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Interwar Vienna

Interwar Vienna: Culture between Tradition and Modernity

Deborah Holmes
Lisa Silverman
Volume: 43
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 312
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    Interwar Vienna
    Book Description:

    Although beset by social, political, and economic instabilities, interwar Vienna was an exhilarating place, with pioneering developments in the arts and innovations in the social sphere. Research on the period long saw the city as a mere shadow of its former imperial self; more recently it has concentrated on high-profile individual figures or party politics. This volume of new essays widens the view, stretching disciplinary boundaries to consider the cultural and social movements that shaped the city. The collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire resulted not in an abandonment of the arts, but rather led to new forms of expression that were nevertheless conditioned by the legacies of earlier periods. The city's culture was caught between extremes, from neopositivism to cultural pessimism, Catholic mysticism to Austro-Marxism, late Enlightenment liberalism to rabid antisemitism. Concentrating on the paradoxes and often productive tensions that these created, the volume's twelve essays explore achievements and anxieties in fields ranging from modern dance, theater, music, film, and literature to economic, cultural, and racial policy. The volume will appeal to social, cultural, and political historians as well as to specialists in modern European literary and visual culture. Contributors: Andrea Amort, Andrew Barker, Alys X. George, Deborah Holmes, Jon Hughes, Birgit Lang, Wolfgang Maderthaner, Therese Muxeneder, Birgit Peter, Lisa Silverman, Edward Timms, Robert Vilain, John Warren, Paul Weindling. Deborah Holmes is Researcher at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for the History and Theory of Biography in Vienna. Lisa Silverman is Assistant Professor of History and Jewish Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-743-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction: Beyond the Coffeehouse. Vienna as a Cultural Center between the World Wars
    (pp. 1-18)
    Deborah Holmes and Lisa Silverman

    Anyone who walks along Vienna’s Ringstrasse today cannot help but admire the grandiose architecture of the neo-Gothic Rathaus, the neoclassical Parliament, and the neo-Renaissance Opera House and immediately understand the city’s reputation as a locus of former imperial glory. However, both the historicist buildings of the Ringstrasse and the memories of the empire that they were built to evoke belie another aspect of the city’s history better represented by the four hundred equally imposing yet less centrally located blocks of council housing — the Wiener Gemeindebauten — found in districts beyond the Ring. The Karl-Marx-Hof and similar residential projects initiated by the...

  5. Part I: Cultural and Political Parameters

    • 1: Cultural Parameters between the Wars: A Reassessment of the Vienna Circles
      (pp. 21-31)
      Edward Timms

      The aim of this essay is to provide an overview of the field of cultural production in Vienna between the world wars based on a wide range of historical documentation and scholarly research. In a celebrated study entitled Fin-de-Siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture (1980) Carl Schorske highlighted the “cohesiveness” of the Austrian intellectual and artistic elite at the turn of the twentieth century, while at the same time demonstrating that it was “alienated from political power.”¹ Building on Schorske’s seminal insights, my own research on the Viennese satirist Karl Kraus explored the generational shift that occurred around the time of...

    • 2: “weiße Strümpfe oder neue Kutten”: Cultural Decline in Vienna in the 1930s
      (pp. 32-56)
      John Warren

      One of the most influential studies on Austrian culture during the interwar years bears the title Aufbruch und Untergang (New Departure and Decline), a juxtaposition that succinctly conveys the era’s combined legacy of great achievement and bitter disappointment.¹ By concentrating on the second idea, that of decline, this essay will examine what happened to the burgeoning cultural and intellectual developments of the early period of the First Republic in Vienna following the calamitous political events of 1933–34. For many commentators it was the Anschluss of 1938 and the subsequent emigration of Jewish intellectuals, authors, and performers that marked the...

  6. Part II: Jewishness, Race, and Politics

    • 3: “Wiener Kreise”: Jewishness, Politics, and Culture in Interwar Vienna
      (pp. 59-80)
      Wolfgang Maderthaner and Lisa Silverman

      On the morning of 22 June 1936 Moritz Schlick ascended the staircase of the department of philosophy at the University of Vienna on his way to his last lecture of the semester. As usual, room 41 was overflowing with students eager to hear the words of the distinguished professor. Suddenly, without warning, thirty-three-year-old Hans Nelböck, a former student of Schlick’s with a recent history of mental illness, pulled a gun and fired four shots, killing him instantly.¹ Following his arrest, Nelböck was declared fit to stand trial, although his case was not heard until 24 May 1937 — almost a year...

    • 4: A City Regenerated: Eugenics, Race, and Welfare in Interwar Vienna
      (pp. 81-114)
      Paul Weindling

      Viennese eugenics has yet to find its position within an appropriate sociopolitical or cultural frame. Austria’s eugenicists, who were concentrated in Vienna, have generally been seen through a German lens as a mere peripheral context for the German Gesellschaft für Rassenhygiene (Racial Hygiene Society), driven by its founder, Alfred Ploetz (who coined the term Rassenhygiene [racial hygiene]) in 1895, and the psychiatrist Ernst Rüdin. However, this fixation on German developments, including an emphasis on right-wing racial ideology and demands for sterilization and euthanasia, not only marginalizes the important role Vienna played in the formation of the Austrian eugenics movement during...

  7. Part III: Cultural Forms

    • 5: Free Dance in Interwar Vienna
      (pp. 117-142)
      Andrea Amort

      As an artistic hothouse of the fin de siècle, Vienna attracted artists, choreographers, and dancers of all persuasions not only from the lands of its own monarchy but also from overseas. Despite the loss of the monarchy, however, Vienna became even more of a crossroads uniting East and West following the First World War. The substantial transfer of knowledge and the development of a variety of cultural links between Moscow, Warsaw, Prague, Budapest, and Vienna during this period should not be underestimated and still await adequate research.¹ “Ausdruckstanz” or rather, free dance, reached its peak in Vienna in the 1920s...

    • 6: Hollywood on the Danube? Vienna and Austrian Silent Film of the 1920s
      (pp. 143-160)
      Alys X. George

      Describing the incongruities characteristic of postwar Vienna, author, cultural critic, and feuilletonist Alfred Polgar wrote: “Die Berichte von Wiens Elend sind wahr. Die Berichte von Wiens Wohlbehagen sind auch wahr,” adding sardonically, “Der Berichterstatter muß nur definieren, was er meint, wenn er ‘Wien’ sagt” (The reports of Vienna’s misery are true. The reports of Vienna’s well-being are also true. The commentator must simply define what he means when he says “Vienna”).¹ The essay in which these comments appeared, entitled “Geistiges Leben in Wien” (Intellectual Life in Vienna), published on 14 November 1920 in the Prager Tagblatt, points to the dualisms...

    • 7: Between Tradition and a Longing for the Modern: Theater in Interwar Vienna
      (pp. 161-174)
      Birgit Peter

      The interwar period remains one of the most neglected in the history of Austrian theater. For many years the only general summary available was that found in the fourth volume of Nagl, Zeidler, and Castle’s Deutsch-Österreichische Literaturgeschichte (History of German-Austrian Literature), which appeared in 1937.¹ Since the 1970s numerous monographs have been written on disparate aspects of the period, such as the revue and cabaret, or on individual protagonists of the theater scene. However, the most comprehensive historical treatment to date remains Heidemarie Brückl-Zehetner’s 1988 doctoral dissertation “Theater in der Krise” (Theater in Crisis),² in which she examines the financial...

    • 8: The Hegemony of German Music: Schoenberg’s Vienna as the Musical Center of the German-Speaking World
      (pp. 175-190)
      Therese Muxeneder

      The oeuvre of Arnold Schoenberg — whether as composer, painter, writer, teacher, theoretician, or inventor — represents one of the most outstanding artistic achievements of twentieth-century modernism. The founder of the Second Viennese School was born in Vienna in 1874 and died in Los Angeles in 1951. These two key dates of origin and exile are worlds apart not merely geographically but also historically, artistically, and personally. Schoenberg was an autodidact who, in turn, was also a teacher, and both factors were equally important in his artistic makeup. His development as a composer epitomizes a whole century, marked as it was by...

  8. Part IV: Literary Case Studies

    • 9: Anticipating Freud’s Pleasure Principle? A Reading of Ernst Weiss’s War Story “Franta Zlin” (1919)
      (pp. 193-205)
      Andrew Barker

      In his treatise Sittengeschichte des Weltkriegs (A Moral History of the World War, 1930) Berlin sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld noted how belles lettres had been far readier than clinical medicine to examine the impact of wartime injuries on the sexual and psychological life of the victims.¹ Some well-remembered examples of that readiness are works by Ernst Toller (Hinkemann, 1924), Sean O’Casey (The Silver Tassie, 1927), and D. H. Lawrence (Lady Chatterley’s Lover, 1928), all of which deal with soldiers rendered sexually impotent by their wounds. Much less well known is Ernst Weiss’s story “Franta Zlin,”² first published in the Munich periodical...

    • 10: Facts and Fiction: Rudolf Brunngraber, Otto Neurath, and Viennese Neue Sachlichkeit
      (pp. 206-223)
      Jon Hughes

      The Viennese novelist Rudolf Brunngraber (1901-60), whose first novel Karl und das 20. Jahrhundert (1933; freely translated as A Twentieth-Century Tragedy)¹ forms the focus of this essay, remains an undeservedly forgotten figure in twentieth-century Austrian literature. Although his commercially successful publishing career spanned the turbulent decades between the early 1930s and the late 1950s, it has seldom attracted scholarly interest.² His debut novel, according to Claudio Magris a “masterpiece,” is only a partial exception.³ It is revealing that this innovative literary text, a remarkable novel of the Great Depression in Austria, plays a marginal role in two entirely distinct lines...

    • 11: The Viennese Legacy of Casanova: The Late Erotic Writings of Arthur Schnitzler and Franz Blei
      (pp. 224-245)
      Birgit Lang

      According to Paul Englisch, that meticulous historian of erotic literature, Arthur Schnitzler (1862–1931) and Franz Blei (1871–42) were both eroticists, a reputation they still possess to the present day. The two Vienna-based writers did indeed have a passion for the depiction of erotic motifs. Arthur Schnitzler, who is best known for his socially critical accounts of fin-de-siècle bourgeois Vienna, did so most famously in his play Reigen (La Ronde, 1897).¹ The less well known Franz Blei, recognized today for his satirical portrayal of his fellow writers in Das grosse Bestiarium der modernen Literatur (The Grand Literary Bestiarium, 1920),...

    • 12: An Englishman Abroad: Literature, Politics, and Sex in John Lehmann’s Writings on Vienna in the 1930s
      (pp. 246-266)
      Robert Vilain

      In the late 1920s and 1930s Austria was often only obliquely or retrospectively the subject of its own literature. Alienated by Austrofascism, authors such as Ödön von Horváth, Theodor Kramer, Rudolf Brunngraber, and Jura Soyfer did address contemporary social and political reality, but they represent the exception rather than the rule.¹ In their major fictional works, the canonical writers of the period as Broch, Kraus, and Musil tended to look backward at Austria’s decline. Stefan Zweig’s nostalgia had no room for what he called “Pseudo-Wirklichkeitsreferate” (pseudoreports on reality).² His main literary treatment of the political events of this period is...

  9. Notes on the Contributors
    (pp. 267-270)
  10. Index
    (pp. 271-302)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 303-303)