Vienna and the Jews, 1867-1938, by Steven Beller; The Jews of Vienna in the Age of Franz Joseph, by Robert S. Wistrich
It was in turn-of-the-century Vienna, seed-plot of the modern intellect, that Sigmund Freud developed his psychoanalytic theories; that the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein first posited a formal relationship between language and the real world; that the composer Arnold Schoenberg abandoned tonality and embarked on the restructuring of music; that the architect Adolf Loos first realized an aesthetic of unimpassioned functionalism. The greatly altered world left behind by these and other groundbreaking modernist artists and thinkers is still the object of hot debate. Today, the legacy of modernism is less and less regarded as an unqualified success; yet historians of Vienna still tend to defend it.
In doing so, they point to the vulgarity of the milieu from which, and against which, the modernist movement emerged. This is not a new theme: in the late 1940′s Hermann Broch wrote of the ethical “value-vacuum” of 19th-century Europe and of its reflection in kitsch on the one hand and “evil” art on the other—the one relentlessly decorative, the other relentlessly Wagnerian. For Broch, the poet and dramatist Hugo von Hofmannsthal (who also wrote several memorable librettos for Richard Strauss) represented an attempt to reform European culture by restoring its Christian values; the failure of this attempt was ascribed by Broch at least in part to the contemporary public’s unregenerate “promiscuity of thought and feeling.” In Dionysian Art and Populist Politics in Austria, William McGrath similarly dwells on the influence of the Wagnerian aesthetic; notwithstanding his sympathy for exemplars of this “theatrical” cultural ideal, and especially for the composer Gustav Mahler and the socialist leader Viktor Adler, McGrath also admits its dangerous connection to the rise of an anti-liberal politics. Allan Janik and Stephen Toulmin in Wittgenstein’s Vienna likewise regard the Viennese modernist flowering as a movement aimed at instilling honesty, sense, and meaning in a culture steeped in sentiment and affectation.
About the Author