Austrian Literature’s Very Jewish Golden Age

June 12 2017

In Edge of Irony, Marjorie Perloff explores six great writers who lived in the Habsburg empire or, after its collapse, in Austria during the early part of the 20th century. Of these six—the poet Paul Celan, the memoirist Elias Canetti, the novelists Joseph Roth and Robert Musil, the satirist Karl Kraus, and the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein—only Musil was a non-Jew. Perloff, herself a Vienna-born Jew, sees irony as the overarching mode of these writers’ work. Adam Kirsch writes in his review:

[N]one of the [Austro-Hungarian] empire’s many ethnic groups—Germans, Hungarians, Czechs, Slavs—did more to create [its distinctive multinational] culture, or held it in greater reverence, than its Jews. The emigration of Jews from rural villages in Galicia and other parts of Eastern Europe to the capital in Vienna had created, before World War I, an intelligentsia of amazing accomplishment, including figures like Gustav Mahler and Sigmund Freud.

As Perloff writes, Vienna’s Jews were passionate about German culture even though, or perhaps because, they were for the most part rejected as members of the German nation. . . . In her [2004] memoir, Perloff is alternately nostalgic for this religion of culture and suspicious of it. Plainly, the Viennese Jews’ enthusiasm for art and intellect did not earn them a secure place in Austrian society. On the contrary, fin-de-siècle Vienna was one of the birthplaces of political anti-Semitism, the place where the young Hitler first expressed his hatred of Jews. For all the accomplishments of the German Jews, Kultur could be seen as a kind of lullaby they sang to themselves as the walls closed in.

Perhaps, writes Kirsch, the plight of the Jews was best expressed by Robert Musil, Perloff’s token Gentile, in his great unfinished novel The Man without Qualities:

The Austrian idea [as represented by Ulrich, the novel’s main character] is empty, but at least it is not menacing. The same can’t be said of another character, Hans Sepp, whom Perloff sees as a representative of the fascism that would triumph after [World War I]. Sepp, Musil writes, was part of a “Christian-German circle” that opposed “‘the Jewish mind,’ by which they meant capitalism and socialism, science, reason, parental authority and parental arrogance, calculation, psychology, and skepticism.” Musil, writing his novel in the 1920s—the first two parts were published in 1930 and 1933—could already see that this kind of all-too-definite ideology had triumphed. . . . Musil himself, like [Perloff’s own] family, had to flee Austria after the Anschluss—among other things, he was vulnerable because he had a Jewish wife—and he died in penury and obscurity in Switzerland in 1942.

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Read more at New York Review of Books

More about: Anti-Semitism, Arts & Culture, Austria-Hungary, Austrian Jewry, Joseph Roth, Literature, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Vienna

Terror Returns to Israel

Nov. 28 2022

On Wednesday, a double bombing in Jerusalem left two dead, and many others injured—an attack the likes of which has not been seen since 2016. In a Jenin hospital, meanwhile, armed Palestinians removed an Israeli who had been injured in a car accident, reportedly murdering him in the process, and held his body hostage for two days. All this comes as a year that has seen numerous stabbings, shootings, and other terrorist attacks is drawing to a close. Yaakov Lappin comments:

Unlike the individual or small groups of terrorists who, acting on radical ideology and incitement to violence, picked up a gun, a knife, or embarked on a car-ramming attack, this time a better organized terrorist cell detonated two bombs—apparently by remote control—at bus stops in the capital. Police and the Shin Bet have exhausted their immediate physical searches, and the hunt for the perpetrators will now move to the intelligence front.

It is too soon to know who, or which organization, conducted the attack, but it is possible to note that in recent years, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) has taken a lead in remote-control-bombing terrorism. Last week, a car bomb that likely contained explosives detonated by remote control was discovered by the Israel Defense Forces in Samaria, after it caught fire prematurely. In August 2019, a PFLP cell detonated a remote-control bomb in Dolev, seventeen miles northwest of Jerusalem, killing a seventeen-year-old Israeli girl and seriously wounding her father and brother. Members of that terror cell were later arrested.

With the Palestinian Authority (PA) losing its grip in parts of Samaria to armed terror gangs, and the image of the PA at an all-time low among Palestinians, in no small part due to corruption, nepotism, and its violation of human rights . . . the current situation does not look promising.

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Read more at JNS

More about: Israeli Security, Jerusalem, Palestinian terror