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Hugo Von Hofmannsthal and the Austrian Idea:

Selected Essays and Addresses, 1906-1927

Translated and Edited by David S. Luft

Publication Year: 2011

The Austrian writer Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874-1929) was one of the great modernists in the German language, but his importance as a major intellectual of the early twentieth century has not received adequate attention in the English-speaking world. One distinguished literary scholar of his generation called Hofmannsthal a “spiritual-moral authority” of a kind German culture had only rarely produced. This volume provides translations of essays that deal with the Austrian idea and with the distinctive position of German-speaking Austrians between German nationalism and peoples to the East, whether in the Habsburg Monarchy or beyond it, as well as essays that locate Hofmannsthal’s thinking about Austria in relation to the broader situation of German and European culture. “It is the true accomplishment of this translation that Hofmannsthal’s language, recreated in a clear and elegant English, regains its melody of an earlier time. If there ever was a captivating documentation of the European potential of Austria beyond the stereotypes of “Vienna at 1900,” it has been brought together in this volume of essays that responded to the tragic challenges of World War I in a constructive way.” Frank Trommler, University of Pennsylvania

Published by: Purdue University Press

Series: Central European Studies Series


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

It is a great pleasure for the editors of Central European Studies to be able to publish this volume in the series. It includes the most significant and interesting of the great Austrian writer Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s essays on Austria, the relationship of Austria to Germany and of Austria and Germany to the rest of Europe. Only a few of these pieces have ever been published in English before....

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pp. xi-xii

I became interested in Hugo von Hofmannsthal in recent years, after working for much of my scholarly life on another twentieth-century writer, Robert Musil. In an unusually creative generation of Austrian novelists, poets, and essayists, Hofmannsthal and Musil were perhaps the most distinguished essayists, but in certain respects my work on Musil had distanced me from Hofmannsthal, in part because Musil was more at home with modern science and technology. And, for...

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pp. 1-32

The Austrian writer Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874–1929) was one of the great modernists in the German language, but his importance as a major intellectual of the early twentieth century has not received adequate attention in the Englishspeaking world. Hofmannsthal’s admirers are familiar with his poetry, plays, and libretti or, perhaps, with his prose fiction, but most of his essays are still untranslated and unknown to readers of English. Yet as J. D. McClatchy has recently...

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The Poet and Our Time

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pp. 33-52

You have been told that I want to talk with you about the poet [Dichter]2 and our time, about the presence of the writer or of the poetic element in our time; and I understand that some announcements have posed the theme even more seriously, speaking of the problem of poetic existence in the contemporary world. These art-words already border on the territory of technical philosophy and force me to disclaim from the outset all expectations that go in this direction, which I would...

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Boycott of Foreign Languages?

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pp. 53-56

We stand in the midst of a struggle unlike anything the world has ever seen, a fight with teeth and nails, a war of unknown duration. In this war everything becomes a means: the last silver coin in the chest as much as the last piece of shrapnel, the pen to defend against lies as much as the bayonet, the telegraph as much as the piles of stones on the ground. And so it should be: for only out of terrible seriousness can something new be born....

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The Affirmation of Austria

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pp. 57-60

The thought2 of Austria has found its home in these pages for a decade as a real thought and not merely as a phrase. A distinctive political view defined itself here, which not only knew how to make its talent known but, what is far more rare, has demonstrated character and energy of will. A number of spiritual and intellectual powers were at work here, all of which were striving for the same goal. Here for ten years a cat was called a cat; the unpleasant was not concealed; what was...

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Our Foreign Words

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pp. 61-66

A letter from a stranger urging me to take up the theme of our foreign words surprised me and impressed me with its able formulation. The writer brought morality into this question, and one can and must in fact introduce it everywhere. He called the hate campaign against foreign words a mob action; it would be difficult to prove to him that this expression is too strong in all cases. As always the individual instigators of such an action believe that they must act on their true...

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We Austrians and Germany

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pp. 67-72

Even in today’s very serious context, it may be said that among the countries of the world Austria is for Germans one of the least known or most poorly understood. Austria lies so close to Germany, and because of this it is overlooked. There may also be inner inhibitions at work; these exist between states as between individuals: self-consciousness, false inferences, failures of attention and understanding. It is the peculiar fate of the contemporary German to have to look in all directions...

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Grillparzer’s Political Legacy

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pp. 73-78

In times of crisis the thoughtful Austrian will always come back to Grillparzer— for two reasons: first, because in unstable times it is a refuge to return in thought to his ancestors and to reassure himself with those who dwell safely in the eternal, the indestructible, which is in us as well; and second, because in such times everything acquired and inauthentic falls away from us, and everyone must return to himself. But in Grillparzer, who is and will remain a great figure—although not a...

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Austria in the Mirror of Its Literature

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pp. 79-88

Austria first became spirit in its music, and in this form it has conquered the world. Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, also Strauss and Lanner,2 these names speak for themselves, and before you who are Austrians, I need only name them in order to awaken something immeasurable in you. The most endearing serenity, bliss without ecstasy, the joyfulness, almost merriness, in Haydn’s masses, the breath of the Slavic, the luster of the Italian in this music that was created out of the profoundest...

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The Idea of Europe

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pp. 89-98

The war as historical crisis, end of material and spiritual credit:
The conventions are suddenly reduced to their real gripping power. International relations reveal themselves as a great balancing of spiritual and legal powers that has grown critical;
all temporally limited ways of thinking...

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The Austrian Idea

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pp. 99-102

The world has seen an energy radiate from here in the past four years that has made itself felt in renewed waves. A continually renewed effort can never go forth from an inert mass, and people have gradually been forced to regard this conglomerate, this “bundle of nations,” supposedly standing under some sort of tyrannical supreme authority, as the revelation of a spiritual power and a historical...

The Prussian and the Austrian

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pp. 103-106

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Adam Müller’s Twelve Lectures on Eloquence

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pp. 107-110

It stands to be expected and desired that an enterprise like this series would be undertaken. Anyone who tried to think along with his own side during the war and followed with interest the state documents, statements addressed to other countries, writings and speeches of leading military and civilian officials here in Austria and in Germany must have sensed that there was in all that a stiffness and barrenness, a lack of assurance and dignity of expression, sometimes soft...

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Three Small Observations

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pp. 111-120

It was long before the war that I found this remark in the Fragments2 of Novalis: “After an unsuccessful war, comedies must be written.” This note, in its peculiarly laconic form, was rather strange to me. I understand it better today. The essence of comedy is irony, and nothing is better suited to make clear to us the irony that rules over all the things of the earth than a war that ends unhappily. Tragedy gives its hero, the individual, an artificial dignity: it makes him into a...

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K. E. Neumann’s Translation of the Holy Writings of the Buddhists

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pp. 121-126

In the poetry of the Austrian physician and writer Feuchtersleben stands this verse: “Is nothing under way then, nothing accomplished? they ask presumptuously. And meanwhile greatness matures quietly. Now it appears. No one sees it, no one hears it in the furor. In modest sadness it quietly passes by.” Ever again what these lines express will be true in relation to some great spiritual and intellectual work or other; only the object referred to will change from generation to...

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View of the Spiritual Condition of Europe

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pp. 127-130

The damage from the war to every country and to every individual was so great, the material consequences are so severe and so interconnected and constitute such an effort and a burden for the imaginative and emotional life of the individual as well, that a feeling about it does not really come to expression, at least not one that is clear and resounding, but only, if you will, to a numbed expression that nonetheless fills all thinking individuals: that we find ourselves in one of the...

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New German Contributions

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pp. 131-134

Someone who announces contributions confesses to the belief that something exists to which it could be a duty or a pleasure to contribute. Contributions then—to what? To German literature? The word and the concept have become threadbare in too many hands. To German poetry? That aims high and could seem presumptuous. To the spiritual resources of the nation and, therefore, to language? For where would we find the spiritual resources of the nation if not in the language?...

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Czech and Slovak Folksongs

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pp. 133-138

That we present today, without regard for the deafening unrest and tension of the world situation, a translation of Czech folksongs as the first volume of a Czech library will seem untimely to most in more than one regard, above all politically, if one concentrates meaning on the immediate and regards nothing as important except what will be taken to be very unimportant in perhaps five or ten years. Here we want to reach across two human generations and behave toward the...

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Address on Grillparzer

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pp. 139-150

What does it mean that we have come together here today to celebrate one of the most famous poets of our people, whose fame still stands uncontested and cannot be significantly increased or more profoundly established through festive commemorations, which we have prepared here at one site in our fatherland of many tribes. As we turn to answer this question, an insight occurs to us: a great man’s fame is not to be compared to a hoard of gold, which lies there securely as long...

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Stifter’s Indian Summer

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pp. 151-156

It has been said that Stifter’s Indian Summer means for Austria what Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister and Elective Affinities mean for Germany. This is certainly true, but this book is also very important for German intellectual life; indeed, it has a meaning for German intellectual life of the highest specificity. At the same time, it constitutes, along with Grillparzer’s most important creations—among them his still unknown diaries, which are full of substance like a mine—the strongest...

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The Written Word as the Spiritual Space of the Nation

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pp. 157-170

We are bound together in a community not by our shared living on the soil of the homeland, not by our physical contact in trade and commerce, but above all by a spiritual connection. In this, our old European nations are different from that youthful, outwardly powerful American state, in which we cannot yet recognize a nation in this sense. We find our way to one another in a language that is something utterly different from a merely conventional means of communication; for...

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The Value and Dignity of theGerman Language

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pp. 171-176

If we think about the history and character of our language, we are confronted with this: we have a very high poetic language and very charming, expressively powerful folk dialects by which the everyday language in all German regions is colored in a variety of ways. What we lack is a middle language—not too high, not too low—in which the sociability of the people manifests itself. Our neighbors to the north, south, east, and west all have such a middle language; we...


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pp. 177-180


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pp. 181-201

Back Cover

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p. bc-bc

E-ISBN-13: 9781612491783
E-ISBN-10: 1612491782
Print-ISBN-13: 9781557535900
Print-ISBN-10: 1557535906

Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Central European Studies Series