Arthur Schnitzler and Jakob Wassermann: a struggle of German-Jewish identities
University of Cambridge
Department of German and Dutch
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Haberich, M. (2013). Arthur Schnitzler and Jakob Wassermann: a struggle of German-Jewish identities (doctoral thesis).
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The purpose of this dissertation is to contrast the differing responses to early political anti- Semitism by Arthur Schnitzler and Jakob Wassermann. By drawing on Schnitzler’s primary material, it becomes clear that he identified with certain characters in Der Weg ins Freie and Professor Bernhardi. Having established this, it is possible to trace the development of Schnitzler’s stance on the so-called ‘Jewish Question’: a concept one may term enlightened apolitical individualism. Enlightened for Schnitzler’s rejection of Jewish orthodoxy, apolitical because he always remained strongly averse to politics in general, and individualism because Schnitzler felt there was no general solution to the Jewish problem, only one for every individual. For him, this was mainly an ethical, not a political issue; and he defends his individualist position in Professor Bernhardi. Wassermann’s approach is entirely different. In the early stages of his literary career, he attempted to prove his authenticity as a German author by writing ‘Volksromane’ of Franconia. In the course of the First World War, he began to identify more strongly with his Jewish side. Already before the war, Wassermann had developed the notion of the Orientale, inspired by Nietzsche’s ‘Übermensch’: a charismatic leader of Jewish origin who would eventually reconcile the German and Jewish cultures. In the 1920’s, this figure was infused with elements of Christian and Jewish belief, notably self-sacrifice for one’s fellow man. Like Nietzsche, Wassermann offers a primarily aesthetic solution to a cultural, social, and political problem. This fusion of traditional and modern elements is representative for literary modernism as a whole, which cannot be categorised simply as ‘progressive’ or ‘conservative’. Comparing Schnitzler and Wassermann yields fascinating and rewarding results, as each author provides a unique perspective on the highly complex question of Jewish identity in Vienna in the early-20th century.
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