CS: Freud's Vienna

Timothy Olin's picture

The history and culture of Vienna may be perceived as emblems of the history and culture of European civilization. One might even see Vienna as that civilization writ small and therefore intensified, its positive and negative characteristics somehow magnified because of that condensation. The center of the western civilized world from the baroque era on, it became the home of some of the greatest movements in music, architecture, art, literature and social and political upheaval as well as the center of the largest European empire in history. It was home, too, to the highest rates of suicide, prostitution, unwed mothers, intrigue, diplomacy of all sorts. Its values included liberal humanism and arch conservatism, patriarchal primacy and, perhaps more significant, misogyny. It was home, too, to Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, and to Adolf Hitler; home, in short, to emancipated Jews and to Anti-Semitism--perhaps the most long-lived and virulent anti-Semitism in the western world. From Vienna came Mozart and Salieri, Beethoven and Mahler, Schubert, Strauss and Schoenberg. Few people were more representative of Vienna, perhaps, than Sigmund Freud, raised as a Viennese Jew, apostate, highly cultured, both of Vienna and outside it. His thoughts and theories will serve as a guide to some of Vienna's cultural mysteries. We will examine the culture of fin de siecle (turn of the century) Vienna, on the brink of World War I, the cataclysmic event that ended the Habsburg monarchy's centuries long reign and ended the Austro-Hungarian Empire as it traumatized the city and the rest of Europe. From that culture and its catastrophic demise would come the western world's troubled twentieth century--Communism and Nazism, war and disaster, revolution and genocide, an explosion of avant garde culture and a backwash of archaic superstitions and their consequences. From that place would rise the nationalism of the Balkans, the origin of World War I in Sarajevo, Serbia--with the antagonisms among the conglomerate, incipient nations of Bosnia, Herzegovina, Croatia, Moravia, Bohemia (which would merge to become Czechoslovakia) and the attendant violent upheavals that culminated in World War I. It is not a place that has lost its relevance-- nor has lost its defects or its divisions. It has given much of its values to the rest of the western world, for good and evil.