Viennese Tiredness

Ah, the famous ‘Viennese Tiredness’ (Wiener Muedigkeit).  A description of it, from a fine essay about Robert Musil by Roger Kimball which appeared a decade or so ago in The New Criterion:

[F]in-de-siècle Vienna . . . was an atmosphere in which, as the historian Carl Schorske put it, “the usual moralistic culture of the European bourgeoisie was … both overlaid and undermined by an amoral Gefühlskultur [sentimental culture].” As Schorske went on to note, this revolution in sensibility amounted to a crisis of morality—Hermann Broch called it a “value vacuum”—that quickly precipitated a crisis in liberal cultural and political life tout court. “Narcissism and a hypertrophy of the life of feeling were the consequence,” he continued.

The threat of the political mass movements lent new intensity to this already present trend by weakening the traditional liberal confidence in its own legacy of rationality, moral law, and progress. Art became transformed from an ornament to an essence, from an expression of value to a source of value.

Of course, these transformations were a catalyst for disaster. The resources of civilization—epitomized by the faith in rationality, moral law, and progress that Schorske mentions—were hollowed out from within; weightless, they soon lost the capacity to resist the barbarism of feeling—aesthetic, sexual, social, political feeling—that rushed in everywhere that a spiritual vacancy was felt. It was, as the Marxists used to say, “no accident” that Nazism and other extreme movements got their start in this narcotic environment.

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One thought on “Viennese Tiredness

  1. Whenever I read “fin de siècle,” I have to think of what I read once while browsing through my Büchmann:

    Die Zeitschrift Grenzbote [should almost certainly be Die Grenzboten] schrieb 1900: »Von einem alternden und geistig verarmenden Volke geprägt … ist die alberne Phrase vom fin de siècle auch außerhalb Frankreichs die Losung aller gelangweilten Schwachköpfe geworden …«

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