Thursday, July 5, 2012
"Arthur Schnitzler--Being Jewish" (A dramatic reading at USC)
This performance reaches deep into the mind and soul of the renowned Austrian writer and dramatist, famous for his frank treatment of sex and psyche. Based on his journals, his correspondence and his dreams, the drama exposes Schnitzler's often conflicted feelings about being a Jew in the heady milieu of turn-of-the-century Vienna.
The performance will be followed by a roundtable discussion with a panel of distinguished scholars and a reception at the USC Forum, Thursday September 13 at 4p.m.
Arthur Schnitzler, son of a prominent Hungarian Jewish laryngologist Johann Schnitzler (1835-1893) and Luise Markbreiter (1838-1911), a daughter of the Viennese doctor Philipp Markbriter, was born in Praterstrasse 16, Leopoldstadt, Vienna in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He began studying medicine at the University of Vienna in 1879 and received his doctorate of medicine in 1885 and worked at Vienna's General Hospital, but ultimately abandoned medicine in favor of writing.
His works were often controversial, both for their frank description of sexuality and for their strong stand against anti-Semitism, represented by works such as his play "Professor Bernhardi" and the novel "Der Weg ins Freie." However, though Schnitzler was himself Jewish, Professor Bernhardi and Frau Else are among the few clearly indentified Jewish protagonists in his work.
Schnitzler was branded as a pornographer after the release of his play "Reigen," in which ten pairs of characters are shown before and after the sexual act, leading and ending with a prostitute. The furor after this play was couched in the strongest anti-Semitic terms.
In response to an interviewer who asked Schnitzler what he though about the critical view that his works all seemed to treat the same subjects, he replied, "I write of love and death. What other subjects are there?"
A member of the avant-garde group "Young Vienna," Schnitzler toyed with formal as well as social conventions. In addition to his plays and fiction, Schnitzler meticulously kept a diary from the age of 17 until two days before his death. The manuscript which runs to almost 8,000 pages is most notable for Schnitzler's casual descriptions of sexual conquests--he was often in relationships with several women at once and for a period of some years he kept a record of every orgasm.
Schnitzler's works were called "Jewish Filth" by Adolf Hitler and were banned by the Nazis in Austria and Germany. In 1933, when Joseph Goebbels organized book burnings in Berlin and other cities, Schnitzler's works were thrown into flames along with those of other Jews, including Einstein, Marx, Kafka, Freud and Stefan Zweig.
On August 26, 1903, Schnitzler married 21-year-old aspiring actress and singer Olga Gussmann who came from a Jewish middle class family. They had a son together, Heinrich (1902-1982) and a daughter Lili who committed suicide. The Schnitzler's separated in 1921. Schnitzler died in 1931 in Vienna of a brain hemorrhage. Heinrich went to the U.S. in 1938, following the Anschluss and did not return to Austria until 1959.