Austrian Literature’s Very Jewish Golden Age

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.

Read more at New York Review of Books

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


Planning for the Day after the War in the Gaza Strip

At the center of much political debate in Israel during the past week, as well as, reportedly, of disagreement between Jerusalem and Washington, is the problem of how Gaza should be governed if not by Hamas. Thus far, the IDF has only held on to small parts of the Strip from which it has cleared out the terrorists. Michael Oren lays out the parameters of this debate over what he has previous called Israel’s unsolvable problem, and sets forth ten principles that any plan should adhere to. Herewith, the first five:

  1. Israel retains total security control in Gaza, including control of all borders and crossings, until Hamas is demonstrably defeated. Operations continue in Rafah and elsewhere following effective civilian evacuations. Military and diplomatic efforts to secure the hostages’ release continue unabated.
  2. Civil affairs, including health services and aid distribution, are administered by Gazans unaffiliated with Hamas. The model will be Area B of Judea and Samaria, where Israel is in charge of security and Palestinians are responsible for the civil administration.
  3. The civil administration is supervised by the Palestinian Authority once it is “revitalized.” The PA first meets benchmarks for ending corruption and establishing transparent institutions. The designation and fulfillment of the benchmarks is carried out in coordination with Israel.
  4. The United States sends a greatly expanded and improved version of the Dayton Mission that trained PA police forces in Gaza after Israel’s disengagement.
  5. Abraham Accords countries launch a major inter-Arab initiative to rebuild and modernize Gaza.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security, U.S.-Israel relationship