Monday, November 14, 2011

In short – it only confuses one. - Arthur Schnitzler seizes the day

And I thought Spring Awakening was sex-crazed!  Arthur Schnitzler’s Der Reigen (in the Carl Mueller version I read, La Ronde) is about nothing but.  Pairs of characters approach sex via dialogue and groping, engage (concealed by three small dots), and gather up their things.  One member of the pair advances to the next round, men and women alternating

In scene I, for example,  The Prostitute and The Soldier dally under a Viennese bridge, and then in scene II The Soldier seduces The Parlor Maid, who subsequently topples upon The Young Gentleman, who is up to no good with The Young Wife, and on like this to scene X, when The Count is surprised to find himself with The Prostitute of scene I.

What a director does with the actual sex, hidden by Schnitzler, I do not know.  Kill the lights for three seconds, perhaps.  These days, probably not.

The scenes, and lines, expand as the play proceeds.  The Prostitute is efficient with her Soldier:

PROSTITUTE:  Shh!  Police.  Imagine.  The middle of Vienna.
SOLDIER:  Over here.  Come on.
PROSTITUTE:  Watch it.  You want to fall in the water!
SOLDIER:  (Takes hold of her.)  You little –
PROSTITUTE:  Hold tight.
SOLDIER:  Don’t worry.
[Now, the modest dots]
PROSTITUTE:  We should’ve used the bench.
SOLDIER:  Who cares.  Get up.

And then just a few more lines finish this indecorous scene.  Later seducers have to work harder, and philosophize more:

COUNT:  But there’s no such thing as happiness.  The things people talk about most don’t really exist.  Love, for example.  It’s the same with happiness.
ACTRESS:  You’re right.
COUNT:  Pleasure.  Intoxication.  Fine.  No complaints.  You can depend on them.  If I take pleasure in something, fine, at least I know I take pleasure in it.  Or if I feel intoxicated.  Wonderful.  That’s something you can depend on, too.  And when it’s over – well, then, it’s over.
ACTRESS: (Grandly.)  Over!
COUNT:  But as soon as you fail to live for the moment, and begin thinking about the future or the past – well then, the pleasure’s as good as dead.  The future is – sad – the past uncertain.  In short – it only confuses one.
ACTRESS: (nods, her eyes large with wonder.)  I think you may have hit on something there.

That (Grandly) direction is pretty good.  I would not want to argue strongly for the author’s view.  Everyone gets his say, or hers, and everyone is undercut.  The most common refrain is to seize the day, but the context is always pathetic, or ridiculous.  The day, however, is always seized, in some crude sense, which may well be better than the alternative.  The ennobled lemurs are doing what they can.

Austrian literature, concentrated in turn of the century Vienna, was the leading alternative to the Portuguese Literary Challenge.  Maybe next time.


  1. Someone commented on my sex scene entry with a plug for Hervé le Tellier's Sextine Chapel; obviously the idea is not a new one.

    You're right, I love the "Grandly" direction, and the fact that she's just parroting his phrase but doing it so histrionically.

  2. Yes, The Actress is good. Three more lines, in succession, from The Actress:

    "You're the most insane man I've ever met."
    "God, you're sweet."
    "Tell me how you see it."

    All of this is before the sex.

    It is a promising and flexible idea, La Ronde - I see how later writers would create all sorts of combinations.

  3. There's a wonderful film version of La Ronde by Max Ophüls. I'm pretty they just had sex off-camera, but I probably need to see it again.

  4. A week or two ago, I called La Ronde S.'s most famous play, and I realize that I am basing that claim on nothing but the existence of the Ophuls movie, which I have not seen. Looking over a list of his films, it seems I have never seen an Ophuls movie. A gap.

  5. More Schnitzler :) I'm just about to start 'Traumnovelle', and as anyone who's seen Tom and Nicole in their birthday suits will know, that's not exactly a coy work either...

  6. A few months ago I was surprised how much I enjoyed Schnitzler's The Road to Open--trying to figure out Schnitzler's ambivalent feelings proved to be a workout. And that included the relaxed moral code he depicted.

  7. I'm so going to read this, thanks. I love the ellipsis standing in for the sex, just as three short outdoor still shots stand in for it in Jacques Demy's "Les Parapluies de Cherbourg."

  8. Dwight - The Road to Open is an actual novel, yes? Glad to hear it's worth reading.

    Oh yes, Eyes Wide Shut is Schnitzler, too. I had forgotten that.

    And not only have I not seen The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, but in reading about it I do not remember anyone mentioning that amusing sex non-scene.

    There's a lot I don't know! Thanks to all my fine commenters.

  9. William Cooper wrote another hilarious non-sex scene:

    'I looked down on the top of her head.
    Suddenly she blew.
    'Wonderful Albert,' she said.
    I may say that my name is not Albert. It is Joe. Joe Lunn.'


  10. More ignorance un-ignorized! I had never heard of William Cooper. Scenes from Provincial Life sounds quite good.

  11. Loved your review, Tom. Enjoyed reading the comments too. I read 'La Ronde' for German Literature Month this year. I loved that conversation between the Count and the Actress that you have quoted. That was my favourite passage from the whole book. In case you are interested, my review is here.

  12. Wuthering Expectations commenters are among the greatest commenters in book blogging. I always enjoy reading the comments, too.

    Thanks for stopping by, Vishy. I have made a comment here or there on your blog. All that fine German-language literature, even flat, tedious Adalbert Stifter. Poor Stifter. Indian Summer is a masterpiece.