- Das Zeitalter des Infantilismus: Zu Anton Kuhs Kultur- und Gesellschaftskritik by Franziska Geiser
On October 25, 1925, Anton Kuh, a prolific journalist and notable public speaker, gave a lecture in a Viennese concert hall before an audience of nine hundred people that caused such an uproar that police intervention was necessary, resulting in arrests. The provocative focus of Kuh's talk was a scathing verbal attack on Karl Kraus, who, earlier that month, had successfully taken Kuh to court for besmirching his honor. For Kuh, Kraus embodied everything that was psychologically askew in his contemporaries and society as a whole. The title of the lecture, "Der Affe Zarathustras," attested to Nietzsche's influence on Kuh. This incident, described by Franziska Geiser in Das Zeitalter des Infantilismus, her meticulous study of the foundations and implications of Anton Kuh's worldview, can be seen as a microcosm of Kuh's critique of society throughout his entire career.
Anton Kuh (1890–1941), an active figure of the Vienna coffeehouse scene, published only four books. The vast majority of his writings (over 1,500) were feuilletons, opinion pieces, commentaries, and essay segments that appeared in a multitude of European and American journals and newspapers. The bibliography in this study lists forty-three such sources. That Kuh's writings were so widely scattered may explain the sparsity of academic studies of Kuh in previous decades. A colleague of mine, Shelley Nelson Kirilenko, researched her thesis on Anton Kuh and, finding very little secondary literature, traveled to Geneva in the summer of 1984 to interview Thea Kuh-Tausig, Kuh's widow. She reports that Frau Kuh-Tausig asked her, "Warum wollen Sie über [End Page 124] ihn was schreiben? Er war doch gar kein Schrift steller." Ulrike Lehner published a collection of Kuh's writings in 1983 and another one in 1987, but otherwise, the availability of his publications was limited.
A major revival of research about Kuh occurred in 2016 when Walter Schübler edited Anton Kuh: Werke. This seven-volume collection revealed the full scope and importance of Kuh's literary contribution, as Hermann Schlösser's review in Literatur und Kritik (May 2017) observed when he stated "je länger man liest, desto klarer wird einem, dass Anton Kuh sehr viel mehr war als ein Produzent geistreicher Kleinigkeiten." Das Zeitalter des Infantilismus is the first major study to take advantage of the availability of this collection. Geiser cites from Schübler's edition extensively, indicating in a footnote that the original texts may be difficult to access. In her study, Geiser constructs Kuh's overarching critical theory of Infantilismus from the full range of his publications. Early in the introduction, the author states the central question: Did Kuh develop a model for an analytical theory, which he applied throughout his life to different societal and political situations? A most intriguing finding in this query is to see how Kuh was able to apply his analysis to both the crisis of Jewish identity in the Wiener Moderne and the rise of National Socialism.
The book is divided into three sections. The first maps the development of Kuh's contribution to the "Jewish Question" debates as found in his 1921 essay "Juden und Deutsche." Geiser ties Kuh's intellectual assumptions to the theories of the psychoanalyst Otto Gross, which Kuh transforms and applies to the struggle of Jewish identity. According to this perspective, those seeking Jewish identity in Zionism or in assimilation into the Austrian-German society are following a false solution to the Jewish identity crisis; both surrender individual autonomy to an external authority. Thus, Jews remain "kindisch," which can be compared to the "selbstverschuldete Unmündigkeit" in Kant's famous definition of the Enlightenment. Geiser shows how Kuh refashioned Gross's radical psychoanalytic theories in pointing the path to true freedom.
The second part of the book focuses on Nietzsche's influence on Kuh, though more than half of the book deals with Kuh's clash with Karl Kraus, which springs from and further develops Kuh's dichotomy of...