Academic journal article German Quarterly

Posthumous People: Vienna at the Turning Point

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Posthumous People: Vienna at the Turning Point

Article excerpt

Cacciari, Massimo. Posthumous People: Vienna at the Turning Point. Trans. Rodger Friedman. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1996. 219 pp. $15.95.

This book stretches the concept "Viennese" unusually far. It encompasses not only the German-speaking Austro-Hungarian Empire, but reaches out to appropriate such figures as Robert Walser, Ernst Jiinger, Umberto Saba, and Roberto Bazlen. Posthumous People is really about European modernism with an Austrian preponderance, where Vienna is conceived as the "crossroads" for "a multiplicity of directions that mysteriously and momentarily meet and combine" (175), for example, Zen Buddhism and Hassidic narrative. Vienna is figured not as concentered, like Ringstrafe, but as radiating out in all directions, as the "view from Steinhof," as the first selection is entitled. This work of cultural criticism, which is interpretive in method and interdisciplinary in scope, consists of a series of short pieces on Wittgenstein, Loos, Altenberg, Berg, Trakl, Riegl, Schonberg, Hugo Wolf, Mahler, Musil, Hofmannsthal, Salome, Rilke, Roth, Kubin, Klinger, Bocklin, Weininger, Walser, Mauthner, Webern, Saba, Bazlen, Rosenzweig, Canetti, and Kraus. Those one might have expected to see, Freud, Klimt, and Kafka make only brief appearances, while Schnitzler, Bahr, Beer-Hofmann, Andrian, Kokoschka, and Kolo Moser are entirely absent.

The book testifies to vast erudition, but it is not a scholarly book. It does not aim to be used. A reader seeking a piece of information or even a quick summary of the author's "thesis" will be disappointed: there is no index and no expository introduction (or conclusion). The "Preface to the American Edition" asserts that the book is not merely "a collection of scattered essays" but, with its "diverse figures and various tempos" something in the nature of a Liederzyklus. The reading sensation is not wholly unlike that of reading a work by Benjamin such as Berliner Kindheit um 1900 or Einbahnstra/Ie. Cacciari writes allusively, aphoristically, and poetically, with a minimum of scholarly references, little documentation, no self-situating with regard to other critics, no discussion of method, and no readily paraphrasable argument. The success of the pieces is mixed. Some are appealing. My favorites are "Lou's Buttons," where buttons are all that coins are not, and "On the Mystical Again," about the self-manifestation of Wittgenstein's "ineffable." Throughout the book wonderful discrete insights flash up. Take, on Saba: "Shortcuts save no time. Brevity is difficult, impervious (`paths for goats'), when one seeks Klarheit with every step `in God's honor.' Shortcuts are not the shortest path, but the path of concentration and of maximum density" (173); or, on animals in Kafka and Canetti: "Swallowed, digested, assimilated, and thus bound to an unending conflict with death, the animal rises to the order of the symbol of the resistance" (182). But the whole book is not like this. Too often, the style is reader-unfriendly. The drift is frequently at the point of eluding comprehension. Whether it is because the translation clouded the original here and there, there are stretches of murky writing, and the organization and balance of the individual pieces do not help. …

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