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  • Hermann Broch und die Künste ed. by Alice Stašková and Paul Michael Lützeler
  • Jens Klenner
Alice Stašková and Paul Michael Lützeler, eds., Hermann Broch und die Künste. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2009. 263 pp.

Throughout his writerly life in Austria and, from 1938 until his death in 1951, in the United States, Hermann Broch was concerned with the state of European cultural values. His essayistic as well as fictional oeuvre is an acute examination of artistic, aesthetic, and cultural modernity, often testifying to what Broch terms a “decay of values.” Broch understood culture in terms of a unifying totality, and he regarded culture as cyclical, defined by an advancement, decline, and new progression. He saw his own time as the cultural nadir of a 400-year long waning that had begun during the Middle Ages, which he regarded as the ideal apex of a harmoniously unified symbolic value system. Yet, according to Broch, any total value system commences disaggregation into smaller subsystems as soon as it attains its height of cultural accord. Seeing the early decades of the twentieth century as a transitional stage, caught between ideals of the past and those yet to come, Broch is vexed by the diminishing possibility of reintegrating values into a cultural concord. For Broch, the signs of the coming unity can be divined only in art. Art, and especially literature, Broch says, is an expression of its time and thus is able to capture culture symbolically. If true art is capable of reflecting the conditions of its time in their totality, compounding all acts of human development into a single act of recognition, art must then also indicate the potential for cultural progress during less perfect times.

Hermann Broch und die Künste is the first collection of essays to investigate systematically Broch’s dealings with the arts of his time. Studies by twelve international specialists investigate the realms of music, painting, architecture, literature, language, and film. The essays take a three-pronged approach: The first method follows a biographical line, analyzing Broch’s relationship to the arts within his own work. The second contextualizes and locates his thinking in the artistic and aesthetic debates of his time, focusing especially on his search for cultural totality—the main task ascribed to literature and the arts. Finally, Broch’s work and its reception are evaluated in comparison to other artists and thinkers, among them Adolf Loos, James Joyce, Denis Diderot, Sergei Eisenstein, Robert Walser, and Thomas Bernhard.

The density of the volume’s agenda certainly owes much to Broch’s own complexity, which the many detailed and far-reaching analyses do justice. [End Page 138] Divided into four thematic sections, the essays are too rich to give each adequate mention; all are recommended unreservedly.

The intensity of Broch’s involvement with the creative arts is explored in section 1, “Malerei und Architektur.” Broch traveled in the same circles as did the artists of the Viennese Secession and avant-garde, and he was part of an artistic network in American exile. He was steeped in aesthetic theory from Clement Greenberg to Wilhelm Worringer, which influenced his engagement with painters like Manet, Cézanne, van Gogh, Dalí, and Picasso. Sarah McGaughey shows that Broch’s conception of architecture is rooted in the ornamental tradition of the nineteenth century. In her conclusion, she indicates a concern that Broch unexpectedly shares with Loos: namely, the crisis of European culture and its potential salvation in art.

In the section “Film und Literatur,” two essays explore Broch’s interest in the medium of film. Investigating the screenplay Das Unbekannte X, Broch’s adaptation of his novel Die Unbekannte Größe, Claudia Liebrand delves into Broch’s awareness of the cinematic discourse of his times. She outlines how Broch amalgamated genre conventions and embraced avant-garde approaches regarding auditory and visual designs in order to tap the potential of the paradigmatic modernistic medium. Jürgen Heizmann, consulting previously unstudied manuscripts from Yale’s Broch archive, reveals how film assumes an increasingly important role in Broch’s aesthetic and theoretical deliberations.

The penultimate section, “Musik und Sprache,” contains a quartet of essays surveying the...


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