Viennese Jewish Modernism
Freud, Hofmannsthal, Beer-Hofmann, and Schnitzler
Viennese Jewish Modernism
Freud, Hofmannsthal, Beer-Hofmann, and Schnitzler
“Gillman’s book is as rich and paradoxical as Jewish assimilation itself, for the author is at once telling a particularly Jewish and a larger European story of aesthetic, cultural, and sometimes even political engagement with tradition.”
- Table of Contents
- Sample Chapters
Viennese Jewish Modernism draws together three central turn-of-the-century cultural phenomena: the breakdown of traditional modes of transmitting the past to the present; the unprecedented Jewish contribution to Viennese culture as a whole; and the development of a specifically Jewish modernism in Europe. Through her consideration of the larger questions of memorialism and memory, the construction of history and identity, and the nature of modernism, Gillman demonstrates that modernism is powerfully drawn to the past and actively engaged with tradition.
“Gillman’s book is as rich and paradoxical as Jewish assimilation itself, for the author is at once telling a particularly Jewish and a larger European story of aesthetic, cultural, and sometimes even political engagement with tradition.”
“Argued with verve and originality, this book calls for a ‘more inclusive understanding of the place of Jewish writing’ in the modernist tradition. Illustrations and notes, including the German originals of the passages cited, add to the book’s appeal.”
“Gillman has provided a pathbreaking work that consolidates the insights of recent secondary literature on Jewish experience in the fin-de-siècle and establishes ‘Jewish’ modernism. Her book will be read with interest by scholars of literature, modernism, Jewish studies, and cultural theory.”
“Viennese Jewish Modernism is a major accomplishment and provides a wealth of new ideas and information.”
“Viennese Jewish Modernism productively engages German Studies, literary theory, and (Viennese) Judaica on several sophisticated levels. Further, it serves both as a contribution to reappraisals of fin de siècle Modernism and a useful interpretive companion to less familiar or critically ignored works by the authors listed in its title.”
“[Gillman] has created a fine de siècle for our own time, a reinterpretive historical hologram like that of the writers she discusses.”
Abigail Gillman is Associate Professor of German and Hebrew in the Department of Modern Languages and Comparative Literature at Boston University.
List of Illustrations
Introduction: The Origins of Viennese Jewish Modernism
Part 1: Genres of Memory
1. Freud’s Modernism in A Childhood Memory of Leonardo da Vinci (1910), “The Moses of Michelangelo” (1914), and Moses and Monotheism (1938)
2. Hofmannsthal’s Jewish Pantomime: Der Schüler (The Student, 1901)
Part 2: Hybrid Plots, Virtual Jews
3. How a Viennese Modernist Becomes a Jew: Beer-Hofmann’s Der Tod Georgs (The Death of Georg, 1900)
4. Anatomies of Failure: Jewish Tragicomedy in Schnitzler’s Der Weg ins Freie (The Road into the Open, 1908) and Professor Bernhardi (1912)
Part 3: Performing the Hebrew Bible
5. Mythic Memory Theater and the Problem of Jewish Orientalism in Hofmannsthal’s Ballet Josephslegende (Legend of Joseph, 1912)
6. The Forgotten Modernism of Biblical Drama: Beer-Hofmann’s Die Historie von König David (The History of King David, 1918–33)
The Origins of Viennese Jewish Modernism
If one were to ask him: “What is still Jewish about you, since you have abandoned all of these common characteristics of your race?” he would reply: “A great deal, and probably the principal thing [die Hauptsache].” But he could not now express this existential quality [dieses Wesentliche] clearly in words. It will no doubt later become accessible to the scholarly mind.
—Sigmund Freud, 1930
Another person need only defend his individuality—one of our own must first overcome the prejudice against Vienna, then that against Jewishness, and only then against himself. And it is the same with the Jew as with the Viennese: it is not simply the “others” who are against him, no; it is above all the Jew, the Viennese.
—Arthur Schnitzler, 1908
This book brings together of transmitting the past to the present; the development of European modernism; and the remarkable Jewish contribution to Viennese culture in the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries. The crucible within which these phenomena interact is Vienna, 1890–1938. An array of works by four intellectuals—Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), Arthur Schnitzler (1862–1931), Richard Beer-Hofmann (1866–1945), and Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874–1929)—exemplifies the cultural phenomenon I am calling Viennese Jewish modernism. The four would not likely have identified as Viennese Jewish modernists; most likely, all four were never in the same room together. Nevertheless, there is much to be learned by viewing them retrospectively as a circle unto themselves within Viennese modernism, itself a heterogeneous movement consisting of numerous intersecting cultural spheres and diverse trends.
The idea that “the whole structure of avant-garde culture in Vienna can be pictured as a series of intersecting ‘circles’” has become a topos in the historiography of turn-of-the-century Vienna. In many cases, the circles denote actual institutions, such as the Secession, established by a group of artists in 1897 under the leadership of Gustav Klimt, or the Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshops), which Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser opened in 1903. Vienna has always been famous for its coffeehouse cliques; less well known are the salons, such as the one organized by the Jewish journalist and salonière Bertha Zuckerkandl, which played a critical role in mobilizing the Austrian avant-garde. In the aftermath of World War I, the circles proliferated. Arnold Schoenberg founded the Society for Private Musical Performances in 1918, and the group of logical positivist philosophers that formed around Moritz van Schlick and met weekly between 1922 and 1936 became known as the Wiener Kreis (Vienna Circle).
Two circles are most relevant for our purposes. Schnitzler, Beer-Hofmann, and Hofmannsthal were central members of the most important literary association in turn-of-the-century Vienna, Jung Wien (Young Vienna), whose publications date from 1887 to 1902. Hermann Bahr (1863–1934), a critic, editor, and writer, was the spokesperson for this informal circle of writers and journalists that met in the Café Griensteidl and that oriented itself toward French literary modes and against naturalism, which was the dominant mode in Germany at the time. Hofmannsthal, a sixteen-year-old student who published under the name Loris, was introduced to the group late in 1890. Schnitzler, twelve years his senior, had already begun to publish in literary periodicals; his first recorded impressions of Hofmannsthal were of a “significant talent . . . authentic artistry, unheard of for his age.” Beer-Hofmann, a thirty-four-year-old newly minted lawyer, also joined in 1890, and it was due to his friends’ encouragement that he began to write creatively the following year. Other members included Felix Salten, Peter Altenberg, Gustav Schwarzkopf, and, for a brief time, Karl Kraus and Theodor Herzl.
In same years in which the literati of Young Vienna were establishing their reputations, another circle was forming: that of Sigmund Freud and the psychoanalytic movement. Here, too, French influence played a key role, as Freud’s experience studying with Charcot in Paris in 1885–86 was a turning point in his shift from physiognomy to psychology. A number of Freud’s foundational texts were written during these years, including the “Project for a Scientific Psychology” (1895), in which Freud elaborated his theory of memory; Studies on Hysteria (1896) together with Josef Breuer; and The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), containing the first description of the topological model of the mind. In 1902, the year Freud was appointed to the University of Vienna, the Mittwoch-Gesellschaft (Wednesday Society) began meeting every Wednesday evening in Professor Freud’s home to discuss his ideas and discoveries. In 1908, this circle became the Viennese Association of Psychoanalysis.
Viennese Jewish modernism connotes more than the intersection of these two historical circles, one literary, the other psychoanalytic; it describes the intersection of long-standing intellectual commitments of four creative minds. One can begin by noting the biographical commonalities. All four writers belonged to a generation of middle-class Austrians who were raised on the liberal humanism of the nineteenth century and who assimilated not so much into Austrian society as into German culture exemplified by Lessing, Goethe, and Schiller. They attended Gymnasium, which was a prerequisite for university attendance, and were trained in professions in which Jews predominated: medicine (Freud and Schnitzler), law (Beer-Hofmann), and scholarship (Hofmannsthal). They departed from these professions early on to become intellectual and artistic innovators. As literary artists, and in the case of Freud, as a scientist of the psyche, they sought to remain true to the enlightened, humanist vision, even as their society succumbed to political fanaticism and anti-Semitism in the 1880s and after. All four were of Jewish descent, their lives and careers a testimony to the “blessing of assimilation,” but also to the sociological position that has come to be known as integrationism: their families were among the “Jews who were committed to the future of Jewish life and faith in the Diaspora but who rejected or dissented from the Zionist movement.” Lastly, all wrestled indirectly with the meaning of their Jewish heritage, in ways not recognizably Jewish and sometimes even anti-Jewish. Beer-Hofmann’s Der Tod Georgs, for example, tells a story about the Jewish awakening of a classic Viennese aesthete, but fails to make explicit reference to Judaism. Sigmund Freud’s Moses and Monotheism was read as a betrayal of Jewish interests; by a similar logic, the Nazis thought that Arthur Schnitzler’s most Jewish work, Der Weg ins Freie (The Road into the Open), was really an anti-Jewish novel, and they designated it the only book of his not fit for burning. Hofmannsthal never identified as a Jew; yet, in turn-of-the-century Vienna, his invisible Jewishness was all too discernible. When he and Max Reinhardt founded the Salzburg Festival in August 1920, they were attacked in the local Christian and pan-German papers as Jewish interlopers from Vienna invading an Aryan region. And in an entry on Hofmannsthal in the Jüdisches Lexicon of 1928, his lyric oeuvre was cited as depicting “the tragic situation of the modern cultural Jew [Kulturjude] who has lost his faith.”
Many other biographical affinities are pertinent. There are striking parallels in the medical training, early professional interests, and intellectual dispositions of Freud and Schnitzler. Hofmannsthal and Beer-Hofmann make a natural pair in that both viewed art as a prophetic calling; both began writing in shorter genres and turned later to large-scale theatrical productions that they believed would inspire national renewal—for Austrians, or for German-speaking Jewry. Schnitzler and Hofmannsthal both died in their fifties, each having lived through the suicide of a child. Beer-Hofmann and Freud reached old age and died in exile—Freud in London in 1939, and Beer-Hofmann in New York in 1945.
As important as these factual commonalities is the evidence of profound intellectual and emotional connections among the writers. In 1906, Freud wrote to Schnitzler acknowledging that he had long been aware of the “wide-reaching correspondence [Übereinstimmung] that exists between your conceptions and mine of some psychological and erotic problems.” Freud later used the term Doppelgängerscheu (fear of encountering one’s double) to explain why he had avoided making the acquaintance of his neighbor Schnitzler until 1922. A similar ambivalence may have led Freud to wait until Beer-Hofmann’s seventieth birthday, in 1936, to write a letter praising the author’s work and noting the “many meaningful correspondences [Übereinstimmungen] between you and me.” There are equally important affinities with Hofmannsthal. In May 1911, Freud responded with great enthusiasm to a performance of König Ödipus (King Oedipus), most likely unaware that Hofmannsthal was the author of this psychoanalytically oriented adaptation of Sophocles’ play. The most direct link to Hofmannsthal was by way of the drama Elektra, performed in Vienna in May 1905, to which Freud devoted a special meeting of the Wednesday Society on May 24, 1905. The play had been criticized in the press for its fashionable infusion of modern psychology (mainly the theories of hysteria and sublimation) into ancient forms. Though we don’t know what was said at the gathering, it has been suggested that the drama and the conversations it provoked influenced Freud’s decision to distance himself from the “Electra complex,” as Carl Jung called it, in subsequent years.
Hofmannsthal experienced something like Doppelgängerscheu when his two friends, Schnitzler and Beer-Hofmann, published works related to Jewish themes; in each case his negative reactions led to a breach in the friendship, after which Hofmannsthal attempted to downplay or retract his response.
The positive exchanges among the four writers also provide food for thought. In 1905, Beer-Hofmann dedicated a poem, “Der einsame Weg” (The Lonely Road), to Schnitzler. The poem, on a topic of intense mutual interest, loneliness, and its title a citation from Schnitzler’s drama of the same name, was reprinted in the Jewish journal Menorah on the occasion of Schnitzler’s death. The second of three “Vienna Letters” Hofmannsthal wrote for the American magazine the Dial (1922) contains a profound and detailed tribute to “Dr. Freud” as the central intellectual of Vienna, its “genius loci.” “Vienna is the city of European music,” wrote Hofmannsthal, “it is the porta Orientis [gate to the East] also for that mysterious Orient, the realm of the unconscious. Dr. Freud’s interpretations and hypotheses are the excursions of the conscious Zeitgeist along the coast of this realm.” Perhaps the most moving homage is found in a very early letter Hofmannsthal wrote to Beer-Hofmann (1897): “I will never . . . ask of myself to draw out, from the weave of my being, the strains that you give me: everything would then fall apart. I know for certain that I am indebted to no one as much as to you.” These intimate exchanges begin to capture the range of interconnections, spoken and unspoken, known and unknown, among these four individuals.
The inclusion of Hofmannsthal and Freud in a quartet of Jewish modernists requires further explanation. Hofmannsthal, after all, was raised a Christian. The case for his inclusion here is not in the first place his Jewish ancestry, but rather the fact that this preeminent modernist poet was an artist of memory par excellence; the arc of his career reveals how a fascination with memory (personal, cultural, national) shapes a writer’s artistic development. I hope to demonstrate that it is in their treatment of memory and identity that the two works discussed in this book, a Jewish pantomime and biblical ballet, are surprisingly consistent with the compositions of his contemporaries. Hofmannsthal’s life has long supplied a master narrative for understanding the epoch of Austrian cultural history that spanned his lifetime; these forgotten works comprise an untold chapter in that narrative.
Freud, whose personal artistic tastes were Victorian and who ignored much of the avant-garde art scene, would have been the least likely of the four to affiliate with something called Viennese Jewish modernism. Yet he is a central member of this group, the one who thought through the problem of cultural memory at its most fundamental level, as a problem of human memory. Two of Freud’s theories about human memory are of vital importance to this study. The first premise was articulated in the letter to Wilhelm Fliess of December 6, 1896, and later developed in The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), The Unconscious (1915), Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), and “A Note on the Mystic Writing Pad” (1925). I refer to the notion that the conscious mind “is without the capacity to retain modifications and is thus without memory,” as Freud writes in chapter 7 of The Interpretation of Dreams. “On the other hand, our memories—not excepting those which are most deeply stamped on our minds—are in themselves unconscious. They can be made conscious; but there is no doubt that they can produce all their effects while in an unconscious condition. What we describe as our ‘character’ is based on the memory traces of our impressions; and, moreover, the impressions which have had the greatest effect on us—those of our earliest youth—are precisely the ones which scarcely ever become conscious” (SE, 5:539–40; SA, 2:516). The second fundamental idea has to do with structure of the memory apparatus itself. As Freud wrote to Fliess: “As you know, I am working on the assumption that our psychic mechanism has come into being by a process of stratification: the material present in the form of memory traces being subjected from time to time to a rearrangement in accordance with fresh circumstances—to a retranscription. Thus what is essentially new about my theory is the thesis that memory is present not once, but several times over [nicht einfach, sondern mehrfach]” (emphasis in original).
Though the model of memory becomes more sophisticated over the years, the basic assumptions remain. Our most potent, formative memories may never have entered consciousness. Those memories that we are able to retrieve are not fixed entities, akin to mental photographs. Memories are stored as traces or transcriptions in several layers of the mind. Over time, the memories move from more primitive to more advanced strata, and ultimately into language; repression is tantamount to the conscious mind’s refusal to put memories into words. In the course of a lifetime, the process should occur automatically: the registrations or memory traces are “rearranged,” “retranscribed,” translated in later strata, as our understanding of our past develops and memories acquire different significance. When such a development would generate unpleasure, and a memory is repressed rather than translated, the result is what Freud calls “survivals” or anachronisms. Rather than enter the more advanced strata, the uncomfortable memories emerge in pictorial form in dreams, or they take the form of a neurotic or psychotic symptom. Freud later applies the term fixation to describe a relationship or attachment that persists in a primitive form, dictated by the rules of an immature self. The fact that even in healthy recollection the memory traces enter language only at a relatively “late stage” (only once they have become accessible to the preconscious mind) means that knowing our memories, expressing them “clearly in words,” is no simple achievement. Thus, psychoanalysis is committed to overcoming fixation and repression and to the pursuit of the most effective means of knowing the forgotten past, without which healthy existence is impossible. In sum: just as the Freudian self possesses no single, monolithic past—an idea memorably explicated by Jacques Derrida—so are human forms of memory destined to be stratified, complex, hybrid: not once, but many times over.
These insights into memory are everywhere at play in the literary texts under discussion. There is one further sense in which Freud is relevant, and that is as a writer of cultural history whose compositional practices are similar to those of his three literary counterparts. In this book I wish to consider these affinities on a number of levels—as a shared concern with memory, as a shared wrestling with Jewish identification and Jewish sources, and as a shared practice of writers seeking to create new genres of cultural memory.
The argument of this book can be summed up in two points. First, Viennese Jewish modernism is a literary-historical construct that attempts to make sense of modernist experiments that link Jewish Vienna to European modernism. Most of the works under discussion here have been marginalized in one way or another, forgotten or branded as flawed. Taken together, they represent a variant modernism that is remarkably coherent in its conceptual and compositional principles.
Secondly, I argue that the optic through which these principles come into view is the authors’ shared concern with memory. Writers of Jewish modernism sought to invent a Jewish countertradition through aesthetic means. The circumlocutions that mark Freud’s famous Hebrew preface are symptomatic of the fact that a generation of German and Austrian Jews born into bourgeois, largely assimilated families in the second half of the nineteenth century lacked immediate access to Jewish traditions. The religious practices of their grandparents were anachronistic; the watered-down customs of their parents were perceived as “souvenirs” from the past, to cite Franz Kafka; and new forms of engagement in Jewish culture were just being invented. History, which in the nineteenth century replaced religion as “the faith of fallen Jews,” had by the twentieth century lost its power to shape the collective understanding of the past.
That moment of history’s losing its power to mediate is the starting point for the writers of Jewish Vienna (and, arguably, for all of European modernism after Nietzsche). If today, as Harold Bloom writes, “literature and ideology compete to occupy the abyss that Jewish memory has become,” so too was this the case a century ago. Theodor Herzl, the founder of political Zionism; Gershom Scholem, the German Jewish scholar who pioneered the scholarly study of Jewish mysticism, and Martin Buber, founder of neo-Hasidism, were the central “revisionists of Jewish culture and thought” in the German-speaking domain, but the term is equally pertinent in the case of four individuals whose approach to Jewish culture placed them, in many respects, on the margins of Jewish society. They too found it necessary to resist the scholarly and artistic traditions that were their inheritance, and also to retranscribe, as it were, the formative episodes of the preeminent archive of Jewish memory, the Hebrew Bible. Their works render a fin de siècle modernism, backward-looking yet highly experimental.
Viennese Jewish Modernism and the Quest for Form
The first epigraph to this introduction highlights the challenge that will be the central focus of this study, namely the search for a language in which to express those existential truths about the self, the collective, and the shared past.
My understanding of this quest for form in the Viennese milieu has been shaped in part by recent debates about collective remembrance in the United States and Europe in response to the Shoah, the collapse of Communism, German reunification, and 9/11. Although the late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century preoccupations with memory differ in important ways from the preoccupations of a century ago, clear similarities exist between the discourses of collective memory now and then. Then as now, the experimental strategies of artists who have been charged with the task of commemoration run afoul of the expectations of the public. In the United States, in the last several years, two trends appear dominant: a minimalist aesthetic on the one hand, and a desire for individual commemoration on the other. The commitment to personal testimony and the individual story is exemplified by the Names Project AIDS Quilt and by Holocaust video archives. Yet when it comes to memorial architecture, the preference is for abstract structures and countermonuments. The feat of the most popular American monument of the late twentieth century, Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial, is that it managed to combine intimacy and abstraction. Lin’s ability to balance tradition and experimentation has inspired many, but the consensus is that that her memorial remains in a class of its own. As I write this introduction, the design for yet another countermonument has begun to take root in the American national consciousness. In Michael Arad and Peter Walker’s plan for the World Trade Center memorial, Reflecting Absence, negativity—the experience of loss symbolized by the “footprints” of the towers—predominates. Yet the counterpressure of a more traditional insistence upon figural representation, heroism, and continuity with the great nationalist monuments of the past remains strong. The fact that the memorial will include the names of every victim of 9/11 has not preempted the critique that the design lacks warmth, humanity, and “images of valor” such as one finds at the National Iwo Jima Memorial Monument. Minimalist memory by nature frustrates those who seek a face-to-face encounter with the past, presence rather than absence, and an overwhelming evocation of national tragedy. The stakes could not be higher, and it remains to be seen whether Reflecting Absence will acquire the status of Maya Lin’s “modern minimalist sublime.”
A more pertinent example of the quest for form can be found in present-day Austria. While researching this book in Vienna in 2001, I was struck by the ways in which contemporary initiatives to memorialize the Austrian Jewish past replicate the strategies of a group of writers who devised new forms of Jewish expression in Vienna one hundred years earlier. The willed marginality I had noticed in the writers of Vienna 1900—their aversion to heroes, and their reliance upon mixed genres and experimental forms that were bound to frustrate audience expectations—seemed to be replayed in the most important efforts of the City of Vienna to come to terms with its Jewish past.
The reopening in 1994 of the Jewish Museum of Vienna (closed in 1938) in a mansion just a few steps outside the City Center was a milestone event. The museum’s signature installation is the Historical Exhibit on the third floor. This installation is designed in such a way that every visitor must experience Austrian Jewish history as a work in progress, or, to paraphrase Freud, as a past not yet accessible. The interior of this gallery is bare, except for twenty-one glass panels arranged in an open square formation (fig. 4). Each panel contains a hologram reflecting either a period or a theme from Austrian Jewish history. One is called Out of the Ghetto, another Enlightenment, and so on through a series of simulacra shimmering magically before the viewer’s eyes: Loyalty and Patriotism, Assimilation, From Historicism to Modernity, From Charity to the Social State, Zionism. The images themselves, glowing in psychedelic red, yellow, and green, range from the familiar to the curious to the outright provocative: synagogues, Jewish ritual objects, the Ferris wheel in the Prater and other Jewish technological inventions, portrayals of Theodor Herzl, silver designed by Josef Hoffmann with a swastika motif, a bed quilt sewn by Empress Maria Theresa’s Jewish seamstress, film canisters of Some Like it Hot (Billy Wilder was an Austrian émigré), yellow fabric imprinted with the black Judensterne. The fourteenth panel, titled Fin de Siècle, is overcrowded with traces of many luminaries: a pair of glasses (belonging to writer Karl Kraus), a podium light (used by composer/conductor Gustav Mahler), a playing-card case (designed by artist/composer Arnold Schoenberg), and other equally unexpected relics of poet Peter Altenberg, graphic artist Bertholde Löffler, theater director Max Reinhardt, architect Friedrich Kiesler, and, of course, Schnitzler and Freud. In this panel in particular, the installation’s reliance on pars pro toto is most unsatisfying.
Why permit a museum charged with retrieving the rich and largely ignored history of Austrian Jewry to adopt the most fleeting of media to do so? No doubt holograms, like other high-tech virtual media, are becoming ever more common in contemporary exhibitions—a symptom of the contemporary predilection for virtuality, interactive exhibits, and fabricated heritages. The choice of an avant-garde form challenges the stereotype of Jewishness as unaesthetic, bookish, and associated with victimhood. But does it succeed as an ars memoria? The exhibit effectively renders Austrian Jewish history by denying the priorities of history itself—continuity, chronology, objectivity, and completeness. Holograms simulate haphazard recollection and subjective perception just as if these were empirically given on a somehow equal basis with the object of representation. As such, they offer more than a nod toward avant-garde museology. They are intended as a provocation, above all, to the Austrian state’s new Jewish agenda. After so many decades of exclusion from the public sphere, the argument goes, and in light of the ongoing exclusion of Jewish history from the dominant narratives of Austrian history, suddenly to adopt a monumental stance toward Austrian Jewish heritage would be inappropriate, even offensive. But this kind of highly coded political statement comes at the cost of the museum’s pedagogical mandate, not to mention the responsibility to do justice to a history that, for its victims at least, was anything but virtual. Holographic works do not so much remind their viewers or readers of what they have forgotten as stage an existential dilemma regarding the possibility of memory itself. This particular agenda is coyly alluded to in a declaration on the museum’s Web site: “‘Memory’ is present on all four floors of the Jewish Museum Vienna. It is a key to Jewish culture and permeates the Museum right down to the smallest detail.”
Holograms are aesthetic constructs. In that sense, they are a good example of what is meant by a “genre” throughout this book. Like the makers of holograms, Viennese Jewish modernists deployed their aesthetic constructs to recombine history and memory in specific ways for specific purposes. They too were engaged in a fragmentation of the stable image of the past. They were allergic to the representation of heroes and shunned the type of political response represented by Zionism; instead, they refracted their consciousness of the Jewish question through fictions that undercut easy appropriation by one side or another. The risks they took are preserved in the negative reception each received, a point to which I shall return frequently in the following chapters. In these experiments it is unclear whether Jewish memory is preserved or thwarted: Hofmannsthal’s pantomime started out with a Jewish cast, until the author expunged the Yiddish names; Professor Bernhardi, the hero of Schnitzler’s Jewish drama, is Jewish in name only. With the notable exception of Beer-Hofmann’s biblical trilogy, we find a concern more with the staging of Jewish memory than with the content of the Jewish past. It is this performance of memory as an aesthetic and political problem that will be the constant focus of the present study. Like a hologram, Jewish memory remains simultaneously present and absent in Vienna today: now you see it, now you don’t. But such was also the case with Viennese Jews themselves over one hundred years ago, struggling over the meaning of their Jewish identity in a hostile environment. Then as now, it fell to the intellectual imagination to complicate the notion of seeing Jewishness, and to invent new forms of Jewish expression. The writers I discuss did not have lasers, but they did have a panoply of new and traditional forms of prose, drama, music, and dance that they combined and transformed in a spirit of vital experimentation.
Modernism and Memory
It is my contention throughout this book that the quest for a usable past among Viennese modernists between roughly 1890 and 1938 intersects with the quest for answerable forms of recollection as a trans-European problem. The broad claim that modernism deploys memory against modernity has been understood in various ways. The focus on memory in philosophy, the social sciences, and aesthetics—one thinks of Friedrich Nietzsche, Henri Bergson, Maurice Halbwachs, Ernst Mach, William James, even Otto Weininger—was a reaction against the atrophying or rejection of traditional memory channels that, in earlier periods, had been grounded more solidly in social and religious forms. In the late nineteenth century, artists and intellectuals began to conceptualize memory as a means of restructuring the psyche to retrieve functions of personal memory as compensation for that which a mechanized and atomized society no longer guaranteed. A second motive was the disenchantment with history. German modernists were particularly influenced by the critique of history as Wissenschaft (scholarship, science) advanced in Friedrich Nietzsche’s “Vom Nutzen und Nachteile der Historie für das Leben” (On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life, 1874). One of Hofmannsthal’s most angry poems, “Gedankenspuk” (Simulacrum, 1890), bears an epigraph from Nietzsche: “Könnten wir die Historie loswerden” (If only we could be rid of history). These were years in which, as Hayden White has shown, hostility to history was widespread among early twentieth-century European intellectuals and artists, including Ibsen and Broch, Gide and Canetti, Camus and Sartre.
Apart from these redemptive or compensatory aspects, the modernist turn to the past is a fundamentally ambivalent enterprise. Pierre Nora’s characterization of the late nineteenth century as an age between memory (sacred, affective, living, magical) and history (secular, critical, reconstructive, prosaic) provides a framework within which to understand the modernist quest for the right forms of memory. The tension as the modern artist experienced it comes into sharp focus as the psychological predicament of those whom Nora called “memory-individuals,” upon whom the onus of recollection falls once collective forms of memory have disintegrated. Memory individuals are solitary creatures, whose failure to sustain interpersonal connection is often a metaphor for their struggle to connect to the living past. They struggle in vain to anchor the significant moments in life—that which occurs naturally and spontaneously within a ritual community—by way of private strategies. An existential predicament results: the burden of recollection overwhelms them, estranging them from life in the present. At this point, they want only liberation from the past, even as they still crave the past. Memory individuals thus suffer paradoxically from too little and too much memory at the same time, a psychological conflict that (as I shall show) helps explain turn-of-the-century maladies such as aestheticism, the crisis of language, and epigonism.
While modernists initially turn to tradition to seek a refuge from the present, they soon find that this recourse has become obsolete. An archetypal moment in the Viennese milieu occurs when Anatol, Arthur Schnitzler’s early dramatic hero (1893), declares, “I am searching for a sanctuary [Asyl] for my past.” What Anatol has in mind is some place to store the accumulated mementoes of his erotic adventures. By the play’s end, Schnitzler makes it patently clear that the refuge Anatol seeks is not for his past, but from his past, and the difference is decisive. The fact that even the most amnesiac of Viennese aesthetes proves unable to leave the past behind is indicative of memory’s new unpredictability—an experience Proust called mémoire involuntaire and Hofmannsthal likened to a bird’s mysterious return to the dovecote. For the modern past is nowhere and everywhere; it “persists in germ cells and muscle tissue, dreams and neuroses, retentions and involuntary memories, guilt and ghosts.” In addition to trying to solve the conundrum of how to write in a virulently anti-Semitic culture, Freud, Beer-Hofmann, Schnitzler, and Hofmannsthal also testify to the tragic realization that “rather than being subject to our recapture, the past in fact malignantly captures us.” As a result, modernist mnemotechnics, the holograms of early twentieth-century Europe, tend to be ambiguous and provisional and, in this respect, “more an outgrowth of a dystopian modernity than its antidote.”
This book draws out the ramifications of these developments for the artist. The classical and medieval artes memoriae were thought to be “the auxiliary and assistant of natural memory,” that which “comes solely from the gift of nature, without aid of any artifice.” Modernists have lost confidence in natural memory, in the rational mind and its myriad discourses—Freud’s “klare Worte.” “As though words could carry memories,” writes the eighteen-year-old Franz Kafka in his friend Selma Kohn’s album. “For words are clumsy mountaineers and clumsy miners. Not for them to bring down treasures from the mountains’ peaks, or up from the mountains’ bowels. . . . But there is a living mindfulness that has passed gently, like a stroking hand, over everything memorable. And when the flame shoots up out of these ashes, hot and glowing, strong and mighty, and you stare into it as though spellbound by its magic, then—” In lieu of words, a sudden, spellbinding flame, then silence; in the absence of “history, community, tradition, the past, reflection and authenticity,” the twentieth-century audience must contend with “fantasy, subjectivity, invention, the present, representation and fabrication.” The turn to the imagination is not in itself modern; Aristotle, in De Anima, wrote that when it comes to memory, “imagination is the intermediary between perception and thought,” and Freud’s discussions of the artistic imagination arrive at the identical conclusion. The holographic character of the literary works under discussion evokes this sense of an intermediary zone in which the writer transmits the past in a mischievous way, by defying legacies and refashioning traditions.
The most powerful turn-of-the-century analogy to this aesthetic experience may be found in the domain of psychoanalytic technique. Freud’s description of the transferential situation repeats the same pattern, only now in clinical terms. As he documents in the paper “Erinnern, Wiederholen und Durcharbeiten” (Recollection, Repetition, Working Through, 1914), Freud came to believe that reenacting the past through transference, in the present tense, was more effective than verbal recollection in transforming a patient’s unhealthy “compulsion to repeat” into a “motive for remembering.” Above all, the therapeutic reenactment brings the patient’s resistances into clear view:
We render [the compulsion to repeat] harmless, and even make use of it, by according it the right to assert itself within certain limits. We admit it into the transference as to a playground [Tummelplatz] in which it is allowed to let itself go in almost complete freedom and is required to display before us all the pathogenic impulses hidden in the depths of the patient’s mind. . . . The transference thus forms a kind of intermediary realm [Zwischenreich] between illness and real life, through which the journey [Übergang] from the one to the other must be made.
The work of art was, for the backward-looking modernist, a playground in which characters (in the case of Der Tod Georgs), an author (in the case of Hofmannsthal’s pantomime Der Schüler), or an audience (in the case of the ballet Josephslegende) could make the journey from amnesia to self-knowledge.
Jewish Memory, Past and Present
Scholars in recent years have begun to view genres of memory, tradition, and history as vital sources of information about Jewish society. Any attempt to understand the modern Jewish preoccupation with memory must consider that, from a certain perspective, “‘memory’ per se was not even an operable category” in premodern Jewish society. As David Roskies has written,
Once upon a time, everything a Jew needed to know about the world was locatable in the Universal Jewish Encyclopedia known as Mikra’ot gedolot [the Rabbinic Bible]. The deep past, covenantal, codified at Sinai, was laid out in the Torah, Prophets and Writings; the surrounding commentaries provided the update. For greater convenience and affordability, the entire usable past was anthologized in the Five Books of Moses, the Five Scrolls, the Sabbath and Festival prayer books. . . . Local events were recorded in the communal pinkas [notebook]. Most of their contents were known by heart, through constant recital.
Traditional Jews mastered the shocks of history by “the restoration or recycling of memories already there; disassembling the present in terms of the eternal past.” To visualize such a process, one need think only of the Passover seder, the “quintessential exercise in Jewish group memory,” as it integrates song, liturgy, Torah, rabbinic texts, body language, and food and drink into a ritual widely observed even among secular Jews.
It is beyond the scope of this introduction to trace the genealogy of Jewish memory from its role in biblical and liturgical texts to the ritual mnemonics developed in the medieval period and beyond. The specifically modern quest for a usable Jewish past—a past through which one might refract the challenges of modernity—began in the eighteenth century, with the Jewish Enlightenment or Haskala and the rise of Hasidic Judaism in Eastern Europe. As part of a complex pedagogical agenda, the Haskala promoted a return to the Hebrew language and the Hebrew Bible, both of which would form the linguistic and philosophical basis of an authentically Jewish national culture. In the nineteenth century, Wissenschaft became the new ideal, and with it, the Jewish turn to historical research; historical fiction soon became the predominant literary genre of Jewish high culture. In the Hasidic world, by contrast, oral tales and wordless songs became the preferred genres of transmission. By the end of the nineteenth century, the quest for viable forms of Jewish memory intensified with the struggle between nationalistic and internationalistic solutions to the predicament of modern Jewish identity.
In the early twentieth century, the one who bridged the responses of Jewish religious culture and secular, literary society was himself an Austrian Jew, the philosopher Martin Buber (1878–1965). Of his many activities, the enterprise most relevant to this book is his attempt to create a German Jewish renaissance: a spiritual revitalization of Jewish life in the Diaspora. Buber drew the term renaissance from fourteenth-century Italy, from the writings of the most important nineteenth-century historian of the period, Jakob Burckhardt, as well as from Nietzsche and the turn-of-the-century renaissancism. For Buber, the concept of a renaissance entailed “not the rejection of tradition but its resuscitation or respiritualization.” In this respect, Buber and his collaborator, the philosopher Franz Rosenzweig (1886–1929), broke with the nineteenth-century modernizers such as Leopold Zunz and the Verein für Cultur und Wissenschaft der Juden (Union for the Culture and Science of the Jews) and Ludwig Philippson, pioneer of liberal Judaism, who viewed themselves as “reformers” of and within the historical continuum. “By renewal,” wrote Buber in 1909, “I don’t mean anything gradual, an accumulation of small changes, but something sudden and awesome; not continuation and improvement, but return and revolution.” In what is perhaps his most strident statement of purpose, Buber avowed: “I shall try to extricate the unique character of Jewish religiosity from the rubble with which rabbinism and rationalism have covered it.” Like his secular Viennese counterparts, he reacted against the recent past in the name of a return to subterranean currents in the distant past, and his example played a defining role in the careers of Hofmannsthal and Beer-Hofmann.
Indeed, the central proponents of Jewish modernism were no less conflicted when it came to Jewish memory than their European modernist counterparts. The modernist tradition in Yiddish and Hebrew, with its emphasis on intertextuality as the dominant mode, is always already both backwards- and forwards looking. Like the Austrians, for whom Enlightenment and modernization came relatively late, European Jews experienced the forces of Enlightenment, romanticism, modernism, political nationalism, and socialism in an exceedingly short period of time late in the nineteenth century. The first modern Hebrew and Yiddish writers, such as Chaim Nachman Bialik (1873–1934) and I. L. Peretz (1852–1915), were relentless advocates of modernization, though their work reckons everywhere with the attendant social and spiritual crises facing modern Jewry.
An unusually graphic description of the problem of memory appears in the preface to the autobiography of S. Y. Abramovitch (1835–1917), the Hebrew and Yiddish writer more popularly known by his pen name, Mendele the Book Peddler:
For some time now my pen has been trapped motionless between two contradictory opinions, like Muhammad’s coffin which is said to be suspended between two magnets. While the one strives to attract it toward the past, the other tries to attract it toward what is happening now in our own time. These two forces are bickering within me like two shopkeepers that jump on the same customer and deprecate each other’s merchandise. One says: “God save us from the new merchandise and the baubles that are now fashionable among Jews! Nothing that you see here is genuine. It’s all a fraud: silver-plated clay, an empty shell; mascara, rouge, and jewels on the outside, filth, dirt, and muck on the inside. Nothing is authentic, nothing has any character of its own; everything is crude, like those dolls that seem to open their lips, beat a drum, blow a horn, sound a cymbal, and squeak, but only thanks to the key that wound up their spring. Forget them: here you have fine antiques, every one the work of our ancestors, and each with its own authentic value. . . .” The other one shouts: “Come to me! Look at my merchandise—what do you want with outmoded things from an age that is dead and gone? Do you think you’re some kind of medium who can raise the dead? That’s exactly why we are in so much trouble now: Jews are oblivious to the present; they attend only to the past.”
The almost sixty-year-old Abramovitch, writing in 1894, faced the identical quandary as did the writers of Jung Wien. Does the past offer fine antiques or outdated merchandise? Is the “modern” nothing more than a simulacrum, mascara and “silver-plated clay”? And what of a condition in which both options sound like the bickering of shopkeepers vying for the writer’s attention? Abramovitch’s trapped pen must be placed in its textual and biographical contexts. The nostalgia that prompted him to take up the form of autobiography set in only at the twilight of a long and defiant career as an arch-satirist. In a stunning gesture, the preface cited above depicts a charged confrontation between the writer Abramovitch and his own pseudonymous persona, Mendele the Book Peddler. It is of relevance to the methodological approach undertaken here that Mendele-Abramovitch’s response to the bickering within his head takes the form of a generic hybrid: fictional autobiography.
In sum: if the Bible made Jews into a “people of the Book,” and the people of memory par excellence, the Jewish modernist—following Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai—declares, “I want to confuse the Bible.” This genealogy supplies the second framework for understanding Jewish modernism in turn-of-the-century Vienna.
Vienna 1900, Memory Site
I wish also to engage certain scholarly disputes as to the character of Viennese modernism. Narrowly defined, die Wiener Moderne was an avant-garde, cosmopolitan movement that peaked in the years 1890–1910, at the core of which were revolutionary changes in philosophy, plastic and visual arts, literature, and music. Representations of Viennese modernism tend to emphasize discontinuity with tradition perpetrated by crises of subjectivity and language, by Machian neoempiricism, and by other political, sociological and philosophical forces. Certainly, this account captures part of the story. In his famous essay “Die Moderne” (1890), Hermann Bahr urged readers to “shake off the rotten past,” to “open the windows,” and above all to “be present.” In Bahr’s memorable formulation: “The past was great, often lovely. We want to dedicate somber funeral orations to it. But when the king is buried, long live the other king.” In line with this rejection of the past, artistic trends such as aestheticism, symbolism, and Jugendstil (art nouveau) removed the individual subject from the temporal flow altogether and created an alternative existence under the sign of art and artifice. In so many texts of the period, characters are redeemed not by memory, but by privileging the present, through fictional enactments of Lebensphilosophie.
Much of the critical reception of Viennese Jewish modernism has been colored by the status of modernism as a cultural accolade for which German and Austrian writers competed. Whereas Bahr proclaimed the modernist accomplishment to be the “overcoming of naturalism,” critics from Germany such as Michael Georg Conrad and Ottokar Stauf von der March accused the Viennese writers of being tainted with the very heritage they claimed to transcend. Their belatedness was equated with “physical and psychic decadence” of the French variety. The historicism epitomized by the eclectic architecture of Vienna’s Ringstraße came to be seen as symptomatic of an epigonal age. As Jens Rieckmann argues, this critique was part and parcel of a broader anti-Austrian and anti-Semitic agenda, whereby “Young Vienna = ungerman = semitic = decadent.” Understandably, the consensus has been that due to the extreme prejudice against Austrians and Jews by the forerunners of German modernism (i.e., the naturalists), only those writers who separated themselves from their ethnic (Austrian and/or Jewish) origins could elevate themselves to the status of European modernists. To remain Jewish and also be modernist and Viennese would seem an insoluble conundrum.
The positive desire for the past in Austrian culture takes on great significance in the post–World War I period and tends be associated with nationalism, the theatrical mythmaking of Hofmannsthal’s late works, the nostalgia of Stefan Zweig’s The World of Yesterday, and Joseph Roth’s The Radetzky March. This kind of literary memory is normally elegiac, theatrical, baroque, and Catholic (especially when perpetrated by Jews). It is neither modernist nor modern, nor is there anything necessarily Jewish about it. Viennese modernism, in this scheme, is an international, nonreligious, nonaffective movement opposed to mythic thinking. Following the argument, the Jewish contribution is to be found in secular modernism on one hand and Zionism—a specifically Jewish movement—on the other. In the context of such schisms, it is not surprising that a modernism born of sensibilities that are at once liberal, Jewish, non-Zionist, and beholden to tradition falls through the cracks.
A number of recent books pave the way for a more integrated understanding of the period as characterized by what Thomas Kovach calls “traditionalist modernism.” Steven Scherer’s Richard Beer-Hofmann und die Wiener Moderne and Konstanze Fliedl’s Arthur Schnitzler: Poetik der Erinnerung interpret the oeuvres of Beer-Hofmann and Schnitzler as quintessentially modernist in their multifaceted philosophical responses to crises of memory and identity. Jacques Le Rider begins Modernity and Crises of Identity by noting that since modernization came late to Austria, “the modernist ‘front’ was less aggressive there than in other cultural centers. Viennese modernists recognized the authority of their precursors.” Le Rider describes a retrogressive strain within Viennese modernism that is skeptical, resigned, and almost postmodern in its “lack of confidence in modernity.” This backwards-looking modernism, in Steven Beller’s view, is fundamentally liberal, informed by the Enlightenment, and possessed of a “particularly healthy skepticism against the spellbinding power that modernity exerts upon us.” Viennese modernist writers were under assault both from more extreme modernist tendencies, such as symbolism, impressionism, and aestheticism, and from more conservative and reactionary responses, such as historicism, völkisch ideology, and organic memory, which wedded the desire for memory to nostalgic and nationalistic causes. Fending off these mutually antithetical trends tended to destabilize cultural production. The texts I discuss both beckon to the past and strive to keep the past at bay, a practice that in many cases leads to perceptions of failure, even as it holds the key (in my reading) to the specific challenge of a modernist poetics of recollection.
The Jewish Character of Viennese Modernism
I turn now to “the ‘Jewish Question’ about Viennese modernism.” Ernst Gombrich took an extreme position, arguing that the Viennese Jewish contribution to the arts was incidental. Stephen Beller’s research makes possible a more nuanced portrait by providing a wealth of documentation about the Viennese Jewish middle class. Beller concludes Vienna and the Jews, 1867–1938 with the assertion that although the Jews were only one force among many within the European avant-garde, “it was indeed its Jews which made Vienna what it was in the realm of modern culture”; this view is grounded in statistics regarding the education, training, and professional activities of leading cultural figures of Jewish descent. While all of these elements contribute to the picture, it is also true that biography has been known to malfunction in the reception of this period; indeed, many of these cultural figures rejected biographical narratives of identity. Schnitzler once declined an invitation to participate in a Jewish authors’ reading, claiming that there is no such thing as a Jewish author. In a similar vein, Matti Bunzl argues that scholars have been unable to perceive the important affinities between the Zionist visions of Beer-Hofmann and Herzl because they are fixated on the fact that Beer-Hofmann never considered moving to Palestine. And in the hologram Fin de Siècle in the Jewish Museum of Vienna, neither Hofmannsthal nor Beer-Hofmann is included, perhaps because Hofmannsthal did not regard himself as a Jewish writer and because Beer-Hofmann, an avowed Zionist, was too Jewish for this particular cluster.
In his analysis of the cultural codes built into the Salzburg Festival, Michael P. Steinberg asserts that the reification of Jewish culture is the “shared fallacy of philo-Semitic historiography and anti-Semitic historiography.” What he means is that contemporary approaches to the Jewish question tend to replicate the condition Schnitzler diagnosed, wherein “it is not simply the others who are against him, it is above all the Jews, the Viennese.” As Sander Gilman demonstrates, many writers resisted this condition by actively engaging the cultural semantics of race and gender. The challenge was, and remains, to allow the Jew to be seen as an individual, because even as anti-Semites view Jews as having any of a number of prescribed qualities, Jews view Jews in much the same way. Friends and foes alike participate in the same reification insofar as their arguments rely on a typing of the Jew.
In his preface to Rethinking Vienna 1900, Beller notes that political factors—the end of the Cold War, for example—have often determined how the Jewish aspect would be treated. An important recent development in the recuperation of the Jewish contribution to Viennese modernism was the reevaluation of Carl Schorske’s thesis that the failure of liberalism produced a disaffected bourgeois liberal elite that invented a modernism that was fundamentally irrational and escapist in kind. In Schorske’s influential study Fin-de-Siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture, Jewishness is primarily relevant to the case of Theodor Herzl; it plays no role in the interpretations of Hofmannsthal and Schnitzler, and only a minor role in the analysis of Freud. With the new understanding of Austrian liberalism put forth in the work of historians of the 1980s such as John Boyer, David Luft, and Peter Gay, as well as the publication of social and intellectual histories of Viennese Jews by Marsha Rozenblit, Robert Wistrich, and Ivar Oxaal, one can establish that the contribution of Jews and Austrians of Jewish descent was both predominant in modernism and continuous with the liberal tradition in significant ways. The question that remains to be asked is what exactly was Jewish about the modernism these Viennese Jews created.
Viennese Jewish Modernism: Genres of Memory
The following chapters offer readings of key works by Viennese Jewish modernists. The book is arranged into three parts, moving from early to late productions, from private to public genres, from theoretical paradigms to mythic enactments. I begin with Sigmund Freud, not in order to view works of literature through a Freudian perspective, but to relate Freud’s writings on culture to the larger phenomenon of Viennese Jewish modernism, of which he was himself a part. Freud’s Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of Childhood (1910), “The Moses of Michelangelo” (1914), and Moses and Monotheism (1938) extend psychoanalytic technique into the writing of cultural history. Two deal with art and artists; two are about Moses; and Moses and Monotheism is sui generis as Freud’s only “Jewish” book. Yet all three works relate to topics of central concern in this study; all, moreover, arise out of Freud’s desire to invent a new genre of cultural remembering by refuting the constructions passed down in scholarly and religious sources. In these essays, Freud repeats a single strategy: he takes a cultural icon and strips away the layers of his identity to reveal a multilayered character. Though Freud takes pains to respond to the scholarly treatments of his subjects, his primary purpose is not to correct the historical record. It is to commemorate heroes in a way that is superior to history, because true to the hero’s complexities and faults. Such commemoration is, at least in part, an imaginative enterprise, one best learned from artists. The holographic character of Viennese modernism—divided as to its heroes and hyperconscious about form—comes into sharp focus in Freud’s writing on culture and religion.
Of all the works under discussion here, Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s pantomime Der Schüler (1901), the subject of chapter 2, most vividly dramatizes the motives that gave rise to the Jewish modernist impulse in Vienna 1900: the desire of young writers, self-identified epigones, to resist the authority of the past, and the desperation of Viennese Jews to liberate themselves from the stereotyped Jewish body, as well as from a religion that had become nothing more than sterile mimicry or hypocritical posturing. The pantomime was first cast with Jewish characters, but their names were altered prior to publication. Suppressing his characters’ Jewish origins may be interpreted as an act of self-censorship, but it can also be viewed as a provocation to consider the Jewish characters as shadows of Faust, Electra, and others, and a Jewish pantomime as an experiment that belongs in the tradition of Mallarmé’s Mimique and the commedia dell’arte. A work as “minor” as Moses and Monotheism is “major,” Hofmannsthal’s pantomime, like the entire Freudian oeuvre, concerns the holographic staging of a forgotten past.
The works I discuss in Part 2 represent the most conscientious attempts by Beer-Hofmann and Schnitzler to rework conventional literary genres for the purposes of depicting contemporary Jewish affairs. Richard Beer-Hofmann’s novella Der Tod Georgs (1900) was composed over a transformative phase in the author’s personal and artistic development. This work poses a series of parallel questions. Can an individual’s perceptions, sensations, and memories be made to cohere into what Henri Bergson called “duration”? Can a modern consciousness governed by chance associations find its way back from aesthetic detachment to ancestral Judaism? And, because Beer Hofmann experienced all of these questions simultaneously as problems of form, can discontinuous episodes and lyrical images combine to form a credible prose narrative? This ambitious literary experiment, and above all the Jewish conversion with which it ends, challenged contemporary readers to envision a psychological and spiritual trajectory that was virtually unimaginable for Viennese Jews in 1900.
Though he devoted his first novel, Der Weg ins Freie (1908), to the crises facing Viennese Jewry, Schnitzler did not see it as his duty to provide the much-needed solutions. His method was to conjoin a Jewish roman à clef, including a cast of characters based on his own acquaintances, with the typical plot device of a German bildungsroman. Schnitzler himself admitted that his hybrid novel was less than successful in aesthetic terms. Critics at the time and since have tended to agree. His long-awaited Jewish novel failed to produce the expected Jewish hero, but it did produce an answer to the other Jewish question—the question of how to talk about the destiny of the Jews without lapsing into ideological platitudes.
Nor is the protagonist of Schnitzler’s second Jewish work, the drama Professor Bernhardi (1912), the kind of courageous leading man Schnitzler’s audience had hoped for in the novel. Under attack for offending the Catholic Church, Professor Bernhardi has no desire to become a “medical Dreyfus.” He does pride himself, however, on his excellent memory and unwavering humanism. But for the hero’s experience of discrimination, Jewishness would be incidental to his character. Most confounding is the fact that despite its ostensibly tragic theme, Schnitzler called the play a comedy. Chapter 4 identifies Jewish tragicomedy as the genre of these two controversial experiments in Jewish writing.
Part 3 follows the trajectory of Viennese Jewish modernism into large-scale theatrical endeavors that have been neglected by critics and ignored by scholars of German-speaking Jewry. Hofmannsthal’s ballet Josephslegende (1912), the subject of chapter 5, reveals that Hofmannsthal subscribed for a time to the premises of German-Jewish orientalism: the Orient represents the past that luckily still exists; modern Jews, even European ones, are Orientals; and the Jew can mediate Occident and Orient. As before, I am interested in explaining seemingly odd mixtures of cultural material: why is this focus on the orientalized Jew carried out through a ballet staged as pictorial scene? The title of this chapter, “mythic memory theater,” captures Hofmannsthal’s stated hope that an aesthetic rendering of the biblical story will foster an encounter between modern Europeans and their ‘Oriental’ roots—a belief central to his mature art of memory, and in particular, to his very next orientalist work, the opera Die Ägyptische Helena.
The final chapter concerns Beer-Hofmann’s Die Historie von König David (1918–33), an unfinished dramatic trilogy composed in verse. The two parts that were completed, Jaákobs Traum and Der junge David, are seldom interpreted as anything more than a courageous morale booster, a timely retrieval of Jewish national legacies bequeathed to the German Jewish world in an age of rising anti-Semitism. Only the first, the prologue to the trilogy, has ever been acted. Both Hofmannsthal and Schnitzler found the play too chauvinistic for their own tastes. Hovering indeterminately between public performance and private lyric, the Historie exemplifies the phenomenon of modern Jewish countermemory, a phrase coined by Michel Foucault and drawn from Nietzsche. Beer-Hofmann identifies a moment in Jewish history, the ambiguous and ambivalent period between the reigns of a decrepit Saul and a youthful David, for sustained dramatic attention. As holographic technique, countermemory enters in when the viewer is forced to reassess the received history of the Jews (monumental, nationalistic) through the prism of David’s struggle to achieve his rightful place in a time of decadence and political confusion. The fact that only Ruth, David’s Gentile ancestress, makes his heroism possible reaffirms the role of the outsider in determining the future of the Jews.three cultural phenomena usually described separately: the breakdown of traditional modes.
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