Friday, January 4, 2013

Five Austrian alternatives

Alternatives, expansions, appendices, problems, and ignorance.  Or:  What about…?

1.  Austria as an empire, Austrian literature beyond Austria.  Gyula Krúdy in Budapest, Italo Svevo in Trieste, and Gustav Meyrink and Franz Kafka in Prague.  Kafka is a great temptation but would swamp the boat, so to speak – too absorbing, too good.  Much like

2.  Robert Musil’s Man without Qualities (1930-42) and Joseph Roth’s The Radetzky March (1932), published far beyond the period I am thinking about but perhaps even more valuable because they are influential interpretations of pre-War Austria.  I pick those two out because of their prominence,  but Austrian culture and history have been obsessively picked apart by lots of later writers like Gregor von Rezzori and Thomas Bernhard.  Hearing the narrator of Old Masters (1985) tear into Adalbert Stifter and Anton Bruckner is hilarious fun.  Poor Bruckner, what’d he do?  Perhaps if I really want to dig into Austrian aesthetics I need to spend more time with

3.  Art and music.  Bruckner, Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss, and Arnold Schoenberg; Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, and Oskar Kokoschka.  For example.  The “worlds” of fine art and music are usually much narrower than that of literature, and the audiences, the core audiences, much smaller and easier to study.  To understand the audience, though, I do not necessarily need to spend much time with the music or paintings but rather with the

4.  Secondary literature.  Histories cultural, political and social, monographs on artists or movements, albums of photos of Viennese coffeehouses.  It turns out that I am not the first person to think turn-of-the-century Vienna might be interesting.  Please recommend relevant favorites – to save you the trouble, I have read or am reading Carl Schorske and Peter Gay, and am curious about the recent Eric Kandel book although I fear it is a bit long.

The quantity of relevant books is overwhelming – there was nothing like this for Portuguese literature.  I mean, just look at the number of books that center on

5.  Sigmund Freud.  Scientific texts either dissolve into history or are elevated into literature.  I have no apparatus to deal with Freud as a scientist, but I should spend some time with Freud the essayist, the literary Freud.  Which texts, do you think?  The Interpretation of Dreams (1899), or some of the famous case studies?

Freud has appeared only once on Wuthering Expectations in his own words, when I made use of his 1908 insightful essay “Creative Writers and Day-dreaming.”  His ideas on the concept of the Uncanny have been important to my understanding of a great deal of literature, German and otherwise.  So I am sure there is a lot more of interest even if I am ill-equipped to understand or sympathize with the “scientific” Freud.

Well, who knows how many of these ideas I will have the energy to pursue.

Anyone wondering, by the way, if there were any women writers at all in Austria, the answer is yes.  Some were internationally famous, like the Nobel Prize-winning Bertha von Suttner, author of the 1889 pacifist novel Lay Down Your Arms!  (which sounds unreadable).  Some others of greater promise are included in the gloomily titled Into the Sunset: Anthology of Nineteenth-Century Austrian Prose (1999), which I plan to investigate at some point. Thanks to Will at 50Watts for pointing me towards the book.

Wish me luck!  Please join in as you think useful and appropriate.


  1. Those Freud case studies make for great reading. They're like little novellas.

  2. There is no need to be afraid of Freud. For the most part he is a very clear thinker with an excellent prose style. He viewed psychoanalysis to be as much cultural as scientific and his writings are filled with references literature, myth, art, etc. Yes, there are some very particular and technical books and papers but he rarely resorts to jargon and it is possible for anyone interested to follow even his most technical works. His career begins narrow and gets broader and broader as he gets older, and more well-known. He begins with very focus studies on specific pathologies like hysteria, gradually develops an understanding of the unconscious through studies of dreams, jokes and everyday life. He broadens further with his writings of sexuality and family. Eventually writing about the social psychology and eventually culture more generally.

    The books are enjoyable and entertaining to read. For non-specialists I would recommend:

    A. Early works on the Unconscious (very fun to read):
    The Interpretation of Dreams (or his own abridgement On Dreams)
    Jokes and their relationship the Unconscious
    Psychopathology of Everyday Life

    B. Basic works on Psychoanalysis:
    An Outline of Psychoanalysis
    The Ego and the Id

    C. Social psychology:
    Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego
    Beyond the Pleasure Principle

    D. Cultural commentary:
    The Future of an Illusion
    Civilization and Its Discontents

  3. This appears to be turning into a lifetime project...

  4. My scheme worked! What a fine list, what fine advice. Close to what I had thought - no, not thought - guessed. I knew the Jokes books was a must.

    I am actually old enough to have gone to college at a time when every undergraduate was assigned Civilization and Its Discontents. How many read it, I do not want to guess, but the assumption was that any educated person should have read Freud. How quaint.

    Thanks so much for the advice!

    Tony, nine months will probably be the end result, but a lifetime, in theory, yes. Infinitely extendable.

  5. Re: Freud I prefer The Future of an Illusion, Civilization and its Discontents, and Totem and Taboo over The Interpretation of Dreams. They have the advantage of being both short and compelling. There's a lot of Cetology, as it were, in Interpretations. For secondary literature on Freud, I like Richard Wollheim.

  6. Ah ha. Mr. Interpolations is actually trying to get me to read The Interpretations of Dreams. I love "Cetology"!

    The Wollheim book sounds perfect - an aesthetician on Freud. Perfect.

  7. An author which might be of interest to you - Peter Rosegger?, I've not read anything by him as of yet. Perhaps a little closer to the time period you're interested in.

  8. I'll join in once I figure out the right track, and maybe this will finally be all the motivation I need to also finish Mr. Jarry and Mr. Pessoa for you this year (old reading debts, sorry). In the meantime, I hope you've had or are having better luck with whatever Peter Gay title(s) you've selected than I did with his seminal snoozefest Weimar Culture: how the hell could one muck up a topic like that?

  9. Rosegger does sound good, thanks. An Alpine regionalist. It may be tricky to find his work in English, but some circa-1900 translations exist.

    As you see, Richard, it is not so easy to say "that sounds good" and hop on. For readers who only know how to read novels - no offense to any of you! ha ha! - the pickings are slim, although Young Törless (which I believe you have read) is a must.

    I am pretty sure you would do well with Schnitzler's fiction. Or go with Kraus - very tempting, yes? But Jarry and Pessoa are good, too!

    Peter Gay's Schnitzler's Century is a one-volume return to his gigantic "history of the bourgeoisie," his home turf so to speak and is not sleep-inducing. It is not limited to Schnitzler or Austria in any way.

  10. Hello Amateur,

    just a quick word here to
    1. recommend Moses and monotheism among the freudian tentative at (quite good) amateurship. Fascinating, even though good chunks of the main thesis are well debunked now.

    And 2., wish you an happy new year!

  11. tcheni, thanks you so much, and a happy new year to you, too.

    Moses and Monotheism sounds fascinating; nuts but fascinating. It is a luxury that we can now read the book as imaginative criticism without getting into a fight about its "truth."

  12. My own hope would for Musil or Roth, but they seem out.
    Second choice would be Meyrink, as I have The Golem to hand and would very much like a spur to start it. I'd love to read more Krudy and Svevo as well (Zeno's Conscience looks like a different proposition to the somewhat suffocating As A Man Grows Older).
    Freud? Well there's a strong case being made for his writing qua writing. That's interesting, I hadn't considered him a stylist before.

  13. Honestly, Man without Qualities is a terrible readalong book, isn't it? I would not want to read that one on any sort of schedule, or ask anyone else to keep up with me (or, more likely, to keep up with anybody). Radetzky March is more sensible.

    I am warming to the Roth / Musil / "later interpretation" branch, anyway.

    Svevo is "Austrian" for a while, and then not, so As a Man Grows Older is Austrian, the much later Zeno's Conscience Italian. Ha ha ha ha! I detect a strong element of the ridiculous in my distinctions, but as Musil suggests, there is a strong element of the ridiculous in the late Austro-Hungarian Empire.

    I read The Golem a couple of years ago, for Golem Week. That book is kee-razy. It is hardly a first-rate work of art, but so what, so what?

  14. Yes, Musil as a readalong would probably be lunacy.

    I'll look at Golem Week - what a week that must have been! Your summary stacks up with what I expect from the book, so that's good.

  15. I read a number of Freud's later works recently, and was not taken with them. They struck me as classic pseudo-science, filled with bald assertions that are neither falsifiable nor supported by evidence. The Primal Horde Theory? Consciousness seated on the outside of the brain, because it's closer to the external world? I heave a sigh.

    "Moses and Monotheism" is a remarkably thin defense of a perfectly reasonable premise, but does contain an interesting study of the foundling motif in mythology. You might go for that.

    And if you're tempted by "The Interpretation of Dreams," try "On Dreams," Freud's short-form version of the same material.

  16. The short version - that is good advice!

    I would like to come up with another idea like "Golem Week," but I have not, not yet.

  17. I realize my comment lies outside what you're looking for, but that never stops me from commenting...

    I just started the first book of The Transylvanian Trilogy (They Were Counted) by Miklós Bánffy. I've seen it often described as the Hungarian Radetzky March, so even though it's outside this specific range, it may dovetail nicely with what you (and others) decide to read.

  18. No, no, I don't even want to hear about the Bánffy novels. No. Forget it. They are not at all tempting. More at Seraillon's place for those who are interested, which definitely does not include me.

  19. Tom, I belatedly non-challenge you to read any/all of the following Karl Kraus titles found within Kraus et al. Selected Short Writings (Continuum, 2006) with me sometime in March, April or May (your choice): "The Cross of Honor," "Tourist Trips to Hell," a two-scene excerpt from The Last Days of Mankind, "Self Admiration," and "Aphorisms." All the dated pieces are pre-1920. 33 pages of acerbic goodness. What do you say?

  20. Yes, yes.

    March is no good. Let's say April. Who else is up for some cultural apocalypse? Join us!

    Look, the entire relevant pages are available on Google Books.

    I will see if I can add in the book-length (but still heavily abridged) translation of Last Days of Mankind. Who knows.

  21. I just read "Tourist Trips to Hell." That was something. Acerbic goodness indeed. tips included!

  22. I will encourage people to join in at the time of writing - the texts are only a few pages long.

    "Tourist Trips to Hell" is also included in another Kraus collection I have at hand (In These Great Times, chortle). It is in the form of a four page fold-out. I will have to scan and post it. The German Library version has to mash it around to fit the page, but they stay true to the spirit.

    "You receive unforgettable impressions of a world in which there is not a square centimeter of soil that has not been torn up by grenades and advertisements."

  23. I don't think I could read a whole volume of it, but it's really good satire.