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In the 19th Century, life accelerated beyond the point of human control. This acceleration merely continued throughout the 20th century. If there is to be a turning point in which the acceleration of human endeavor reached and passed its critical point, it should be the day in 1905 that Albert Einstein first published his Theory of Relativity, and the most famous equation in history: E=mc2. In what this simple equation would unleash, all the fears of the nineteenth century came to pass. Industrialism triumphed, the organs of social control broke down, alienation became the standard of existence, and the Universe slipped into the hands of science. God was dead, and nothing made sense.
There are few who will argue against the creature comforts that the modern world has wrought: diseases have been conquered, human communication has been made instantaneous, and long distance travel has been made convenient, and expedient. The basic rudiments of all of these can be traced to the period between 1750 and 1850: vaccination, the telegraph, and the train and steamship. But for every advance, society has paid a price. Advancements in medical science have been met with new, deadlier diseases and virus, resistant to drugs; instant communication has destroyed the boundaries of personal space; faster travel has made more people vulnerable to spectacular accidents that take lives by the hundreds. It is, as a Nineteenth Century research paper points out, a paradox: “it has been impossible to grasp and embrace the modern world’s potentialities without loathing and fighting against some of its most palpable realities”.
In the most representative of European literature from the nineteenth century, this paradox is expressed in two separate forms: nihilism and utopia. Those who truly understood the implications of the modern world either absorbed themselves in the palpable realities, or sought self-deluded escape into its potentialities. Where, then, is the line between madness and modernity?