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Resisting "bad taste": sentimentality, "Jewishness," and modernity in Arthur Schnitzler's Der Weg ins Freie.

Ever since the critic Josef Korner called Arthur Schnitzler's Der Weg ins Freie (1908) a "verfehltes Werk," this pronouncement has come to haunt the reception of this novel (218). Eren for those who have since then attempted to steer away from this view, Korner's verdict has nevertheless frequently served as a point of departure. (1) He was, after all, not only one of the first to thoroughly examine Schnitzler's literary output as a whole when he published Arthur Schnitzlers Gestalten und Probleme in 1921, but also one of the few whose work resisted the anti-Semitic slant that was characteristic of post-World War I criticism in Germany and Austria. (2) Given its significant and lingering impact on subsequent Schnitzler scholarship, Korner's criticism invites a second reading and serves as a discursive foil for the present essay. According to Korner, the failure of the work--or, to be more in tune with his dubbing of Der Weg ins Freie as Schnitzler's "liebstes Kind," its miscarriage--can be traced to two roots: structural incoherence and sentimentality. Structurally, Korner argues, the novel is composed of two unrelated, irreconcilable halves. One half revolves around the love story that takes place in 1898 between Georg von Wergenthin, a young aristocrat and aspiring composer, and Anna Rosner, a bourgeois Viennese musician, while the other half consists of a series of long conversations among Jewish characters about art, politics, and in particular, the Jewish question. The only common denominator of the two parts is, according to Korner, the character of Georg, a gentile who befriends several Jewish individuals and unwittingly steps into their heated discussions and verbal crossfire. In Korner's words, the novel is "eine unorganische Verknupfung einer Liebesgeschichte mit heterogenen politischen Debatten" (218). Other critics voiced the same objection to this work when it first appeared: in one letter to his friend Schnitzler, for instance, Georg Brandes writes, "Aber haben Sie nicht zwei Bucher geschrieben?" (3)

The second reason for the work's failure--sentimentality--is more complex and not wholly unrelated to the structural weakness Korner criticizes. It is also often overlooked in studies which have tried to address Korner's indictment or present a corrective criticism of Schnitzler. Korner divides the aspects of sentimentality in the novel into three categories: characterization, language, and the relationship between writer and work, with the last aspect serving to reinforce the other two. Of Schnitzlerian characters, Korner writes: "kalte Ironie und weiche Sentimentalitat wechseln planlos in ihrem Gemute" (221). In this context, Korner uses sentimentality to describe a stare of excessive yet uncommitted emotional activity, which, coupled with "weich," suggests an intense sensitivity to external stimuli. In another instance, he paints Schnitzler's language as being "elegant, vornehm, soigniert, geistreich und ein wenig sentimental--wie seine jungen Lebemanner" (222). This passage underscores the lack of gravity in the emotional state already described in the first through the evocation of the "Lebemann." A recurring character type throughout Schnitzler's oeuvre, of which Georg is an example, this man of leisure lacks political conviction and social awareness. He is dilettantish in his interests and perfunctory in his pursuits. Moreover, he wallows in the atmosphere evoked by his surroundings, and conjures up real or imagined scenarios in order to create a setting for mood and for sensations which he purposely yet perversely construes to be feelings. Schnitzler's sentimental language, when juxtaposed with the "Lebemann," carries the implication that it s trikes a false or contrived emotional note. The emotional content that this language tries to convey lacks any tangible substance. Similar to Schnitzler's "man about town," it is devoid of gravity and conviction, even as it strives to achieve a semblance of this conviction. What results is an accumulation of effects, shimmering sensations of something that is purportedly of emotional value, though the attachment to a referent has already been severed or never existed.

It is at first unclear whether the sentimental language Korner attributes to Schnitzler refers to passages in his works which are filtered through the prism of a sentimental character, or if Korner is asserting that Schnitzler's writing, independent of the attempt to capture a character's perspective, is sentimental. The differentiation between the two is vital, for in the former case, Schnitzler is portrayed as a writer who can manipulate language in order to achieve a more immediate characterization, while the latter depicts him as someone who has no power to stop his own sentimentality from bleeding into his writing. Korner, however, dispels any ambiguity when, by relating the art of literary impressionism to the phenomenon of sentimentality, he asserts, "Die Stimmungskunstler bedroht aber allemal die Gefahr, sich an die selbstgeschaffene Stimmung zu verlieren, in laue Sentimentalitat und falsche Ruhrung zu geraten [...]. Schnitzler ist dieser Gefahr nicht immer entgangen" (224). Schnitzler's sentimentality is clearly articulated here. More important, just as the character Georg's sentimentality is primarily defined by his ability to be swayed by the emotion-inducing worldview he himself has constructed, so is Schnitzler's brand of sentimentality, according to Korner, defined by his incapacity to contain uncalled-for emotional response and improper attachment to his work. Schnitzler cannot resist the seduction of his own creation and, as a consequence, transgresses the unnamed boundary between writer and work. As a result, Korner continues, Schnitzler merely presents characters in the novel, flaws intact, without reaching beyond to provide criticism for the problematic times that shape such individuals' vacuous and directionless lives. Worse, Schnitzler's Der Weg ins Freie reflects the vacuousness and directionlessness of the figures that populate this novelistic world. The structural incoherence in this work is, in sum, for Korner, a function of Schnitzler's sentimentality.

Contrary to Korner's criticism, Schnitzler was not oblivious to the aesthetic problems and connotations of sentimentality. In his Buch der Spruche und Bedenken (1927), a collection of theoretical aphorisms and fragments, Schnitzler demonstrates his preoccupation with this subject:
   Es ist ein schlechter Geschmack, uber seine eigenen Figuren geruhrt
   zu sein und ein noch schlechterer, sich uber sie lustig zu machen.
   Leider fehlt uns das rechte Wort, das innerhalb des Geistigen eine
   gewisse mindere Art von Humor so glucklich bezeichnet, als das Wort
   Sentimentalitat ein unreines Verhaltnis innerhalb des
   Gefuhlsmassigen zum Ausdruck bringt. ("Witzelei" kame der Sache noch
   am nachsten.) In beiden Fallen aber handelt es sich um einen Mangel
   an Distanz von Seiten des Autors entweder der von ihm geschaffenen
   eigenen Figur oder dem Publikum oder beiden gegenuber. (Aphorismen

While Korner merely describes the phenomenon by which the critical distance between a creative subject and creative object is erased, Schnitzler, as we see in this fragment, names it--sentimentality. The impure, transgressive relationship for which Korner criticizes Schnitzler is, in short, not only reiterated but named by the latter. Hefe, Schnitzler places sentimentality in the realm of feeling, indicating its broad and vague contiguity to emotional life. He extends the potential instances of sentimentality: not only the lack of distance between writer and character or work constitutes a sentimental locus, but also the lack of distance between writer and reader.

Given Schnitzler's awareness of the problematics of sentimentality, how does one reconcile his distaste for it with Korner's claim that he has failed to create a successful work of art because of his sentimental relationship to his work? The chronology of Korner's criticism and Schnitzler's fragment may be of import here. The collection in which the fragment quoted above appears was first published as a whole in 1927, with some individual parts appearing in various journals and newspapers during the 1920s. Considering that Korner's critique appeared in 1921, should one read Schnitzler's fragment as a response to the critic or possibly as a concession to Korner? Or does one read in it Schnitzler's defiant display of his grasp of the problems associated with critical transgression and sentimentality, and thus in some sense an attempt to refute Korner's reading? More crucially, what are the critical stakes that motivate Schnitzler to resist sentimentality and to engage in the discussion on it?

For Korner, the stakes are clear. In the case of Schnitzler's Der Weg ins Freie, serious political and philosophical issues raised in the novel, among which the Jewish question stands out most prominently, are skirted as a result of Schnitzler's lack of critical distance. Schnitzler, Korner claims, is persuaded by his presentation of the various viewpoints and arguments mouthed by different characters, such that, after rounds of verbal pyrotechnics, he finally upholds a point of view that he had wanted to undercut in the first place. Because he is convinced and moved by each of the perspectives he presents, according to Korner, Schnitzler is prevented from being rooted and unilaterally invested in one position. As a result, he fails to reach a deeper appreciation for the timely concerns at hand. "Aus leichtem Plauderton," declares Korner,
   fuhrt er unversehens in tiefste Nachdenklichkeit und kehrt dann,
   dass das erschreckte Auge vom Anblick gahnender Abgrunde nicht zu
   lange gequalt werde, rasch wieder zu heiter-geselliger Rede
   zuruck. (221-22)

What Schnitzler achieves in his work, in short, is merely a perfunctory excursion into critical issues--an excursion clad in signature Schnitzlerian linguistic elegance. He tantalizes the reader with a seemingly unflinching approach to the Jewish question--one that leaves no stone unturned; hut rather than examining what is beneath these stones, Schnitzler retreats with beautiful stones in hand. "Ins Ethische, ins Metaphysische greift Schnitzler nicht hinuber," Korner concludes, "ihn kummert nur, was gegeben, nicht was aufgegeben ist" (225). Losing himself to sentimentality, in other words, Schnitzler falls to go beyond the here and now. His novel remains a snapshot of a particular time and place, an artifact devoid of ethical and metaphysical dimensions. For us, Korner's criticism lays out clearly the motivations for a writer to resist sentimentality by showing what, in his view, Schnitzler lacks: the putatively oblivious Schnitzler forfeits any sense of perspective, control, restraint, and depth.

Judging Dom the fragment in which he derides both sentimentality and the "bad taste" it leaves when it plays a role in the writer's stance toward his own work and audience, Schnitzler seems at least aware of the critical importance of resisting sentimentality implied by Korner. Creating a novel which transcends its historical particularity in order to gain moral and metaphysical significance, however, is not the only incentive. In another passage from the same collection of theoretical writings, Schnitzler defines sentimentality more elaborately and points to its other problematic aspects:
   Die Verfalschung des Gefuhls zu demjenigen Seelenzustand, den wir
   Sentimentalitat nennen, geht in einer dreifachen Steigerung vor
   sich: im ersten Grade schwacht sich das Gefuhl ab durch das allzu
   klare Wissen darum, im zweiten wird es getrubt durch die
   Unfahigkeit, dieses Wissen zu verbergen, im dritten wird es
   uberdies entwurdigt durch den Stolz auf diese Unfahigkeit,--womit es
   endgultig das Recht verwirkt hat, Gefuhl zu heissen. (Aphorismen 56)

Sentimentality is a mental stare ("Seelenzustand") in which there is a falsification of feeling. It involves the attempt to sustain an "authentic" feeling which has already dissipated. By categorizing it as a state of mind here, Schnitzler reveals his interest in psychology. He uses a clinical language and the process of psychological typology to capture the elusive nature and otherwise vague definition of sentimentality. (4) The three stages of intensification described by Schnitzler reveal the magnitude of deception at play in sentimentality. Although Schnitzler does not explicitly state it, the attempt to hide one's knowledge of the substantive loss is not necessarily directed at others. Given his description, it is more convincingly an attempt to hide it from oneself, i.e., to repress the knowledge within oneself. In other words, during the second stage of intensification, sentimentality involves an act not only of deception, but also of self-deception. Each step which witnesses the augmentation of sentimentality is a step toward the degradation of feeling ("[es] schwacht sich," "es [wird] getrubt," "es [wird] entwurdigt"). The desire and effort to recapture what vestige of feeling remains only result in, ironically, the acceleration of its destruction. The final stage fully discloses the "impure" quality of sentimentality. It is defined by the pride, the self-knowing pleasure--a kind of emotional masturbation, as it were--that comes with the failure to deceive oneself. The sentimental subject is by this stage more fixated on the process, rather than the success, of recapturing the original feeling. The subject begins to internalize the inauthentic. Furthermore, the pride in not being able to convince oneself of the authenticity of the self-constructed feeling signifies, paradoxically, a misplaced pride in one's ability to discern what is authentic. The discerning knowledge comes at a high price--the price of having removed oneself from being able to relive an unalloyed feeling. In short, sentimentality is a state of mind in which a subject experiences, fights against, and finally falls prey to the knowledge of emotional self-alienation.

Independent of the "schlechten Geschmack" or the aesthetic and moral deficiencies involved in the lack of critical distance, sentimentality entails deception, failed self-deception, loss of authenticity, and heightened self-consciousness. For Schnitzler, resisting sentimentality would denote, then, resistance to falsity, shamelessness, and a divided emotional life.

There is another stake, however, for Schnitzler. By resisting sentimentality, he also puts pressure on the line of anti-Semitic criticism that tries to link sentimentality with "Jewishness." In one example, Schnitzler's writing is described as being characterized by a constant oscillation between "geistreicher Intellektualitat und weichlicher Sentimentalitat" which is "typisch judisch" (Kainz 1774). This purportedly particular Jewish literary sensibility, marked by a biting satirical sense of humor and an equally pointed tenderness, is noted by Richard Hamann, who claims, "der Name Heinrich Heine fasst alles zusammen, Witz, Frechheit, Sinnlichkeit und Sentimentalitat." In a similar vein, Hamann comments on Schnitzler's contemporary, Hofmannsthal: "Lyrismus und Pantheismus unserer Zeit sind [...] in ihrer sentimentalsten und weichsten Form bei Hugo von Hofmannsthal zu finden, und eine gefuhlsgetrankte Sprache, wie sie abschatzig schmalzig genannt wird, ist ebenfalls vorzugsweise bei judischen Schriftstellern nachzuweisen [...]" (213-14). Since sentimentality connotes emotional-subj ective deficiencies, as well as aesthetic inferiority--as Schnitzler himself asserts--its association with "Jewishness" would immediately place any work by Schnitzler, a Jewish writer, under critical suspicion. Schnitzler as a subject is also immediately questioned. The stakes, then, have been raised exponentially for him to address the complex issue of sentimentality. Interestingly, Korner, who was himself Jewish, never mentions the sentimentality-Jewishness connection in his Arthur Schnitzlers Gestalten und Probleme, even though this association had already been in wide circulation by the time of its publication. That Korner would criticize sentimentality and accuse Schnitzler of falling prey to it, is significant: he seems to have both internalized the anti-Semitic rhetoric of problematizing Jewish authors by connecting them to the maligned sentimental and tried to extricate himself from this link through criticism. (5)

Again, we return to the question, given Schnitzler's preoccupation with the problematic aspects of sentimentality, has he in fact failed to resist the very thing that he so despises? And what of the critical assertion that associates sentimentality with a mode of Jewish writing? Schnitzler did not deal with this dimension of sentimentality in his fragments. Was he unaware of this link? Was he unable or unwilling to disturb the anti-Semitic claim that he, a Jew, is inevitably a victim of sentimentality whose works "fail" as a result?

To approach these questions, one must revisit one of the purported sites of sentimentality: Schnitzler's novel Der Weg ins Freie. This work was composed in 1908, long before his theoretical fragments, which were written in the 1920s; it is contemporaneous with the critique of Hamann and predates that of Korner. This novel explores and articulates the problematic dimensions of sentimentality--from its manifestation as the lack of critical distance on the part of the creative subject, to its appearance in creative objects, to its significance on human psychology and subjectivity. Moreover, Schnitzler not only thematizes sentimentality as he does in the fragments, but adds another dimension to the discussion of this concept by depicting sentimentality in this novel. This work, in other words, serves as an early prescient and incisive address to the critique he was to receive later.

In Der Weg ins Freie, sentimentality is explicitly introduced through conversations about the very topic. Various definitions and intimations surface in these dialogues, which, though they do not necessarily compose Schnitzler's own understanding of sentimentality, nevertheless at least reflect his view of the generally shared understanding of this concept. Not only the sentimentality discussed in the novel, but the characters who discuss it, the manner and the context in which it is discussed, and the very will to discuss it, make up the thematization of sentimentality.

One of the most extended discussions is found in chapter five, the central chapter in the novel. Here, Leo Golowski, a young Jewish Zionist and a talented musician, discusses music with Georg, the gentile protagonist. After listening to and studying the score of the quintet on which Georg has been working, Leo expresses the difficulty he has in evaluating Georg's music:

"Wenig gearbeitet und wenig durchfuhlt."

"Sie glauben ..." Georg zwang sich zu einem spottischen Lacheln.

"O, erlebt wahrscheinlich sehr viel, aber gefuhlt ... wissen Sie, was ich meine, Georg?"

"Ja, ich kann mir's schon denken. Aber Sie irren sich entschieden. Ich finde sogar eher, dass ich eine gewisse Neigung zur Sentimentalitat habe, die ich bekampfen muss."

"Ja, das ist es eben. Sentimentalitat ist namlich etwas, was in einem direkten Gegensatz zum Gefuhl steht, etwas, womit man sich uber seine Gefuhlslosigkeit, seine innere Kalte beruhigt. Sentimentalitat ist Gefuhl, das man sozusagen unter dem Einkaufspreis erstanden hat. Ich hasse Sentimentalitat." (WiF 185)

As in Schnitzler's aphorism, Leo defines sentimentality in relation to feeling, more specifically as standing in direct opposition to feeling. It functions as an artificially constructed compensation for its lack--an "Ersatz" for feeling itself. Implicated in the passage is the subject's desire to achieve a semblance of "Gefuhl," though it remains unmentioned whether this urge is imposed by the understanding of and the need to conform to external, social norms of feeling, or by an inner compulsion to possess such feeling. The absence does not signify a void altogether, though, for it constitutes "inner coldness." What remains ambiguous, however, is whether this lack of feeling is an existential condition or a function of contingency.

Leo's differentiation between "erlebt" and "gefuhlt" may elucidate this ambiguity. The dichotomy between the two terms can be read in conjunction with the exacting distinction between the German "Empfindung" and "Gefuhl." The former is a sensation received through sense organs or simply, a physical feeling, while the latter is a "seelische Regung," one that is more than a mere bodily response to external stimuli. "Gefuhl" is a subjective attitude or affective "reading" with which the subject engages its surroundings. Leo's insistence on differentiating the two can be viewed as a response to Ernst Mach's influential work on the definition of "das Ich." (6) Rather than a stable and clearly differentiated entity, "das Ich," according to Mach's philosophy, is constituted by a constant flux of physical and psychic responses to external sensory stimuli. It is a vessel through which "Empfindungen" incessantly flow. Eren "Gefuhl," which is conventionally considered an internal part of the "Ich," is composed primarily of sensations. "Empfindung" and "Gefuhl" are not equal, however, as Mach indicates that the former constitutes an essential part, but not the whole, of the so-called feelings. To assert the presence of "Gefuhl," then, requires the insertion of something into the "Ich" that does not completely depend on the external, and is not devoid of subjective volition. That Georg has only "erlebt"--lived through, experienced--signifies that he has passively allowed his senses to react to certain stimuli. But "gefuhlt" he has not, for he has not actively engaged with these stimuli on a level that is predominantly derived from within.

Georg uses sentimentality, though, to imitate "Gefuhl" not necessarily because he lacks the capacity to feel per se, but because it is less complicated than achieving "the real thing," and because one sure way to avoid the denigration of feeling is to avoid feeling altogether. Georg implies this in the quote above by responding to Leo's "gefuhlt" with a discussion of avoiding sentimentality. As Leo puts it, sentimentality is a commodity which can be acquired, and as such, acquired "wholesale." It is a cheap substitute which guarantees a respectable semblance to feeling, but which discards the latter's potential psychological baggage or emotional consequences. Korner summarizes this phenomenon graphically: "Von Trank und Speise des Daseins wollen [Schnitzlers Figuren] nur den Duft geniessen, im Ruf des Lebens nur den Klang, nicht den Sinn der Botschaft vernehmen" (221). Sentimentality, in short, is a virtual emotional reality.

After Leo proclaims his contempt for sentimentality, Georg continues:

"Hm, und doch glaube ich, dass Sie selbst nicht ganz frei davon sind."

"Ich bin Jude, bei uns ist es eine Nationalkrankheit. Die Anstandigen arbeiten dran, dass Grimm oder Zorn daraus werde. Bei den Deutschen ist es schlechte Gewohnheit, innere Nachlassigkeit sozusagen."

"Also bei Ihnen zu entschuldigen, bei uns nicht?"

"Auch Krankheiten sind nicht zu entschuldigen, wenn man im vollen Bewusstsein seiner Anlage versaumt hat, sich dagegen zu wehren." (WiF 185)

Schnitzler brings into play through this passage the association between sentimentality and Jewishness. His use of the word "Krankheit" in this case is crucial, as it not only adds a definitively negative bent to sentimentality, but it also suggests its pervasiveness and contagiousness. It serves as a specific allusion to the long association of disease with Jews and to the 19th-century discussion on the so-called "unclean and impure nature of the Jew." (7) Within the parameters of that discussion, the link to disease and poor hygiene is exacerbated by the lack of boundary that is purportedly characteristic of the Jewish family. (8) Feared for both its social impropriety and biological degeneracy, this imagery of disease and contagion came to evoke the imagery of "sick" Jews infiltrating the "healthy" German culture. Schnitzler chooses, in other words, to repeat the association between Jews and the invasive quality of disease to foreground the transgressive characteristic of sentimentality.

In addition to referring to a physical ailment, Schnitzler's use of the word "Nationalkrankheit" also refers to a metaphysical ailment that is shared among Jews. This reference is a response to the 19th-century view of Jewish existence as being marked by geographical and subjective decenteredness. The Jewish people, shaped by its history of geographical displacement and dispersion, is privileged in 19th-century discussions of assimilation as the representative figure of an existential diaspora. (9) That is, Jews are carriers of the condition of modernity. Recalling sentimentality as an attempt to assert the destabilized "Ich" in the Machian sense, the Jew functions as a sentimental being par excellence. The attempt to recapture a sense of subjective center is manifested in the Jew's decision to assimilate, or literally, to cross subjective boundaries and render himself undifferentiated from those of his adopted land. Extrapolating the aspect of sentimentality that is characterized by the lack of proper distance and the propensity to be swayed, one can therefore read the association between sentimentality and the Jew as one defined by the Jewish practice of assimilation. Even the permeability that is evoked by Schnitzler's use of the word "Krankheit" is a reference to the purposeful permeability that is involved in assimilation. (10) "Nationalkrankheit"--as a reference to both the troubled Jewish subjectivity and to assimilation--allows the reader, in other words, to trace the links Schnitzler himself draws for the otherwise faint critical connection between sentimentality and Jews. Schnitzler, in effect, articulates the very critical connection that problematizes him as a (creative) subject.

As we have seen, however, Schnitzler disturbs the sentimentality-Jewishness analogy by introducing a non-Jewish sentimental protagonist. In fact, in the conversation between Leo and Georg, sentimentality is posed as a German rather than a strictly Jewish problem. (11) On the one hand, sentimentality becomes a German problem because, surrounded by Jews, Germans, out of "Nachlassigkeit," are bound to fall prey to the sentimental disease. Succumbing to the disease in effect means undergoing a process of reverse assimilation. On the other hand and more convincingly, the German strain of sentimentality merely proves that Germans are not immune to the disease, precisely because it is a disease shared by modern beings as a whole. That is, Germans also suffer from diaspora--not geographical, but existential--and they, too, are susceptible to the will to falsify and cheapen feelings through the attempted amplification of these feelings. Their intention is to construct a subjective center because they, too, lack one. By introducing a commonality between the Jews and the Germans through sentimentality, Schnitzler addresses the pervasive malaise of modernity--one heightened by the political uncertainties, social instability, and cultural restlessness in turn-of-the-century Austria, distilled in the space of Vienna, and stirred by the discourses (such as those of Mach and Freud) that articulate the unidentifiability of the subject. More importantly, the commonality also interrupts and muddles the critical and anti-Semitic discussion that has attempted to link sentimentality exclusively to the Jews.

In order to further understand the concept of sentimentality in Der Weg ins Freie, one must examine its crucial relationship to reflexivity. One of the most debilitating symptoms of sentimentality explored in the novel is in fact the hyper-reflexivity of its characters. Although it may seem counterintuitive at first glance, sentimentality, a manifestation of emotionality, and excessive reflection are intricately intertwined. Throughout the novel, the two characters Leo Golowski and Heinrich Bermann appear to be polar opposites, with the former representing a figure of heart and the latter of intellect, but this polarity is too simplistic. Each is in fact torn between the two. Leo, for instance, who admits that he, being a Jew, is invariably plagued by sentimentality, demonstrates his reflective nature at the very instant he calculatingly dissects not only Georg's but his own inclination toward sentimentality. His exacting and relentless self-diagnosis concludes that sentimentality is an attempt to compensate for "innere Kalte." Far from being a man simply of heart, Leo is a thoughtful articulator of his heartlessness. While Schnitzler only hints at this circularity in his portrayal of Leo, he develops it explicitly in his portrayal of Heinrich.

Leo's seeming antipode, Heinrich, is depicted as a keen, cold intellectual. In one example, Heinrich, a writer, speaks of his father's life and fate, a German Jew who served his country only to be betrayed by his own countrymen, and sees him as a perfect hero for his newest political drama. The father functions as the "tragikomische Mittelpunktsfigur" (WiF 233). Heinrich's ability to discuss his own father's life as fodder for his future play and to treat tragedy as tragi-comedy, that is, to intellectually bastardize what is meant to be responded to with genuine feeling and respectful distance, shows an unmistakeable hardness. On his relationship with other individuals, Heinrich says, "Es ist nur das Ungluck, dass das Gefuhl zuweilen an Menschen weiter hangen bleibt, wahrend der Verstand schon langst nichts mehr mit ihnen zu tun hat" (WiF 72). Here, Heinrich's call for emotional distance from people who are no longer physically or intellectually present reflects an effort to resist sentimentality, as sentimentality is marked by the attempt to compensate for what is lost.

In another instance where Heinrich is depicted as a model of intellect, he speaks of "Unbeirrtheit." In the following passage, he discusses this concept with Georg in the context of the Jewish question:
   Fur unsere Zeit gibt es keine Losung, das steht einmal fest. Keine
   allgemeine wenigstens.... Es kommt nur fur jeden darauf an, seinen
   inneren Weg zu finden. Dazu ist es naturlich notwendig, moglichst
   klar in sich zu sehen, in seine verborgensten Winkel
   hineinzuleuchten! Den Mut seiner eigenen Natur zu haben. Sich
   nicht beirren lassen. Ja, das musste das tagliche Gebet jedes
   anstandigen Menschen sein: Unbeirrtheit! (WiF 236)

Although the conversation initially addresses the Jewish question, with Heinrich suggesting that each Jew must find his individual way out of his anger, despair, or disgust ("Arger," "Verzweiflung," "Ekel"), by the end of this passage he seems to be addressing a more general problem. For one, he extends the subject of his concern from every Jew to "every decent person." Georg's response to this monologue, too, is indicative of the shift: "Georg dachte: Wo ist er nun schon wieder?" (WiF 236). He no longer hears a coherent argument on the "Judenfrage." What Heinrich leads to is a "Menschenfrage" and an occasion for him to advocate a reflection on oneself, an unblinking stare into one's own nature. The concept of "Unbeirrtheit," likewise, no longer applies only to a Jew's resistance to various strands of proposed solutions--assimilation, Zionism, socialism, cynicism, to name a few--to the Jewish question. "Sich nicht beirren lassen" does not only mean being unmoved by other individuals' views and approaches. Rather, this "imperturbability" is Heinrich's call for resistance to sentimentality. Both in the sense of fighting against being moved by external stimuli and influences, and of resisting one's internal desire to compensate for "innere Kalte," Heinrich's urge for an unabashed look "within," illuminating the most hidden corners of one's self, is one to be heeded regardless of the possibility that there could be an inner coldness or a subjective void.

Although Heinrich blatantly tries to resist sentimentality through harsh intellectualism and self-lacerating reflexivity, he nevertheless yields to it. In fact, the intensity of his "heartlessness" or the fervor of his call for hardness is in direct proportion to the level of his sentimental inclination. Heinrich, in a fit of self-hatred, proclaims that he is "herzlos und sentimental, leichtfertig und schwerblutig, empfindlich und rucksichtslos, unvertraglich und doch auf Menschen angewiesen...." (WiF 231). He wavers between heartlessness and sentimentality, carefreeness and gravity, sensitivity and ruthlessness, disinclination toward and dependency on people. Heinrich's self-examination reveals not only a contradictory nature but also the symbiotic relationship between two opposites. "Herzlos" and "sentimental" are only two sides of the same coin. The mechanism of a continuous spiral is at work. In order to recapture a sense of the authenticity of the self represented by "Gefuhl," one resists the tendency toward sentimentality out of a moral obligation to the self. This then results in a harshness and coldness that one had tried to overcome in the first place. The cold-hearted tone (WiF 206) with which Heinrich speaks about his father is likewise a manifestation of his forced attempt to maintain a distance from the object of discussion; but the same heartlessness unravels itself as a lack of emotional distance, because to mock his own creation--to treat the father as a tragi-comic figure and to scornfully laugh at him--is but an inverse repetition of his attachment to that creation. (12) Curiously, then, since reflexivity is a key component within sentimentality, it is the very moment that one reflects on one's sentimentality--best betrayed in the form of resistance--that defines the completion of this "Seelenzustand."

Reflexivity seems to be most prevalent among Jews in the novel, as the cases of Leo and Heinrich demonstrate, who often show wariness toward their proclivity for over-intellectualization and heightened self-consciousness. Reflexivity is not, however, particular to Jews. Georg is also prone to it. His form of reflectiveness, however, is qualitatively different. He does not intellectualize, and his paralysis in living is not a result of analysis. Instead, Georg reflects on a sensual, para-emotional level. While he often experiences his surroundings directly and passively, that is, in an impressionistic way, he also spends time alone in order to ruminate the experiences aesthetically. In one example, Georg's reflections let him reconstruct the final trip with an ex-girlfriend, which he had previously judged a "langweilige Abschiedsreise" (WiF 7), as a pleasurable trip. Moreover, Georg has the tendency to reflect on a situation as it is unfolding. In a quietly dramatic scene, Georg returns to the now pregnant and bedridden Anna, his lover, after an unspecified tryst with another woman. He kneels before Anna and weeps:
   --und dann horte er sich ganz leise weinen. Und es war ihm, wie in
   suss dumpfern Traum, als lage er, ein Knabe, zu seiner Mutter
   Fussen, und dieser Augenblick ware schon Erinnerung, fern und
   schmerzlich, wahrend er ihn durchlebte. (WiF 276)

Georg seems to experience the moment through a distancing lens--he hears himself cry; he stylizes this scene with the projected casting of mother and child. The description of the passage suggests that Georg is moved not so rauch by his sense of remorse as by his dramatic display of this remorse. His reflection functions as an internal mechanism that constantly edits the "simulcast" events of his life.

As we have seen from these textual examples, different characters in Der Weg attempt to define sentimentality in different contexts and/of display sentimentality in different ways. Since none of the characters can be given narrative authority in the novel, each occasion in which sentimentality surfaces reflects an individual effort to articulate its significance. What we can garner from the various perspectives is a sampling of the commonly accepted, usually imprecise understanding of this concept. Sentimentality involves a loss or absence whose object is "Gefuhl," and consequently a loss of what "Gefuhl" has come to represent, i.e., a subjective center. Sentimentality manifests itself in excessive display of emotion and overwhelming reflexivity, or more precisely, in the tension between the two.

Sentimentality is a problem--the cause for inactivity, creative sterility, disorientation in life--for modern subjects, not Jews alone. In a suggestive Nietzschean moment, Heinrich Bermann proclaims to Georg:

"Glauben Sie mir, Georg, es gibt Momente, in denen ich die Menschen mit der sogenannten Weltanschauung beneide. Ich, wenn ich eine wohlgeordnete Welt haben will, ich muss mir immer selber erst eine schaffen. Das ist anstrengend fur jemanden, der nicht der liebe Gott ist" (WiF 381).

Schnitzler himself "was struck by precisely this all-but-self-pitying aspect of Nietzsche" (Hawes 378). Once, responding to Nietzsche's poem at the end of Jenseits von Gut und Bose, Schnitzler exclaims "Nietz'sche Sentimentalitat!--Weinender Marmor!" (Briefe 120). Schnitzler's antinomic imagery--a cold, hard piece of marble which weeps--is evocative of the contradictions embedded in sentimentality. It signifies an inner coldness and alludes to a damaged subjectivity; it also suggests the individual's awareness and endeavor to address the perceived lack or problem, punctuated by moments of masking as well as poignant self-awareness. Whether in the form of Heinrich's sharp intellect and scorching self-criticism or Georg's inclination toward aestheticized emotionality, sentimentality is ultimately an effort--among Jews and gentiles alike--to deal with the disjunctions of modern existence.

With Der Weg ins Freie, then, Schnitzler suggests a new form of resistance to sentimentality--a resistance that problematizes and criticizes, but which also accepts sentimentality. This same gesture of acceptance manifests itself in the particular space of the novel. Unlike his own fragments or the discussions by his critics, Der Weg ins Freie allows Schnitzler to include sentimentality, literally. Sentimentality is, after all, represented in this work through sentimental characters and situations. Schnitzler's critique is thereby intensified because along with this representation, the debilitating effects of sentimentality are depicted, rather than clinically or critically described from afar. The author criticizes through showing us, unblinkingly, the hyper-reflexivity, the inaction, and the disorientation that sentimentality causes. If this unmediated look into the casualties of sentimentality renders the novel itself fragmented and meandering--the structural incoherence pointed out by Korner and others--we can nevertheless read it as a strategic comment, seemingly provided without lifting a critical finger that allows the problematic effects of sentimentality to surface on the body of the text. Schnitzler demonstrates through his writing, the crisis of sentimentality. This move lets Schnitzler incorporate the sentimental as well as a critique of it on a meta-narrative level, thereby creating a distance toward his work that is, in tune with the paradoxical nature of sentimentality itself, non-sentimental. In the end, sentimentality is more than "a bad taste." Schnitzler complicates both this concept and the critical discussion of it.

Works Cited

Allen, Richard. "Schnitzler's Der Weg ins Freie: Structure or Structures?" Journal of the International Arthur Schnitzler Research Association 6.3 (1967): 4-17.

Brandes, Georg, and Arthur Schnitzler Briefwechsel. Ed. Kurt Bergel. Berne: Francke, 1956.

Derre, Francoise. "Der Weg ins Freie, eine wienerische Schule des Gefuhls?" Modern Austrian Literature 10 (1977): 217-31.

Fliedl, Konstanze. Arthur Schnitzler: Poetik der Erinnerung. Vienna: Bohlau, 1997.

Gilman, Sander L. Freud, Rate, and Gender. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1993.

Hamann, Richard. Der Impressionismus in Leben und Kunst. Cologne: M. Durmont-Schraubergschen Buchhandlung, 1907.

Hawes, J. M. "The Secret Life of Georg von Wergenthin: Nietzschean Analysis and Narrative Authority in Arthur Schnitzler's Der Weg ins Freie." Modern Language Review 90 (1995): 377-87.

Kainz, Friedrich. "Arthur Schnitzler und Karl Schonherr." Deutsch-Osterreichische Literaturgeschichte: Ein Handbuch zur Geschichte der deutschen Dichtung in osterreich-Ungarn, Vierter Band. Ed. Johann Willibald Nagl, Jakob Zeidler, and Eduard Castle. Vienna: Carl Fromme, 1937. 1745-1804.

Katz, Jacob. From Prejudice to Destruction: Anti-Semitism, 1700-1933. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1980.

Korner, Josef. Arthur Schnitzlers Gestalten und Probleme. Zurich: Amalthea, 1921.

--. "Arthur Schnitzlers Spatwerk." Preussische Jahrbucher 208 (1927): 53-85, 153-63.

Low, David. "Questions of Form in Schnitzler's Der Weg ins Freie." Modern Austrian Literature 19 (1986): 21-82.

Mach, Ernst. Die Analyse der Empfindungen und das Verhaltnis des Physischen zum Psychischen. Jena: Gustav Fischer, 1900.

Schnitzler, Arthur. Aphorismen und Betrachtungen. Ed. Robert O. Weiss. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1967.

--. Briefe 1875-1912. Ed. Therese Nickl and Heinrich Schnitzler. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1981.

--. Der Weg ins Freie. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1990.

Weininger, Otto. Geschlecht und Charakter. Munich: Matthes & Seitz, 1980.

Wisely, Andrew. Arthur Schnitzler and Twentieth-Century Criticism. Rochester: Camden House, 2004.


(1) See Low, Derre, Allen.

(2) For an overview of the critical reception in the last century, see Wisely. Fliedl dedicates a section of her recent book to "Werk und Widerhall," in which the intricate and richly troubled relationship between the author Schnitzler and his critic Korner is recounted. Fliedl 470-81.

(3) The letter is dated "Ende Juni 1908" (Briefwechsel 95). Some critics even suggest that Anna, Georg's lover, ought to be a Jewish figure, so that a stronger link between the two "novels" would be established. See, for instance, Korner 205, Brandes 95.

(4) For Schnitzler's explanation of mental stares, see especially his "Der Geist im Wort und der Geist in der Tat." (Aphorismen und Betrachtungen, 135-66).

(5) Three years after the publication of Arthur Schnitzlers Gestalten und Probleme, Korner submitted his Habilitationsschrift "Romantiker und Klassiker" to the faculty at Prague. It was rejected because of his Jewish background. The whole matter escalated to a "Germanistik-Skandal" and forced Korner zu "einer differenzierten Sicht der 'Judenfrage.'" See Fliedl 474. This more differentiated approach is reflected in Korner's second study "Arthur Schnitzlers Spatwerk."

(6) See Mach.

(7) See for instance, Gilman, especially 61.

(8) In Der Weg ins Freie, Dr. Stauber notes at one point "dass alle Juden miteinander verwandt sind" (37). Hamann goes so far as to connect "der judische Familienzusammenhang" to the Jewish "Sich-Gehenlasen in sinnlich-gefuhlsseliger Familiaritat," which is in turn reflected in the overwrought, slushy-sentimental writings of Jewish authors. Hamann 214.

(9) Katz provides a clear overview of the various images of the Jew in 19th-century Europe. See particularly the chapters entitled "The German Liberals' Image of the Jew" and "The Jewish Stereotype and Assimilation." Katz 147-58, 203-09.

(10) Weiniger's now infamous 1903 Geschlecht und Charakter argues similarly that the Jew, who is often equated with the "Weib," is incapable of being a genius, of producing authentic works of art, and of living ethically because the Jew, like the Woman, is incapable of distinguishing his own subjectivity from that of others.

(11) Though Schnitzler's novel takes place in Vienna and represents problems specific to this city, Austria is nevertheless considered German, linguistically and culturally. Any dichotomy made between outsider-insider is between Jews and Germans, and both the Viennese Jews and gentiles refer to Austrian gentiles as Germans.

(12) Cf. Schnitzler, Aphorismen 104.


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Author:Lin, Angela H.
Publication:The German Quarterly
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Date:Jun 22, 2006
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