The Realms of Gold

In Vienna, during the decade before the Great War, an astounding concentration of creative genius coincided with the final stages of political collapse.  The work of Hofmannsthal, Musil, Broch, Schnitzler, Kraus, Werfel, and Zweig in literature; Mahler, Wolf, and Schönberg in music; Krafft-Ebing and Freud in psychology; Wittgenstein and Buber in philosophy; Schiele and Kokoschka in art: These suggested that Austria had achieved self-awareness at the very moment of dissolution.  As Musil wrote: “Yes, maybe Kakania [Austria] was, despite much which speaks to the contrary, a country for geniuses; and probably that is another reason that it succumbed.” 

Vienna represented a state of mind in a state of siege.  As the monarchy tottered toward extinction, it desperately maintained the trappings of empire that emphasized social pretense and external appearances, elaborate titles and gradations of power.  The traditional Austrian attitudes—sentimentality, nostalgia, lighthearted aestheticism, love of spectacle, fondness for the countryside, indifference to social reform, and passivity toward bureaucracy—mingled uneasily with more modern currents: the protests against censorship and rigid sexual conventions, the alienation of intellectuals and a high suicide rate, the nationalist and antisemitic movements.  Karl Kraus ironically called Austria, with its quixotic mixture of repression...

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