GLADSTONE: Values reflect how we believe the world should work, while facts are assertions about the world that can be independently validated. Before World War One, reporters don’t distinguish much between facts and values.

Mostly, says historian Michael Schudson, they are naive empiricists. They believe that facts flow in through their senses, unaltered by preconceptions, and reveal the world as it really is.

Those facts fit neatly into a vision of a world that is cruel, but also rich with opportunity. This is a generation raised on Horatio Alger’s dime novels, in which the humblest of orphans could ascend into the middle class — if they worked hard

But in the 1920s, a deep cynicism sets in, as damaged men returned home, many with personal photos of comrades dying in the trenches they had dug — hideous and meaningless deaths of millions of young men. 

In Europe and America, there’s growing awareness that governments lie, that newspapers lie, that long-held values do not fit the new facts and that it may be impossible to really know anything.

Some of the disillusioned turn to novels of gritty realism …

ERNEST HEMINGWAY’S “A FAREWELL TO ARMS”: I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except bury it.

ERICH MARIA REMARQUE’S “ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT”: But .. the first bombardment showed us our mistake … and under it the world as they had taught it to us broke in pieces.

Some turn to poetry …

THE POEMS OF WILFRED OWEN: If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood / Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, / Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud / Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues — / My friend, you would not tell with such high zest / To children ardent for some desperate glory, / The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori.

GLADSTONE, as MARCEL DUCHAMP’S “L.H.O.O.Q.”: A new European art movement revels in meaninglessness…

TRISTAN TZARA: What good did the theories of the philosophers do us? … We are. We argue, we dispute, we get excited. The rest is sauce.

The beginnings of Dada were not the beginnings of an art, but of a disgust. Disgust with the magnificence of philosophers who for 3000 years have been explaining everything to us …

Like everything in life, Dada is useless. Dada is without pretension, as life should be. 

— Brooke Gladstone and Josh Neufeld, The Influencing Machine (2011)


  1. bloodsuckingpuns said: WILFRID OWEN had completely forgotten about Wilfrid Owen going to go read Wilfrid Owen now; thank you
  2. newsfrompoems posted this