Eric Hobsbawm, who died last year, was described by Christopher Hitchens in 2003 as first “a believing Communist (then) a sceptical Euro-Communist and…now a faintly curmudgeonly post-Communist”. In spite of his faith in an ideology that is long past its shelf life, Hobsbawm left behind a body of work that sealed his reputation as a public intellectual.
Fractured Times: Culture and Society in the Twentieth Century—a posthumous collection of essays, addresses and lectures written between 1964 and 2012—captures the essence of his eccentric genius, razor-sharp erudition, and gift for catching the reader unawares with the odd polemic. For instance, towards the end of an extended reflection on festivals in the 21st century—a piece that is peppered with caustic observations (“Festivals are today as globalized as football championships”)—we learn that this was the script of a talk Hobsbawm delivered at the opening of the Salzburg festival in 2006.
This revelation comes from Hobsbawm himself, in his best British manner, and in a tone that he reserves, in this volume at least, for some of his most damning comments, especially on the state of classical music and art in the 20st and 21st centuries.