points from which all the present could be lifted from its hinges.8

What might, a hundred years later, the 2020ies be like?

[Figure 2: Warsaw Spire as depicted in Wikipedia on Frontex]

The 2020ies begin with a leaden feeling. The majority of people in the Occident is well provided for and has enjoyed a period of stability. The skint GDR was incorporated into the solvent FRG. Eastern Europe followed suit and gave the room for the growth of Europe's economy. The paradigm of the Merkel cabinets during all their long and wearying years has been the maintenance of the status quo. Europe preaches trade and welfare while warding off fugitives with its private army. Wars for control of fossil energy reserves and to protect the vanity of one offended nation are ongoing. Germany feels bound in honour to participate, in pure defense of course as was constitutionally provisioned after the second world war. We witness the decline of the once united states of America to the banana republic of Trumpekistan. The brexiting from the European Union is silently applauded by a Russian president and his backslapping oligarchs. Nationalist sentiments have become increasingly en vogue.9

There is still art, sometimes surprisingly fresh. Physicists slowly come to realize that they have been stuck since decades.10 Ecologists try to predict the tilting biosphere.11 The Internet has some nooks left which are not yet absorbed into commerce. We have the knowledge of the world at the tip of our fingers and prefer to fill our heads with diversions instead, dulled by the effusions of the troll brigades perpetually pouring like acid drop. Dissactisfaction and felt insecurity is widespread and common. This seems to correspond to the feeling of insecurity and unbehaustheit of the 1920ies. But hardly anybody looks for archimedean points anymore. The majority of people don't want the present to be lifted of its hinges, they rather fear in private that the world allready dangles and will come loose on its own. The influential minority has allready decided and prepares.12

The always present vague feeling that something profound and substantial must be wrong,13 becomes stronger. But who is daunting enough to zoom in on it?


  1. probably on Jan 21, 2020 

  2. Shadowlink: Decoding Dystopia. The Cyber Noir Spectrum. Neon Dystopia, September 19, 2019 -- URI https://www.neondystopia.com/cyberpunk-books-fiction/decoding-dystopia-the-cyber-noir-spectrum 

  3. Dann Lewis: On Sprawls and Metropolis. Neon Dystopia, June 21 2016 -- URI https://www.neondystopia.com/cyberpunk-books-fiction/on-sprawls-and-metropolis. The quote originates from Fritz Lang: Was ich in Amerika sah. Film-Kurier. Berlin, 11. Dezember 1924. That this 95 year old newspaper isn't digitally available demonstrates the sad state of our copyright law. A small excerpt can be found in Kay Hoffmann: Mut zur Lücke. Zur Studienfassung des Klassikers "Metropolis". In: Zeithistorische Forschungen/Studies in Contemporary History. Bd. 4, Nr. 3, 2007 -- URI https://zeithistorische-forschungen.de/3-2007/4530. The interesting part, what Fritz Lang thought "privately", is missing there. This part is documented in Michael Minden: Fritz Lang's Metropolis and the United States. German Life and Letters 53, 3, p. 341 -- URI https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-0483.00170. Minden cautions that the account given by Lang may be something of an invention, refering to Patrick McGilligan: Fritz Lang. The Nature of the Beast, 1997, p. 108. 

  4. In Wikipedia on Fritz Lang: "1924 konnte er mit dem Helden-Epos Die Nibelungen einen weiteren großen Publikumserfolg feiern. Während einer mehrmonatigen Kreativpause bereiste er anschließend gemeinsam mit Harbou die USA". 

  5. Wikipedia: Kiel mutiny 

  6. literally "secret germany", the circle around Stefan George, representing an "inner unity" as imagined by him, see Wikipedia Geheimes Deutschland 

  7. literally homelessness, but signifying the self-consciousness of an unsheltered soul 

  8. "Die zwanziger Jahre sind von einer nie dagewesenen intellektuellen Fruchtbarkeit, genährt von dem nervösen, neurotischen Gefühl der Unsicherheit und Unbehaustheit, das nach dem Krieg das geistige wie das politische Leben durchzieht und die Menschen rastlos nach archimedischen Punkten suchen läßt, von denen aus die gesamte Gegenwart aus ihren Angeln zu heben ist." -- Hagen Schulze: Weimar. Deutschland 1917–1933. Severin & Siedler : Berlin, 1982. 

  9. Timothy Snyder: The Road to Unfreedom. Russia. Europe. America. Tim Duggan Books : News York, 2018. 

  10. Sabine Hossenfelder: Backreaction, Peter Woit: Not Even Wrong 

  11. Timothy M. Lenton et al.: Climate tipping points - too risky to bet against. Nature 575, 592-595 -- URI https://doi.org/10.1038%2Fd41586-019-03595-0 

  12. Nafeez Ahmed: Inclusive Capitalism Initiative is Trojan Horse to quell coming global revolt. The Guardian, May 28, 2014 -- URI https://www.theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2014/may/28/inclusive-capitalism-trojan-horse-global-revolt-henry-jackson-society-pr-growth. Douglas Rushkoff: Survival of the Richest.The wealthy are plotting to leave us behind. Jul 5, 2018 -- URI https://onezero.medium.com/survival-of-the-richest-9ef6cddd0cc1, also published as chap. 8 in Extinction Rebellion: This Is Not a Drill, Penguin Books, 2019. 

  13. compare John Horgan: The Weirdness of Weirdness, January 3, 2018. -- URI https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/the-weirdness-of-weirdness/