publisher colophon
Reviewed by:
  • Verdrängte Moderne—vergessene Avantgarde: Diskurskonstellationen zwischen Literatur, Theater, Kunst und Musik in Ősterreich 1918–1938 ed. by Primus-Heinz Kucher
Primus-Heinz Kucher, ed., Verdrängte Moderne—vergessene Avantgarde: Diskurskonstellationen zwischen Literatur, Theater, Kunst und Musik in Ősterreich 1918–1938. Gött ingen: V & R unipress, 2016. 296 pp.

Primus-Heinz Kucher's collection of articles explores the Austrian interwar avant-garde, including its origins and legacy in the Second Republic. The scholarly debates on the German avant-garde in Berlin have traditionally overshadowed the influence of fin-de-siècle Vienna modernism and the role of the avant-garde in the cultural production of the First Republic. In his introduction Kucher takes note of this situation, which persisted until recently, as is evident from Wendelin Schmidt-Dengler's assessments of the literary spectrum of that time. The contributors to the volume Verdrängte Moderne—vergessene Avantgarde represent a variety of disciplines, including literary and cultural studies, literary history, theater and art history, and women's literature. Contemporary international methodologies inform the articles, whose authors are affiliated with Austrian and German, French, Polish, and Italian institutes. The majority of articles are historically and socially contextualized, addressing economic issues and the political power balance. This is the case in [End Page 139] Zoltan Peter's exploration of a moderate avant-garde as a third path between the extremes of anti-modernism and formalist experimentalism. Such a third path was envisioned by Vienna intellectuals such as architect Josef Frank, who, as Zoltan reveals, ascribed to the Austrian mentality a sense of realism that resisted the experimentalism practiced in the Weimar Republic. Barbara Lesák examines the rather short-lived Austrian avant-gardist stage projects with a focus on Visionaries and Utopists. Included in her discussion are Jakob Moreno Levy's project of the Theater ohne Zuschauer as well as Adolf Loos and Lajos Kassák. Anke Bosse explores technological innovations in stage theory and architecture since 1900 and the increasingly "unliterary" character of theater. She problematizes Karel Čapek's stage humanoids-robots and Kiesler's electro-mechanical stage, raising the question if kinetic art is still theater, or if the abstract and de-personalized presentations under discussion constitute different genres altogether. Jürgen Doll discusses Vienna's Social Democratic theater as a mass spectacle typified by choral declamatory works representing power relations and the class struggle that also serves as a counter initiative the more intimate political cabaret that preempted Jura Soyfer's proletarian art. Arturo Larcati discusses the reception of Italian Futurism in interwar Vienna and its key event, the inclusion of Futurists in the Vienna theater exhibit of 1924 that drew the engagement of intellectuals such as Friedrich Kiesler, whose impact on film Larcati notes as well. On the 1930s, political dimensions increasingly enter the discussion, and Larcati addresses possible concessions to Fascism by representatives of the Futurist movement.

The second part of the anthology deals with the interplay of progressive and moderate initiatives. The opening article by Evelyne Polt-Heinzl examines Oskar Strnad as a pioneer of modernism, his significance for generations of Viennese architects and artists, his influence on the architecture of "Red Vienna," his stage innovations and connections to modernists like Schnitzler, Krenek, and Reinhardt, and, finally, the difficulties he faced during the rise of fascism. Rebecca Unterberger discusses Ernst Krenek's position between progress and reaction in light of Adorno's theories on the avant-garde and Brecht's theatrical practice. Julia Bertschik's article contributes to the discussion by showing the difficulty of positioning specific journals vis-à-vis intellectual trends since market conditions, distribution, and the desideratum of mass appeal are not to be underestimated. Bertschik highlights Querschnitt, a venue used by authors such as Franz Blei, Ernst Schaukal, Alexander Lernet-Holenia, and Sigmund Freud, and reviews publications of Karl Kraus, Roda [End Page 140] Roda, Emil Kuh, even Billy Wilder. Bertschik's survey of Querschnitt reveals skillful marketing strategies and makes explicit the coexistence of disparate trends. Primus-Heinz Kucher investigates the debates in the journal Musikblätt er im Anbruch with attention to conceptual links involving music theory, architecture, and sculpture. He emphasizes the ambivalence of the avantgarde, which is obvious from the debates and the cultural production. He concludes that such ambivalence is characteristic of international musical modernism and avant-gardism. Suggesting that atonalism could be a fad in some cases and a genuine innovation in others, he points to Schönberg to argue that traditionalism was often an integral part of avant-gardist forms.

Part 3 examines movements that run parallel to the avant-garde without displaying its formalist experimentation. Walter Fähnders reviews vagabond literati such as Hugo Sonnenschein, whom Erich Mühsam assigned an avantgarde position. The anti-literature and anti-establishment mode of living taken up by the vagabond poets can be understood as a new cultural initiative. In addition, Fähnders detects interests and ideas that the vagabond intellectuals shared with the political left. Vivien Boxberger's interpretation of Mela Hartwig's Das Verbrechen is the only article in the volume that thematizes the female avant-garde and its gender-specific configurations. In light of the particular marginalization of women, these avant-garde expressions are often overlooked or not recognized. Hartwig's deconstruction of the psychoanalytical model and her construct of the "new daughter" have ensured her place in the Austrian avant-garde. It is regrettable that no other female authors such as Else Feldmann or Paula Ludwig were included in the discussions. Jürgen Egyptien discusses journalist and writer Ernst Fischer's views on drama and stage practice and Fischer's leftist politics in conjunction with his dramatic projects centering on political figures like Lenin or Lasalle. Egyptien estabishes a close correlation between Fischer's approach and his dramas, in which he tried to shape aesthetic forms appropriate to the era. The concluding article by Aneta Jachimowicz on journalist and painter Rudolf Brunngraber, a close associate of political economist and philosopher Otto Neurath, presents a detailed analysis of Brunngraber's novel Karl und das 20. Jahrhundert. Jachimowicz acknowledges the innovations the novel makes but remains unconvinced of the effectiveness of the blend of statistics, sociology, and fiction. She criticizes the language of science in the novel, which, she concludes, merely illustrates the problems of the time without capturing the human dimension.

The anthology is compellingly structured, moving from avant-garde aestheticism [End Page 141] and artistic experimentation to a broader understanding of the avant-garde. These excellent articles expand the range of the ongoing scholarly discussions and make an important contribution to the field of interdisciplinary Austrian Studies.

Dagmar C. G. Lorenz
University of Illinois at Chicago

Additional Information

Print ISSN
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.