Patrik Ouředník: Europeana. A Brief History of the Twentieth Century
Illinois: Dalkey Archive Press, 2005
During the First World War nine and a half million men died and six hundred thousand women. And six million men and two hundred thousand women were crippled for life. And seven million women lost their husbands in the war and nine million children lost their fathers. And countries were indebted and governments printed money that people could buy nothing with and inflation rose and in 1923 inflation in Germany rose by 2.3 million percent and a single egg cost 810 billion marks on average and when someone went out to buy a loaf of bread they would take a wheelbarrow full of money. And lots of people wanted to change the old world from the very foundations and joined Communist and Fascist parties. And others recalled pre-war Europe and they missed the days that began to be called LA BELLE ÉPOQUE or THE GOLDEN AGE. The Golden Age were the days when the advanced industrial countries had plenty of everything and the colonial stores sold exotic fruit and chocolate and Turkish delight and people believed that the new century would put paid to poverty and toil and people would live in comfort and hygienically and compulsory school attendance would make people better and more humane. In the Golden Age people were more courteous to each other and criminals were more considerate and did not fire at policemen and young people treated each other with respect and restraint and did not have sexual intercourse until they were married and when some young man raped a girl in the fields on her way home from work and she then became pregnant she would put the child in an orphanage where it was cared for at the state’s expense and when some motorist ran over a chicken he would get out of his car and pay for the chicken. And men raised their hats and did not gaze at women they did not intend to greet and in England men would wait until a woman gave a sign that she wished to be greeted and in France men kissed women’s gloves and women dropped handkerchiefs which men picked up and returned to the women with a bow and women did not smoke because it would be considered raffish and men smoked cheroots and cigars and took snuff and stroked their whiskers. And on Sunday people went to church and townsfolk used to go by train to holiday resorts and ladies wore lace bonnets and men wore checkered knickerbockers and tossed balls about in the water and laughed and the Surrealists and psychoanalysts later said that the ball was actually a sexual symbol. After the war there was an increase in the numbers of illegitimate children and orphanages and lunatic asylums but there was a decline in snuff-taking because it was unhygienic.
Other historians said that the twentieth century actually started earlier that it began with the industrial revolution that disrupted the traditional world and that all this was the fault of locomotives and steamships. And yet others said that the twentieth century began when it was discovered that people come from apes and some people said they came from apes less than others because they had developed more quickly. Then people started comparing languages and speculating about who has the most advanced language and who had moved furthest along the path of civilization. The majority thought it was the French because all sorts of interesting things happened in France and the French knew how to converse and used conjunctives and the pluperfect conditional and smiled at women seductively and women danced the can-can and painters invented impressions. But the Germans said that genuine civilization had to be simple and close to the people and that they had invented Romanticism and lots of German poets had written about love and in the valleys there lay mists. The Germans said they were the natural upholders of European civilization because they knew how to make war and carry on trade and also to organize convivial entertainments. And they said the French were vain and the English were haughty and the Slavs did not have a proper language and language is the soul of a nation and Slavs did not need any nation or state because it would only confuse them. And the Slavs on the other hand said that it was not true that in fact their language was the oldest of all and they could prove it. And the Germans called the French WORM EATERS and the French called the Germans CABBAGE HEADS. And the Russians said that the whole of Europe was decadent and that the Catholics and Protestants had completely ruined Europe and they proposed to throw the Turks out of Constantinople and then annex Europe to Russia so as to preserve the faith.
In the fifties film heroes mostly had sexual intercourse in cornfields because cornfields were associated with youth and the new life awaiting the young heroes and wind ruffled the ears of corn as the sun sank on the horizon and women’s bosoms heaved and in the sixties film heroes had sexual intercourse in the surf on the ocean shore because it was romantic and sand clung to their skin and their bottoms could be seen and mist hung over the water. In the sixties the first pornographic films were also made in which people had sexual intercourse almost non-stop in various places. And in magazines for girls woman editors with greater experience explained how to perform fellatio etc. And in magazines for boys editors with greater experience explained how to avoid premature ejaculation and put on a condom discreetly. And advertising agencies created advertisements for condoms and thought of ways of addressing young viewers and one agency devised commercials in which various fairy-tale characters such as Snow White Cinderella Donkey Skin Scheherazade etc. had sexual intercourse. And in art films there was more and more sexual intercourse but the critics said that it was something else because it was not sexual intercourse as such but its representation. And when there was lots of sexual intercourse in some art film they said that the film expressed our entomological attitude to love which was fine because it enabled us to reflect more effectively on the role of sexual intercourse not only in an anthropological cultural or political context but also in human life. In the seventies film heroes mostly had sexual intercourse in motor cars because it was original and the pace of life was increasing all the time and young people who did not have cars could imagine what was in store for them one day. And men increasingly lay on their backs and women sat on them because they were now emancipated. And in the eighties telephone sex started and men called certain numbers to hear women say into the mouthpiece I FEEL I’M GETTING WET or STUFF IT RIGHT INTO ME or WILL YOU LET ME TASTE IT? etc.
© Patrik Ourednik