Eros and Inwardness in Vienna: Weininger, Musil, Dodererby David S. Luft
Although we usually think of the intellectual legacy of twentieth-century Vienna as synonymous with Sigmund Freud and his psychoanalytic theories, other prominent writers from Vienna were also radically reconceiving sexuality and gender. In this probing new study, David Luft recovers the work of three such writers: Otto Weininger, Robert Musil, and Heimito von
Although we usually think of the intellectual legacy of twentieth-century Vienna as synonymous with Sigmund Freud and his psychoanalytic theories, other prominent writers from Vienna were also radically reconceiving sexuality and gender. In this probing new study, David Luft recovers the work of three such writers: Otto Weininger, Robert Musil, and Heimito von Doderer. His account emphasizes the distinctive intellectual world of liberal Vienna, especially the impact of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche in this highly scientific intellectual world.
According to Luft, Otto Weininger viewed human beings as bisexual and applied this theme to issues of creativity and morality. Robert Musil developed a creative ethics that was closely related to his open, flexible view of sexuality and gender. And Heimito von Doderer portrayed his own sexual obsessions as a way of understanding the power of total ideologies, including his own attraction to National Socialism. For Luft, the significance of these three writers lies in their understandings of eros and inwardness and in the roles that both play in ethical experience and the formation of meaningful relations to the world-a process that continues to engage artists, writers, and thinkers today.
Eros and Inwardness in Vienna will profoundly reshape our understanding of Vienna's intellectual history. It will be important for anyone interested in Austrian or German history, literature, or philosophy.
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Eros and Inwardness in Vienna: Weininger, Musil, Doderer
By David S. Luft
University of Chicago PressCopyright © 2003 David S. Luft
All right reserved.
Chapter One - Science and Irrationalism in Liberal Vienna, 1848-1900
In 1848 Vienna was a city of 400,000, the capital of a mainly rural, multinational empire, ruled from the center by a German-speaking bureaucracy. By 1900 Vienna had become a modern city on the verge of universal manhood suffrage with a population of more than 1.6 million. In 1848 Vienna still retained its medieval shape; but the creation of the Ringstrasse in the 1850s and 1860s transformed the city, and by the turn of the century Vienna's districts extended far beyond the original inner city of the imperial palace, aristocratic residences, and gothic and baroque churches. The years between 1848 and 1900 were given their distinctive quality by the German-speaking burgerlich (or bourgeois) elites, who took the lead economically and intellectually, and for a time, politically as well. These years were a period of transition between absolute monarchy and modern democratic politics, when liberal culture and politics shaped the life of Vienna, and it was in this context that the distinctive intellectual life of liberal Vienna emerged.
The second half of the nineteenth century was marked not only by the modernization of Vienna as a city but also by thereception of intellectual influences that set the terms for thinking about sexuality and gender after 1900. The intellectual life of Vienna belonged to the Western cosmopolitan world of Paris, London, and Berlin, and in the late nineteenth century most intellectuals in Vienna regarded themselves as part of the broad stream of liberal progress, of reason and freedom, since the Enlightenment. Within the realm of German culture, liberal Vienna shared in the legacy of neohumanism and inward cultivation or Bildung. In relation to the wider European culture of high liberalism, the intellectual life of liberal Vienna had qualities that made it especially conducive to thinking about sexuality and feelings, in particular, its receptivity to currents of scientific and irrationalist thought after 1848.
Austrian liberalism was not sharply defined or institutionally established before 1848. In this context, "liberal" referred to the broadly European emancipatory tradition, shaped by the German neohumanist emphasis on education and self-cultivation. In the absence of a parliamentary system before 1848, the liberal values of the Enlightenment and the unbound man found support in the state bureaucracy, in the theater, and in the banking and commercial elites. After the revolution of 1848, absolutism reasserted itself briefly, but it was clear that liberalism had become the transformative force in Austrian society and politics. The brief interlude of neoabsolutism in the 1850s yielded to liberal political institutions in the 1860s, and Liberals assumed parliamentary leadership and ministerial power. But even at the height of its power in the 1860s and 1870s, political Liberalism was a loose coalition of factions rather than a strongly organized party in the modern sense. By 1900 Liberalism in this narrowly political sense had ceased to be an important force in Austria, although the broad tradition of liberal culture and emancipatory values continued to shape Austrian intellectual life until the 1930s.
The culture of liberal Vienna grew out of the German Enlightenment and the bureaucratic reform tradition of the late eighteenth century, which had been established by Maria Theresa (1740-1780) and Joseph II (1780-1790). Between 1848 and 1900, as modern forms of liberal and democratic politics emerged, it was often difficult to make sharp distinctions between bureaucratic reformers and specifically bourgeois liberals. In Vienna these groups shared in the predicament of a German-speaking political and cultural elite within a multinational monarchy, and the mainly secular culture of this elite formed the basis for intellectual life. Liberal Vienna was powerfully shaped by the German humanism of the eighteenth century, which was given its distinctive Austrian form primarily by the bureaucratic and professional strata and by the secularized Jewish culture that made its home in modern German culture both before and after 1848.
Central to Austrian liberalism as it emerged out of German humanism was the idea of the free personality, "the element of the freedom and dignity of the human being." This broad, universal, undoctrinaire aspect of Austrian liberalism went beyond any particular party or interest and amounted to a belief in the "freedom and worth of the human being as human being against the state." The "fundamental liberal principle of the personality, individualism," was strongly shaped by German humanism's ideal of Bildung. The original force of the eighteenth-century word Bildung is often lost in English translation, where it appears routinely as "education" or even as "culture"; but "self-cultivation" gives the sense of why it was like a religious ideology. This view of individuality was at the heart of the religion of humanity that emerged out of the German Enlightenment in the work of Goethe, Schiller, Lessing, and Humboldt. In Austria, this secular, emancipatory vision was a challenge to the Roman Catholic Church as well as to the absolutist state, and it had complex implications for education and language in a multinational empire.
The basic ambiguity of liberal Vienna in the late nineteenth century was the tension between the broad emancipatory tradition of German humanism and the actual practice of a political and economic elite that briefly dominated in the 1860s and 1870s. This tension in liberal ideology was present from the outset in the sense that the individuality of the Bildung tradition was different from the competitive individualism of liberal economics and politics. Austrian liberalism began by emphasizing the ideal of the free personality, but in the late nineteenth century political Liberalism came to stand for economic competition, social ambition, and the bourgeois culture of achievement; and Liberalism was identified with the class interests of the high Burgertum. As in Germany, Bildung began as an ideal of education and self-cultivation, but it could easily become a Philistine indicator of achieved status.
The distinctive shape of Austrian liberalism emerged from the reception of the Enlightenment by the German-speaking bureaucratic stratum of this multinational, Roman Catholic state. Although the process of reform, centralization, and state formation began under Maria Theresa, in retrospect the accomplishments of reform absolutism were associated primarily with her son, Joseph II. The intellectual, political, and ecclesiastical traditions that grew out of these eighteenth-century reforms were known as Josephinism, which stood for rationalism, progress within the parameters of the centralist state, reform within the church, and an affinity for modern science. Austria's bureaucratic stratum was influenced by the individualistic, humanistic tradition as it emerged in German culture in the eighteenth century. Joseph II did a great deal to encourage the reception of German culture and Enlightenment values in Austria, and his decision in 1781 to grant freedom of worship to established Protestant, Jewish, and Greek Orthodox congregations was an important step toward modernization that facilitated the development of liberal intellectual life. By the 1830s and 1840s, Josephinism began to merge with the early signs of liberalism, and after 1848 liberalism and neo-Josephinism worked together to create the distinctive blend of absolutist and liberal elements in the constitution of Austria after 1867.
Between 1792 and 1848 the bureaucratic centralism established by Maria Theresa and Joseph II lost its reformist impulse and declined into the conservative, mainly passive rule that prepared the way for the liberal and national revolutions of 1848. But, despite the censorship of this period, much that was distinctive and distinguished in Austrian culture flourished. This was particularly true in literature, where the achievements of Franz Grillparzer (1791- 1872), Adalbert Stifter (1805-1868), and Johann Nepomuk Nestroy (1801- 1862) set a standard that arguably was not surpassed by the writers of Young Vienna in the 1890s. Vienna was also the center of European music in this period; and the salons of second society, frequented by the financial and bureaucratic elites and by the lower nobility, established the high cultural tone that continued into the late nineteenth century. The intellectual culture of second society took on its characteristic form in the relatively apolitical and preparliamentary world before 1848. The central figures of this salon culture of the high Burgertum were Fanny von Arnstein (1758-1818), Caroline Pichler (1769-1843), and Josephine von Wertheimstein (1820-1898).
In Vienna the revolution of 1848 brought to expression the conflict between the conservative forces of the Habsburg monarchy and those who advocated freedom from traditional bonds and the participation of citizens in shaping public life. The April Constitution established universal manhood suffrage, and in June the Constituent Assembly completed the emancipation of the peasantry begun by Joseph II. Prospects seemed good for liberal and democratic rule both in the Habsburg Monarchy and in a new Germany, and local self-government was established in Vienna. By the end of the year, the revolution had been defeated in the Habsburg monarchy, and Austria had been separated from the process of German unification in Frankfurt. The events of 1848 unleashed such chaotic forces that Austrian intellectuals such as Franz Grillparzer became skeptical about nationalism and resigned toward a conservative monarchy that might at least allow the nationalities of Central Europe to coexist in peace. For Germany, the liberal revolutions of 1848 represented the first step toward national unification, but for Austria these upheavals meant near disintegration and a reminder of cultural and national difference. What seemed to have been established in the spring of 1848 was realized only gradually and partially during the second half of the nineteenth century in the age of liberal Vienna.
After 1848 Vienna began to change from a culture dominated by bureaucratic and financial elites in a mainly stagnant political and economic order to a more rapidly modernizing society. Although 1848 nearly destroyed the Habsburg monarchy, it also reinvigorated political and economic life: it led to liberal institutions in Vienna, to university reform along liberal and German lines, and to a new social mobility that transformed Vienna and other Austrian cities in the late nineteenth century. Most of what we associate with bourgeois society--in terms of capitalism, educational reform, local self-government, internal migration, and the emergence of a modern press--fol-lowed after 1848, and yet the monarchy, the army, and the central bureaucracy remained largely in charge until the end of the empire. In the 1850s the bureaucracy tried to create the basis for a modern society, including the reconstruction of Vienna and the encouragement of modern economic life. In this sense, neoabsolutism was dependent on the German-speaking high Burgertum, which played an increasingly significant role in political affairs down to the liberal reconstitution of Austria between 1861 and 1867. The construction of the Ringstrasse--and of the symbolic buildings of the bourgeois liberal era, the Burgtheater, the Rathaus, the Reichsrat (or parliament), and the University--and the creation of Vienna in its modern form stamped the period of political and economic dynamism in the 1860s and 1870s. This physical transformation of the medieval city came to symbolize the new role of the liberal Burgertum in Austrian public life.
This period also witnessed a dramatic movement of population from the countryside to the cities. What had particular significance for liberal politics and culture was the migration of Jews to Vienna from Bohemia, Moravia, Galicia, Bukovina, and Hungary; the Jewish population of Vienna grew from just a few families in 1848 to nearly 150,000 people by 1900. Under these circumstances, the German language appeared to most Jews as a symbol of freedom, progress, and culture. Secularized Jews ordinarily identified strongly with Austrian liberal politics and culture, and in the late nineteenth century Jews seem to have felt more at home in Austrian society than in Bis-marck's Germany. Jews received full civil rights in Austria in 1867 and played important roles in the political and intellectual life of liberal Vienna.
The years of high liberalism between 1867 and 1879 were shaped by the exclusion of Austria from Germany and by the division of the Habsburg lands into a dual monarchy: the Ausgleich (or Compromise) of 1867 gave the Magyars a free hand in the eastern half of the empire while the German Liberals were left to take the lead in Austria and Bohemia. The most conspicuous aspect of the high liberal era was the brief period of political success of the Constitutional Party (Verfassungspartei) in the Austrian Reichsrat between 1867 and 1879, but Liberal political leadership in Austria was fragile and problematic from the start. Although Liberalism benefited initially from the economic dynamism of the Ringstrasse era, as the Austrian Grunderzeit was called, the limitations of its economic, cultural, and electoral base were apparent even then; and its active hostility to Roman Catholicism awakened divisions within the Burgertum even before the major political challenges of the 1880s. The political successes corresponded to the early successes of capitalism in Austria with railroads and stock markets, but in this respect as well disappointment came swiftly--in the Crash of 1873 and the ensuing period of slowed economic growth, which lasted until 1896. In the midst of its successes, political Liberalism in Austria was, for the most part, class bound and conservative, oriented to property and education and indifferent to the experience of people in other social strata. In political terms, the liberal era in Austria was a mixed phenomenon. On the one hand, it represented the gradual victory over absolutism, the development of representative government and civil rights, the emergence of a modern capitalist economy, freedom of religion, the limitation of Catholic ideological dominance, and the assimilation of Jews into the mainstream of public life. Jews, Czechs, and other minorities were permitted to participate in public life on the basis of the German language, which was perceived not only as the language of state but also as the language of education and culture. On the other hand, these achievements were limited by the continued roles of the monarchy, the aristocracy, and the bureaucracy. Franz Joseph (1848-1916) remained on the throne throughout this period, retained the power to dissolve parliament, and continued to control the army and foreign policy. German liberal elites kept the franchise limited and enjoyed the privileged status of a wealthy, educated stratum; and Czechs, who comprised a substantial minority in Austria and Bohemia, struggled for full recognition in the political system. Liberalism as a political movement came to be identified with the narrow interests of the high Burgertum and its limitations in extending its own values to other groups, whether other nationalities, the lower Burgertum, the working class, or women.
After 1879 Liberalism lost its leading position in Vienna, first in the Austrian parliament and by 1897 in city hall as well. Between 1880 and 1900 three political parties emerged in Vienna to challenge Liberal political leadership: the German Nationalists, the Christian Socials, and the Social Democrats. All three parties intended to be more democratic than the Liberals, and they constituted the main political alignments of modern Austria after the collapse of the monarchy in 1918.
Excerpted from Eros and Inwardness in Vienna: Weininger, Musil, Doderer by David S. Luft Copyright © 2003 by David S. Luft. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
David S. Luft is a professor of history at the University of California, San Diego. He is the author of Robert Musil and the Crisis of European Culture and the coeditor and cotranslator of Robert Musil's Precision and Soul: Essays and Addresses, the latter published by the University of Chicago Press.
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