Some time ago--when I was young, stupid, and arrogant--I had the opportunity to take a seminar on fin-de-siecle Vienna. At the time the readings were difficult, the concepts fresh and the names relatively unknown. Although at present, my thoughts are mostly tied up with eighteenth century anatomical wax models (yes, you heard me), I recently had occasion to return to the world of Loos, Schoenberg, Wieninger and Bahr. Below are a few excerpts from my most recent draft. I really encourage you to think about this, this, and this in the context outlined below.
An Overview: Characterized by an excessive anxiety, Vienna at the fin-de-siecle provided a locale ripe for artistic and cultural turmoil. In the political sphere, the immediate government opposed the values of the bourgeois and intelligentsia: Karl Lueger and his anti-Semitic Christian Socialist coterie offered an ideological foil for Vienna’s cosmopolitan citizens. Such political disparity likely contributed to “secessionist” tendencies among artists and intellectuals. Indeed, a desperate advocacy of cultural re-nascence, famously articulated by literary critic and dramatist Hermann Bahr in his 1890 essay The Modern, permeated the Viennese firmament. Bahr’s battle-cry further foregrounds the intensely spiritual, often delusional (even delirious), narratives ascribed to artistic creation at the fin-de-siecle.
Weininger's Sex and Character: Overt in its misogyny, pristine in its logic, Sex and Character gives a particularly eloquent voice to the deeply troubled fin-de-siecle man. When considering the text one must negotiate one’s own disgust: looking beyond the urge to apply myriad derogatory “isms” affords the reader opportunities to experience—through Weininger—the fin-de-siecle masculine psyche in all its anxieties, fears, and indeed, perversions.
Loos, Wagner & Ornament: Adolf Loos’ biography, written oeuvre and architectural output suggest an ideological dissonance. Seeking to resurrect and, if I may be so bold, purify architecture, Loos famously declared that ornamentation was indeed a crime. In his essay, Ornament and Crime, Loos evangelizes for an austere style liberated from filigree, devoted to formal unity. While performing this identity of modernist apostle, Loos simultaneously advocated an almost excessive use of craft and ornament within the home. Such a negotiation of modernist aesthetic propriety illuminates not only Loos’ inextricable links to nineteenth century thought, but also his insidious application of Victorian feminine containment to architecture and interior decorating.
In general, there exists an obsession with ornament in fin-de-siecle art and theory. Furthermore, Loos equation of applied art with degeneracy operates within and validates the gendered confines of genius.
Schoenberg: If one accepts the condition that Schoenberg’s atonal and dodecaphonic music asserts the composer’s masculinity, one can also postulate the existence of what Foucault would call “aims and objectives” intrinsic to Schoenberg’s textual and musical oeuvre. Given what we now know regarding the composer’s cultural context, I would argue that not only does Schoenberg’s modern style express fin-de-siecle aesthetic ideology but also operates within the context of artistic and cultural misogyny.
As an end note, I'd like to briefly evangelize for this book. Go. Read it.