Franz Josef's Time Machine: Images of Modernity in the Era of Mechanical Photoreproduction
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Book History 5 (2002) 67-103



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Franz Josef's Time Machine:
Images of Modernity in the Era of Mechanical Photoreproduction

Marija Dalbello

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An exponential increase in the speed of production and distribution of printed material and new and more aggressive uses of documentary illustration revolutionized the printing trade in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. How that increase may have changed the logistics of perception is captured, in the extravagant idiom of Italian Futurism, by the title of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti's "The Torture of St. Unique by Speed and Simultaneity" (1923). Walter Benjamin commented in 1936 on the destruction of the aura of authenticity as plurality of copies substituted for unique artifacts. 1 The process that changed the experience of reality through technologies of production is related to the "modernity" that emerged with the Enlightenment. 2 According to Stuart Hall, "What is quintessentially 'modern' is not so much any one period or any particular form of social organization so much as the fact that a society becomes seized with and pervaded by this idea of ceaseless development, progress, and dynamic change; by the restless forward movement of time and history; by what some theorists call the compression of time and space." 3 [End Page 67]

While enjoying the expansion of knowledge driven by the engines of technology, societies simultaneously experience a sense of loss as identity and community are threatened by social transformation, and a religious worldview is supplanted by a secular and materialist culture. 4

This essay is a historical case study focusing on the formation of modernity as expressed in print and from the point of view of the central European book trade. It focuses on a publishing house in an industrial region of the Habsburg Empire at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. The culture of early modernism that characterized fin de siècle Vienna and the provinces of the empire was pervaded by a sense of crisis. Ambivalent attitudes surrounding modernity in the empire sharpened with a concurrent radical reorganization of thought and meaning. 5 That crisis climaxed with the destruction of the traditional cultural order, marked by the death of Emperor Franz Josef in 1916 and the dissolution of the empire in 1918.

The Context: The Book Tradein the Habsburg Realm

His Imperial and Royal Apostolic Majesty, The Head of Our Armies, Emperor and King Franz Josef I, ordained the publisher of the Croatian Military Almanac with the Cross of the Order of Franz Josef. On 8 September 1905, His Imperial and Royal Apostolic Majesty, Emperor and King Franz Josef, dignified by his supreme visit the premises of the firm J. Steinbrener in Winterberg and presented the owner of the firm with the award.

—Davor 1908

This notice was included with an advertisement for a Croatian military almanac, Davor, one of a number of almanacs produced by the J. Steinbrener firm. J. Steinbrener held royal privilege for the production of a wide range of Catholic devotional literature in addition to almanacs and religious paraphernalia. Established in 1855, the firm was active throughout Franz Josef's reign (1848-1916) and into the late 1930s. 6 Its modes of production and distribution reflected the latest technological advances in the printing trade. In its scope of publication, iconography, and marketing, this publisher reinforced the values of the existing Habsburg political infrastructure. Thus it was caught in the contradictions of an archaic political system.

The Habsburg realm was an ambivalent society that maintained a curious combination of conservatism and progressiveness, balancing the forces of unity and diversity. That society, "part aristocratic, Catholic, and aesthetic, part bourgeois, legalist, and rationalist," 7 was torn between traditionalism [End Page 68] and the values of social progress. Ever since the sixteenth century, this society had stood apart from the rest of Europe, distinct in cultural, social, and economic terms. As a political formation resulting from contractual and legal association, rather than from conquest or colonization, it could maintain relative stability through balancing the forces of autonomous government and the power...