Exhibiting the “Austrian by Training”: Arthur Schnitzler between Pacifism and Patriotism

Tuesday 5th June 2018, Senior Parlour, Gonville and Caius College, 5:6:30pm

Dr Marie Kolkenbrok (University of Cambridge)

The doctor and writer Arthur Schnitzler (1862-1931), one of the most central figures of Viennese modernism, is well known for this sharp analytical gaze on the human psyche in general – and on that of the Viennese bourgeois in particular. Although his works address socio-political topics such as anti-Semitism, the military code of honour, and bourgeois gender roles, he is often presented as apolitical author who remained largely detached from the current affairs of his time. On the face of it, this impression appears to be confirmed with regard to his position during WWI: Schnitzler mostly refrained from commenting publicly on the war and did not use his literary practice for either nationalist or pacifist purposes. While Arthur Schnitzler has been rightly credited for not joining the enthusiasm at the beginning of the war, the talk will focus on the extreme ambivalence which he expressed towards both the nationalist pro-war discourse and the European pacifist movement. Schnitzler maintained an ambivalent ‘posture’ of detachment, which not only seems to anticipate the self-regulating codes of cool conduct of the interwar years, but also informs his poetics and his understanding of the societal function of his literature. This posture of detachment is expressed in Schnitzler’s scarce public statements and in private correspondence, and in his anthropological analysis of the war. Besides published materials, the talk also takes into account some unpublished sources from the Cambridge University Library (CUL) and the Deutsche Literaturarchiv Marbach (DLA), as well as some previously unconsidered publications during the war years.

The talk will also discuss some concerns arising from the speaker’s curatorial work for the exhibition ‘Der “gelernte Österreicher” – Arthur Schnitzler im Ersten Weltkrieg’, on display at the National State Archive in Vienna, 10 April – 12 June 2018.