Academic journal article PSYART

Freud's "Uncanny" (Unheimlich) in David Vogel's Married Life: Impressionism and Expressionism in a Belligerent Relationship

Academic journal article PSYART

Freud's "Uncanny" (Unheimlich) in David Vogel's Married Life: Impressionism and Expressionism in a Belligerent Relationship

Article excerpt

Married Life, by the Jewish author and poet David Vogel, a provocative novel at the time of its publication in Jerusalem in 1929, is still considered a masterpiece of Hebrew literature. Yet, according to Moshe Ben-Menachem, when Vogel, who lived most of his life in Vienna and Paris, tried to publish the novel also in Germany, German Jewry explicitly disapproved of it and the manuscript was rejected by publishers. Their reluctance was, inter alia, fueled by the novel's convention-breaking eroticism (Ben-Menachem, 1954:201). The story, one of sexual pathology between a masochistic victimized Jewish man and a willful Austrian Christian baroness who rules over him, was too harsh and incendiary for Jewish readers. In the early decades of the twentieth century, the Jewish nation was engaged in a revival process and the image of the strong proud "New Jew" was conscientiously fostered. This despite the fact that the 'rootless' character was the prominent protagonist of Modern Hebrew literature at the time. As a result, Vogel's rootless protagonist was not a source of pride to a Middle European Jewish culture that encouraged the inverse image.[1]

Married Life describes the disastrously cruel affair and marriage of Rodulf Gurdweill, a Jewish writer at the start of his career, and Thea von Takow, an Austrian Baroness who beats and mentally abuses him, cheats on him, and bears a child with one of her lovers. Gurdweill, who believes the boy is his, takes sole care of him because Thea has no interest in being a mother or changing her freewheeling lifestyle. When the child dies of illness, Thea cruelly tells Gurdweill that the child is not his. She rips his manuscript, castrates his creative powers of production, and banishes him from their apartment to the streets of Vienna. Yet, despite all this, Gurdweill cannot break away from her and always finds excuses for her while ignoring his Jewish friend Lotte's love for him. Only after Lotte's suicide, prompted by this unrequited passion, does he understand that in fact he loves her too. He develops hatred towards Thea because of the child's and Lotte's deaths, a hatred that grows and reaches its climax when he finds her in their marriage bed with one of her lovers. Overwhelmed with jealousy he kills her with a knife.

This essay analyzes the poetic and thematic structure of Married Life and suggests a reading of it using Freud's concept of the "uncanny" that is supported by, and revealed through, representations from the contrasting artistic movements of Impressionism and Expressionism. The novel is built on two opposing forces whose relationship to some extent can be characterized by the "uncanny." One is apparent in the struggle between the weak Jewish male and strong Christian female described as "Brunhilda," and the other site of tension can be seen in the aesthetic design, wherein significant impressionistic and expressionistic modes of representation are evident. Here, although in limited ways, and as will be discussed later, Expressionism plays the role of the uncanny to Impressionism's unspoken agenda.

The problematic issues that arise in the novel appear through representations lifted from the world of these art movements with their contradictory poetical and philosophical points of view. Each of them brings a distinct artistic language, while the conflict between them influences the shaping of Vogel's characters and their relationships. It especially explains Gurdweill's bizarre and intense attraction to the cruel Baroness, and may shed light on the novel's abrupt ending.

Though Vogel's engagement with both artistic movements has been discussed in the study of his work overall, in my opinion, Married Life highlights most clearly the complicated and committed use of these modes of expression. Some critics have pointed out the impressionistic nature of many of his poems and of his fiction, such as his novella Nochach Ha'yam ("Facing the Sea"), but others actually notice a German expressionistic influence, especially in his early poetry. …

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