Wednesday, October 3, 2012

guest post: pretend-victorian sexual purity? not in vienna!

SPOILER ALERT: This is not Clementine.

I am Margarete, Clementine's twin sister.

Since Clementine is pressed for time in the upcoming weeks, and because I am partly to blame for that, I have decided to contribute to her blog. While I enjoy neo-Victorianism, I am by no means a die-hard enthusiast (but I am open to doing a few events with the SCSS when I get back to Pittsburgh and donning some steampunk gear in the near future). I know I can't replace Clementine (contrary to twin stereotypes), but I will do my best to give you an interesting read (or a reason to demand Clem's speedy return all the more urgently). ;-) Who knows? If you guys like me enough, we could plot to usurp Clementine's blog in an evil web coup d'état. Yes, Clem, I hope you are shaking in your bloomers at the prospect of my awesomeness infecting your neo-Victorian following!!! MWHAHAHAHA!

[insert by the Blogmistress: *blink* Margarete dear, you do know that you only emailed your guest post to me, and I still have to log in to Blogger, post the text and the photos and insert the hyperlinks, right? So technically said coup d'état would still have to be on my terms...]


1890s Vienna
I think all of you know by now that the Victorian standard of sexual purity was more or less a matter of keeping up the appearances of chastity rather than actually practicing chastity (even for the sake of one's spouse). Today we shall talk about a man who wrote in 1890s Vienna about the prevailing sexual decadence of society in spite of societal standards: Arthur Schnitzler!

image source: Wikipedia
Arthur Schnitzler (1862-1931) was an Austrian doctor-turned-author/dramatist. He was part of the fin de siècle movement, which was an art and literature movement that reached its peak in the 1880s and 1890s. While the movement itself was prominent in France, it had a strong influence in Vienna, where Schnitzler lived for most of his life. Fin de siècle was a pessimistic movement that reflected the belief that civilization leads to decadence.

For those of you who have never ever had an interest in literature relating to German/Austrian/Swiss culture, Schnitzler is a good read. A lot of his works are relatively light reading- mostly plays and novellas- wrought with a lot of fun themes like sex, incest, suicide, etc.- with most of these themes relating to Freudian ideas. Actually, Freud admired Schnitzler's works because he felt that Schnitzler intuitively understood the depth of the human psyche while Freud himself had to study the human psyche in order to understand it.

Schnitzler does a convincing job of portraying people within society as equals at the deep level; his main message was that decadence was not restricted to people who are low and morally-bankrupt, but rather to individuals who have lost a sense of themselves and are trying to find their own self-worth through their illicit affairs. I would not call Schnitzler's portrayal of people in this light as negative, but rather as a form of lost idealism. In Schnitzler's view, everyone loses a sense of the Self and looks for approval in their relations with others. Everyone wants to be an individual, but wallows in the fear that their individuality is not enough to keep them happy because they do not feel right with themselves. Schnitzler is not anti-sex (his personal life with its illicit affairs is proof enough of that) but he expressed the idea that sexual intimacy can be an artificial tool for those who lack positive self-awareness.

Ever watch the movie Eyes Wide Shut? Yep, that was a rip-off of Schnitzler's Traumnovelle. How about the episode of "M*A*S*H" in which the 4077 camp passes off a pair of long johns from one person to another in the Korean winter? Alan Alda (Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce) admitted that the idea came from Arthur Schnitzler's Reigen. Schnitzler's works are hilarious and thought-provoking, and I would say that he was a Viennese writer whose writings reflected a more realistic portrayal of the Victorian attitudes toward sex (you know, the attitudes that prevailed behind closed doors... pun intended).

Another reason why Schnitzler is an awesome guy: Hitler hated his works and had them banned in Nazi Germany.
Scene from M*A*S*H "Long Johns" episode

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