Category Archives: Vienna

Confused feelings in Weimar Berlin

The Stefan Zweig revival in English (I don’t think there was need of one in German) fueled by new (in this case 2009 of a 1927 novella) translations published by New York Review Books (before the biography in English published this year and release of Wes Anderson’s movie “The Grand Budapest Hotel”) included Anthea Bell’s translation of ‘Verwirrung der Gefühle’ as ‘Confusion.’ In his informative (not to mention opinionated) introduction, George Prochnik writes that the title is blander than the German, that ‘Verwirrung der Gefühle’ might better be rendered as “Emotional Maelstrom.” He also suggests that the novella is less about confusion than about “metastasizing confusions.”

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Well, the recollections are straightforwardly told, and the secret looming unbeknownst to the narrator at the time (perhaps forty years earlier) is not as surprising to 21st-century readers as it may have been to readers in the 1920s. (Actually, I guessed wrong, but “in the ballpark”). After being shipped off to a provincial college from a life of debauchery when he was supposed to be a student in Berlin, Roland falls under the spell of lectures and conversations by an aged professor who has published very little.

After moving into the same apartment building, Roland coaxes the professor with writing block to dictate to him, taking down what the professor says in shorthand. Roland also takes meals with the professor and the professor’s younger wife. He does not understand the obvious strain in their marriage until the whole historical context of the Globe Theater has been gotten down.

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The kind of rapture about ideas makes the recollections closer to Herman Hesse (Steppenwolf, Demian) than to Heinrich Mann (creator of the aged professor played by Emil Janning besotted by Marlene Dietrich in the movie version, “The Blue Angel”). The exaltation of developing ideas may have some connection to German Romanticism of the 19th century (“I had never before known language as ecstasy, the passion of discourse as an elemental act, and the unexpected shock of it drew me closer. Without knowing that I was moving, hypnotically attracted by a force stronger than curiosity, and with the dragging footsteps of a sleepwalker I made my way as if by magic into that charmed circle”), but not a direct influence to anything in Shakespeare that was discussed during Zweig’s lifetime (1881-1942).

Though the book is short (150 pages including some blank ones and large top and bottom margins), I think it develops rather slowly, before the final rush of “shocking” revelations about “incurable inclinations” and periodic disappearances to a city (perhaps, The City, Berlin, the underworld of which Roland had some experience before his mind was awakened to intellectual pursuits) and “the sewers of the heart.” The finale is an interesting document about conceptions and attitudes of the long-ago time (before the First, let alone the Second World War). The tale strikes me as a bit overdramatic (compared to the English-language analog of sorts, Stephan Daedalus in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man), but “the past is another country: they do things differently there”, as K. P. Hartley famously proclaimed. Nonetheless, a (post-)modern reader can grasp the aching longing for one’s own long-lost youth that both the narrator and his long-ago professor instantiate herein.

BTW, Confusion was included in Le Monde’s hundred books of the 20th century. The complete list is at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Monde%27s_100_Books_of_the_Century.

©2014, Stephen O. Murray

Schnitzler’s (very!) posthumous Late Fame

Late Fame is a long-“lost” novella that Arthur Schnitzler wrote in 1894-95. An editor wisely decided that it could not withstand being serialized over the course of eight weeks, and it was filed away, transported to Cambridge after the Anschlüss by the British Embassy, finally published in German in 2014, and now (2015?) in English.

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I can more than sympathize with the situation the new fan, Meir, exclaims about to the long-forgotten poet (who has even forgotten he once aspired to be a poet, Saxberger:

“It’s the same old story. At the start, we’re satisfied to have just our own pleasure in our work and the interest of the few you understand us. But when you see those coming up around you, winning a name, and feven fame for themselves—then you would rather be heard and honored as well. And then come the disappointments! The envy of the talentless, the frivolity and malice of reviewers, and then the horrid indifference of the public. And you get tired, tired, tired. You still have a lot you could say, but nobody wants to hear it, and eventually you yourself forget that you were once one of those who wanted great thing, who perhaps even already achieved the.” (5)

Saxberger himself says, “No one takes any notice and then, by and by, I lost my appetite for it, along with my youth” (4).

He is perplexed but pleased to be taken up by a new generation of aspiring writers. He is unable to write anything new, but consents to have work from decades earlier performed in their recital, enjoys the applause—at least until he realizes that every participant’s work is cheered. And the whole event attracted practically no notice from the press. The rejuvenation ends and Saxberger returns to his dull routine.

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Schnitlzer himself did not live Saxberger’s life of neglect and giving up writing. I don’t have much interest in having the key to the roman de clef, except that the shy young blond Windler is a twist on the dark-haired Hoffmanstahl “who liked the sound of his own voice,” and whose talent was recognized very early. (The distortion of Schnitzler himdelf  is Christian.)

©2017, Stephen O. Murray

 

Also see Reading Schnitzler 1 and 2.

 

Reading Schnitzler (2)

More Schnitzler, with more instances of his distaste for dueling and the honor code. An offstage duel leaves the young woman who loved the fathead bereft. In “Flirtation” (Liebelie, 1895). “Lt. Gustl” (1900) has a duel still ahead of him, but has a reprieve from what he felt was the need to kill himself after being insulted at the opera by a baker (not someone with whom he could duel). Gustl is a fatuous bigot (anti-Semitic). His consciousness is unrefined. The stream of it, nonetheless. was pioneering, before Joyce and Woolf.

Tom Stoppard also adapted Liebelie, as “Dalliance.” I’m not fascinated enough by the translation of the play in the German Library collection to seek it out, however.

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I questioned the female consciousness Schnitzler represented in his 1901 novel(la) “Beatrice.” I loathed the ending and was impatient with the flights of posthumous jealousy and present-day dalliance of the heretofore chaste widow with her son Hugo’s friend Fritz. “Hysteria” in a non-technical sense is hard to resist for Beatrice’s concerns, though “self-indulgence” is at least as salient.

 

What has been bluntly titled “The Murderer” and sarcastically “The Man of Honor” may contain the only innocent character in Schnitzler, Elise, a long-time mistress of humble origins (without living parents) who has become inconvenient when her partner, Alfred, wants to marry a woman of higher station. The story is very predictable, at least the love-triangle story. There is then a duel, which provides an accepted means of committing suicide. It seems to be that Austrians of the late Hapsburg era were as prone to suicide as Japanese.

 

©2017, Stephen O. Murray

 

Reading Arthur Schnitzler (I)

The German Library’s Arthur Schnitzler volume (1982) has a very odd foreword by Stanley Elkin in which Elkin asserts that Schnitzler (1862-1931) was a greater novelist than playwright. This is a foreword to a book with three plays and two novellas. Moreover, Schnitzler only wrote three novels.

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The longer of the novellas, “Casanova’s Homecoming” dates from 1918, when Schnitzler was 56 (and the world of Hapsburg Vienna that Schnitzler explored in his most famed works was crashing in defeat). Its Casanova is 53, and very aware of having lost any physical attractiveness. He remains seductive and there are women willing to lie with him (mostly again), but the young woman he wants, an irony-delivering mathematician named Marcolina easily wards off his flattery and overtures. She has a secret lover, a dashing Adonis of a cavalry officer, who is about to depart for war. Desperate for money to pay a gambling debt to the husband of a woman he has also been servicing, Lorenzi, sells his last night with Marcolina to the aged roué (though lying in wait to fight a duel after Casanova has had his way with Marcolina, who discovered the switch and was disgusted at the old body substituting for the young one).

Moreover, to get back to his native Venice, Casanova agrees to serve the elders of the city by spying on young freethinkers. What Schnitzler thinks of either of these dishonorable courses of conduct, I can’t tell. I feel sorry for his Casanova, but am appalled by both. Although it has struck me as a bit silly, I think it is better to get permission to take over someone’s wife than to trick the woman Casanova wants. Not that I can sympathize too much with Lorenzi, either, but in my view, Marcolina is raped in that she would not have consented to congress with Casanova, and, indeed, had refused any. (Schnitzler’s 1900 “Lt. Gustl” shows that he considered dueling silly, and he was something of a Casanova himself.)

I was interested that Schnitzler granted Casanova the grace to be concerned about his partners’ pleasures, not his own: “Casanova knew himself to be one whose rapture in a love relationship was a thousandfold greater when conferring pleasure rather than receiving it.”

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I went on to read Tom Stoppard’s adaptation of Schntizler’s Das Weite Land (1911—“weite” means “vast”), Undiscovered Country (1980), in which an older philanderer also slays a handsome, young officer in a duel, even after the once-faithful wife (Genia) disdains duels as “foolish vanity defending a travestied honor.”

I think there are too many characters. The dialogue seems more Wilde than Schnitzler. I have to think that Stoppard added witty repartee to the characters and situations of Schnitzler’s play.

There are also two characters who love their cheating spouses, even if they engage in affairs of their own (like the marques in “Rules of the Game”). I didn’t remark on Casanova being at another country house party, albeit one on an estate owned by a non-aristocrat who has earned his fortune. Many of the characters in “Country” gather at an alpine resort, though most of the play is set in the yard (next to the tennis court) of the Hofreiter’s.

I’m more like Friedrich Hofreiter than like Casanova in my view of aging (14 years older than Schnitzler’s Casanova 11 years older than Schnitzler when he wrote it), what bothers is my paunch (something Schnitzler also had, though not triggered by protease inhibitors, as mine was).

F: It would be wonderful to be young again.

ADELE: You’ve been young quite long enough.

F: Yes, but I was young too soon—these things are so badly arranged. One ought to be young at 40 when you’d get something out of it.

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AND Schnitzler’s one-act play “Countess Mitzi” (1907) in which the title character, at home in a countryside villa, meets her father’s long-time mistress, Lolo, who is about to be married and has ended the affair, and Paul, her son whom she was forced to give up, but whose father is now acknowledging (and asking Mitzi to marry him, something he has done multiple times since his wife died). Two very long extramarital affairs and the young “natural” son of the prince who believes his mother is (1) dead and (2) was a commoner (though she was and is a countess).

Another discussion of aging:

COUNT: One grows old, Egon.

PRINCE: You get used to it…. At 55 the springtime of life is pretty well over. One gets resigned to it.

©2017, Stephen O, Murray

Strange novel/document from the end of the life of Ludwig van Beethoven

It is well known that Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) was totally deaf in his last years. The title “Conversations with Beethoven” (2014) might then seem peculiar, but Sanford Friedman’s (1928-2010) novel posthumously published by New York Review Books is based on notepads on which visitors wrote messages to Beethoven.

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The master replied and only letters he dictated were written down. The conversations are, thus, pretty one-sided. Moreover, the reader does not know who wrote what. There are successions of questions and remarks that in print are generally impossible to attribute to one visitor or another, though Beethoven’s beloved nephew Karl (1805-58, whose father, Beethoven’s brother, died in 1895), whose future is the composer’s predominant concern— tied up with the second, money— are the primary concerns evident in the book.

At the start (July 1826) Karl has shot himself in the head. Surviving, he joins the Hapsburg army and his uncle uses his influence to get Karl aimed at being commissioned an officer, while deploring the choice of career.

The far-from-affluent composer is eager to keep Karl from ever seeing his mother and trying to ensure that she will not profit from his estate through her son. Near the end, Beethoven relents, asks her to come to see him, and apologizes. She gets the last word(s): an account of the death and funeral she sends to Karl who arrived too late for the funeral (in fact, Karl attended the funeral).

I found it impossible to keep reading every line, skimming through the disconnected jottings until the visit of Franz Schubert (1798-1828) and the soon following visit of Johanna, Karl’s mother, and her lengthy letter to Karl.

I don’t know how much Friedman (1928-2010) took over from the surviving notebooks, how much he invented. (NYRB has also reprinted Friedman’s 1965 novel Totempole, which I read and admired once upon a time (not on its initial publication. Friedman wrote a number of plays in his youth as the brief introduction to this book by Richard Howard mentions twice.)

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Karl in the only known portrait, dating from 1806. He survived long enough to produce a son, who emigrated to Michigan, btw.

Rating: 3.2/5

Pros: last parts

Cons: confusing, not knowing who wrote what, lack of Ludwig’s side of “conversations”

 

©2017, Stephen O. Murray

Vienna bike-messenger go-between

Despite what I consider excessive graphic violence, I thought that Stefan Ruzowitzky’s 2012 movie “Deadfall” starring Eric Bana was interesting. Among other facets, it includes the tensest “traditional” Thanksgiving dinner I’ve ever seen (onscreen or off). Ruzowitzky’s 2007 “The Counterfeiters” was much acclaimed and won the Oscar for best foreign-language film. His 1996 movie “Tempo,” which was his first feature-length film, focuses on Jojo (Xaver Hutter), a heavily fantasizing 17-year-old high school dropout who has moved to Vienna and become a bicycle messenger, rooming with another bicycle messenger not long out of reformatory, Bastian (Simon Schwarz).

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A lot of screentime is occupied by Jojo’s fantasies about being interviewed on tv (MTV?) about his (s)exploits. He is, and, I think, remains a virgin, though fantasizing about being seduced by Clarissa (Nicolette Krebitz) to whom he delivers a rose and a package from Bernd (Dani Levy) most days. Jojo imagines Bernd and Clarissa have a grand passion. Eventually, he is shocked and disenchanted (as was “The Go-Between”).

At the start of the movie, the distinction between what is his prosaic life and what is fantasy is clear (as in “Billy Liar”), but the line becomes blurrier and blurrier until what seems to be really happening is more surreal than his fantasies. I think that makes the movie sound more interesting than it is, alas.

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Though tongue-tied around women, Jojo is positively garrulous in his fantasies, especially those involving tv interviews. I find Bernd more interesting than Jojo (or Bastian or Clarissa), though not interesting enough to carry the movie.

Rating:2.8/5

Pros:Bernd and Clarissa

Cons: Jojo and his fantasy life

©2015, Stephen O. Murray

Lonely adults in the Kunsthistoriches: “Museum Hours” (2012)

I wanted to watch the 2012 movie written and directed by Jem Cohen, “Museum Hours,” primarily because it was mostly shot in Vienna’s Kunsthistoriches Museum, one of the world’s great art collection.The movie made me glad that I have never visited Vienna in winter. The sky is gray in every scene shot outside the museum in the movie, and there is often haze/fog. rather than the golden light for which Vienna is famed.

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Still, I was interested in the shots of Vienna as well as of art in the great museum that inherited the Hapsburg art collection, including a Vermeer and a whole room of Breughels. I was totally uninterested in what the Montréal visitor, Anne (Mary Margaret O’Hara), sang, and, indeed in her character. She frequents the museum while ostensibly there to visit a cousin in a coma in St. Josef Hospital.

A sixty-something guard in the museum, Johann (Bobby Sommer). Is kind to her, and they have coffees and beers together in addition to his accompanying her to look at her inert cousin. The best part of the movie for me was docent Gerda Pachner (Ela Piplits) providing an unorthodox perspective on Pieter Breughel’s “The Conversion of Paul” (ca. 1567 [below]), though I have difficulty believing it would be delivered (in English) to a group of ordinary tourists. (I agree with her that the rear of a horse is an incongruous focus, both very large and close to the center of the painting, and that it is difficult to find Saul/Paul on a very un-Syrian road in the busy painting.)

There is very minimal development of the two main characters, neither of whom has much of a life, and no plot. Maybe the movie was too subtle for me, though I found the last part in which some scenes of the current city were analyzed as paintings are was very unsubtle in trying to relativize the notion of priceless masterpieces.

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I felt that many shots (not those of artworks) were held too long and was bored by the 107-minute movie as a movie, though it supplemented my visit by showing stuff in the Egyptian collection (I skipped it, the movie skips the Roman sculpture that I did spend some time examining).

The Blu-Ray includes Cohen shorts, Amber City, Museum (Visiting the Unknown Ma), Anne Truitt, Working, and Museum (Visiting the Unknown Man), which run 48, 13, and 8 minutes, respectively) and two trailers.

Rating:2.8/5

Pros: art

Cons: pace, O’Hara’s character

©2014, Stephen O. Murray

 

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