- IntroductionCelebrating Austrian Thought—History and Mind in the Work of David S. Luft
This JAS Special Issue takes the opportunity of David S. Luft's recent retirement from teaching (after forty-six years) and his forthcoming publication The Austrian Dimension in German Intellectual History: From the Enlightenment to Anschluss (Bloomsbury Academic, Spring 2021) to celebrate both the field he helped direct and his own impressive contributions to the study of the Central European mind. It is also an opportunity to highlight Professor Luft's influence on his students through his commitment to mentorship, teaching, and friendship. Over his career, Professor Luft has matched research productivity with variety and depth. He wrote intellectual history monographs, articles on Central European history, and edited and translated into English two of the most important essayistic voices of modern Austria (Musil and Hofmannsthal). Luft is the author of Robert Musil and the Crisis of European Culture: 1880–1942 (U California P, 1980), Eros and Inwardness in Vienna: Weininger, Musil, Doderer (U Chicago P, 2003), and The Austrian Dimension in German Intellectual History: From the Enlightenment to Anschluss (Bloomsbury, 2021). He translated and edited the essays of Robert Musil and Hugo von Hofmannsthal: Precision and Soul: Essays and Addresses (with Burton Pike; U Chicago P, 1990) and Hugo von Hofmannsthal and the Austrian Idea (Purdue UP, 2011).
In terms of professional service, David Luft remains an important leader in the promotion of Central European and Austrian history: President MALCA 2010–2012 (Vice President 2009); President Austrian Studies Association [End Page xvii] 2012–2014; Executive Secretary, Society for Austrian and Habsburg History, 2006–2009. Member, Executive Committee of the Society for Austrian and Habsburg History, 2005–2008. He served on editorial boards for the Austrian History Yearbook, 2006–2009, The German Quarterly, 2006–2012, and The Journal of Austrian Studies, 2007-present. He has worked closely with scholars in Vienna through multiple Fulbright grants, and in 2019 he was elected to the European Academy.
Professor Luft was also a revered and well-loved classroom lecturer and seminar leader, consistently receiving awards for excellence in teaching; more importantly, however, he developed his students into teachers through his example of preparedness, clarity, and energy. Finally, he excelled at being a mentor, as evidenced by the contribution of his students here and continued guidance and collaboration with them. Over his career he worked on dozens of dissertation committees and directed sixteen completed PhDs. Many of Luft's students went on to impact the field of German and Austrian history through both research publications and teaching careers.1
The essays gathered here go a long way in expressing what David Luft represents in the scholarship of Austrian intellectual history. However, I think it is necessary and useful to expand on that topic. What is in a name? It is the question that I asked as I reviewed David Luft's career and considered how to define his work and his influence. I had hopes of finding a single term by which to frame or define his career. But, as the contributions to this Special Issue demonstrate, Luft's career and influence are too multivalent to be packed into a single term: intellectual historian, translator, biographer, essayist, teacher, to name just a few. Thus, I endeavor in this essay to characterize his basic intellectual impulses, to describe the world and the thinkers to which he gravitates, and to illuminate the questions he asks and the questions he inspires his students to ask about the intellectual and humanistic life of German Central Europe.
One sees clearly in a retrospective examination of Luft's career that Robert Musil is the foundational intellectual influence. The reason for this may not be as obvious; from my perspective, Musil and Luft share the intellectual project of trying to understand human existence through a rational model; however, their investigations question rationalism qua positivism and attempt to balance intellectual activity by exposing both its spiritual and scientific values. As Luft himself has suggested, it is a scholarly career defined by the challenge of translating "geistig." [End Page xviii]
Of course, the characteristics of his methodology and his...