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Oskar Kokoschka’s Phantasmagorical Vision: The Book of Job Transmogrified Jacques-Leon Rose The Book of Job, the poetic drama that the editors of the Bible have put after Proverbs and before the Song of Songs, has been throughout the centuries a fertile source or suggestive framework for writers’ imaginations. Perhaps the most intense­ ly precise and incisive interpretation, however, was achieved by William Blake in his singular illustrations, the first edition of which dates from 1825. In Blake’s vision, according to S. Foster Damon, “the whole drama is enacted in Job’s soul. His wife is part of him, his inspiration, his feminine aspect (which Blake elsewhere called an Emanation), who shares his errors. His children are his creations, his deeds, his joys. The accusing friends are also part of him, for they speak for his submerged sense of guilt. His devil is the Accuser within him, and even his God is his own creation, his own ideal, made in his image, his Selfhood, and not the true God at all.”i In this sadly retrogres­ sive century, the Job story (with radically different implications than those which prevailed in Blake’s day) has become especial­ ly suitable and meaningful as a trenchant theme for literary treat­ ment and interpretation. For from 1917, when Oskar Kokosch­ ka’s HiobZ was first performed in Dresden, to the present day, the unspeakable suffering and degradation of Job has become the world’s. This span of fifty-odd years could not have produced more massive upheavals, or bestiality more beyond human rea­ son’s power to grasp. Job’s anguished cry has indeed been trans­ formed into a worldwide outburst. Kokoschka, however, transforms the Biblical myth into something peculiarly personal: a vivid cinematic and pantomimic montage of love-suffering man in foredoomed battle with rapa91 92 Comparative Drama cious woman. His version of Job, with its extremely subjective vision, is as much a product of reaction to environmental stimu­ lation as of artistic impulse and the need for catharsis. His work participated in the relatively short but strongly-lived movement labelled “Expressionism,” which, as Walter Sokel points out, should be viewed “not as a unified concept or doctrine, which it never was, but as a common label for heterogeneous and some­ times mutually contradictory tendencies.”3 The eruption of this fiery movement in the early years of the century was to reach its glowing zenith in the twenties; and the long submersion in the ground of its firmly planted, age-old roots suddenly caused an unbridled, beautifully wild growth of torturous outbursts and ecstatic visions. The times were at once ominously tenebrous and turbulent. Whatever Expressionism lacked in programmatic substance or direction, it more than made up for by religious fervor and cosmic bursts of energy and intensity. Indeed, in­ tensity is an essential, if not the decisive quality responsible for the agitated and deliberately twisted vision that is Expressionism in literature and art. But beyond the startling innovations of the Expressionists lay a more general, if vaguely defined, spirit of revolt. Thus, the German political activist and humanitarian Ludwig Rubiner wrote: “I know that life can have only a moral purpose: Intensity, the roaming fire of intensity, the burstings, splittings, explosions of intensity. We believe in miracle. We believe in the expulsion of all flux in us. We believe in fiery spirit suddenly consuming us. We believe in a single moment’s eternal fulfillment.”4 In addition to the intensity of language that ex­ pressed the intensity of their vision, the Expressionists resorted to violent, merciless distortion, by which they captured not only the dark-colored essence of their surroundings but also came close to a shockingly revealing (and frightening) truth. Oskar Kokoschka played a dual role in this dramatic re­ vitalization of the arts—as painter, foremost and gloriously; and as literary provocateur. Kasimir Edschmid, whose Lebendiger Expressionismus is a vivid, tense recollection of the heyday of Expressionism (by one of its liveliest spokesmen) as well as an excoriation of those who would “explain” it without having lived or been active in those times, comments on the fate of the lit­ erary output vis-à-vis the painting and sculpture...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 91-100
Launched on MUSE
2018-07-11
Open Access
No
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