The Austian myth about Russia

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The turn of the century brought to Austria-Hungary criticism of traditional education and sexual education. This wave of criticism prompted S. Zweig and expressionists (F. Werfel, G. Trakl, and H. Meyering) to deliver speeches about confrontation between fathers and sons. And in this respect the influence of Russian culture on Austria is undeniable. Zweig, adding to his “spiritual heritage” works by Turgenev, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov, and Gorky, taking over their “condemnation over  dreadful and cruel absurdity of orders ruling the world, destroying a “little man” (short story Incident on Lake Geneva, 1921),[1] as well as themes of the tragedy of a human life and the depths of the human psyche. Speaking of the latter, philosophical works by Otto Weininger (1880-1903), compliant with Sigmund Freud’s ideas, became a real revelation.

Otto Weininger was born in a rich Jewish family. After graduating from a university in Vienna, where he studied philosophy, he got his doctorate on the subject of bisexuality. He wrote three major works – Sex and Character: An Investigation of Fundamental Principles (1902), On Last Things (1904, published posthumously), Love and Woman (published in 1917). His major work Sex and Character became notorious for its perverted interpretation by Nazi propaganda. The book is based on physiophilosophical ideas, the book is a research into the deep-rooted nature of the masculine and the feminine and their interpretation as cultural and mythological constructions. According to the author, the masculine nature is characterized by creation and asceticism. The feminine nature is represented as the bearer of unproductivity and sensitivity.  The weak are not only women but also the Jews and the black population. In the chapter “Judaism” Weininger counterposes the “female” Judaism and “male” Christianity. But he perceives this opposition as a tragic break-up, the impossibility of last harmony. Terrified at the thought of “incompatibility” of the masculine and the feminine natures, the philosopher turns to F.M. Dostoevsky’s work and his artistic world where he finds examples of tragic inability to live with the understanding of his own weaknesses. Just like the suicidal philosopher Alexei Kirillov from the novel Demons, like Arkady Ivanovich Svidrigaïlov from Crime and Punishment, like Krotkaya from Dostoevsky’s short story A Gentle Creature, Otto Weininger takes his life: he shoots himself in the room where Beethoven died in order to “stop being a Jew, a homosexual, and a woman”.

Pondering over the problem of suicide in the context of Dostoevsky’s work perception (essay Dostoevsky and Suicide), S. Freud writes about the difficulty and the unknowable depth of human psyche. According to him, the mystery of The Brothers Karamazov consists in the fact that all four sons, including God-loving Alexei are psychologically and unconsciously bound with Karamazov – “demonic old man” – therefore, each of them could kill him. Reflecting on the nature of Dostoevsky’s neurotic disorder (epilepsy fits and gambling addiction), Freud attributes it to “Oedipus complex” (his archetypical structure can be found namely in chthonian myths about overthrow of a tyrannical father (Uranus, Cronus)).

The inner psychological motivation (opposition of libido and Thanatos) was an object of analysis in L. Trotsky’s articles. He was well-known in Vienna. Café Central, one of the most famous cafés in Vienna, still keeps the table where the ideologist of the Russian Revolution played chess with one of the most exalted neurasthenics of that time P. Altenberg. Altenberg’s escapism consisted in his refusal from permanent residence (the postcards were sent to him to the address “Café Central”), adoption of nocturnalism, his special diet, consisting of coffee, chocolate, and wine, no more intimacy with women and reduction of all his texts, including novels, to 1-2 pages, sometimes even to just a few lines. Many considered him a weirdo, others – an oracle, and some called him the ultimate product of the Vienna cultural climate.

[1] Necheporuk E. I. Chekhov and Austrian literature. Chekhov i mirovaya literatura: v 3 kn. [Chekhov and world literature in three volumes]. Moscow, Nauka Publ., 1997—2005. Vol. 1, 1997, pp. 227—266. P. 252 (in Russian).

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