3-1 | Table of Con­tents | http://​dx​.doi​.org/10.17742/IMAGE.stealimage.3-1.10 | Kel­ley PDF

Gus­tav Klimt and Peter Altenberg are two fig­ures with­in Vien­nese fin-de-siè­cle cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion whose art may reveal a per­cep­tion of local Jew­ish cul­ture through their dif­fer­ent foci on the non-Euro­pean female body image. Both men have moments in their career, when their atten­tion turns to non-Euro­pean cul­tures, through which they inad­ver­tent­ly rep­re­sent and inter­pret their own. A selec­tion of these two artists’ most well-known works demon­strate two frame­works in which Vien­nese Jew­ish­ness can be read through an align­ment of the female body with Asian and African cultures.

Gus­tav Klimt et Peter Altenberg sont deux per­son­nal­ités vien­nois­es de la cul­ture fin-de-siè­cle dont l’art peut offrir des indices quant à la per­cep­tion de la cul­ture juive à tra­vers leur représen­ta­tion du corps de la femme non-européenne. Tous deux ont réus­si involon­taire­ment à représen­ter et à inter­préter leur pro­pre cul­ture en se con­cen­trant sur des cul­tures non-européennes à cer­tains moments de leur car­rière. Cette sélec­tion des plus célèbres œuvres de ces deux artistes four­nit deux mod­èles d’interprétation de la judéité vien­noise à tra­vers la représen­ta­tion de corps de femmes asi­a­tiques et africaines.

Susanne Kel­ley | Ken­ne­saw State University

Perceptions of Jewish female bodies through Gustav Klimt and Peter Altenberg

The Vien­nese fin de siè­cle is famous for a psy­cho­log­i­cal focus on the self. Sci­en­tists and psy­chol­o­gists began to offer new the­o­ries of human behav­ior and per­cep­tions (Sig­mund Freud, Otto Weininger, Otto Mach); lit­er­a­ture and art exam­ined the self in its local envi­ron­ment (Arthur Schnit­zler, Peter Altenberg, Her­mann Bahr) and strove for new modes of express­ing the com­plex­i­ties of a mod­ern soci­ety (Hugo von Hof­mannsthal, Arnold Schoen­berg, the Seces­sion­ist move­ment). Inspi­ra­tion for non­tra­di­tion­al per­cep­tion, com­mu­ni­ca­tion and pre­sen­ta­tion of the mod­ern indi­vid­ual and soci­etal real­i­ty came as much from with­in (i.e. life in Vien­na and its his­to­ry and tra­di­tion) as from the out­side.  In 2010, the exhib­it Wilde Wel­ten: Aneig­nung des Frem­den in der Mod­erne at Berlin’s Georg-Kolbe-Muse­um con­nect­ed the artis­tic break and, to some extent, cul­tur­al break with tra­di­tion in Euro­pean Mod­ernism to the wide­spread fas­ci­na­tion with the image of the “for­eign,” “exot­ic,” or even “wild” around 1900 (Wanken 7; Berg­er 85). Overt­ly, the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of non-Euro­pean cul­tures ranged from the sci­en­tif­ic and ethno­graph­ic to the pseu­do-sci­en­tif­ic and com­mer­cial spec­ta­cle. While prod­ucts con­struct­ed for pop­u­lar con­sump­tion, includ­ing the com­mer­cial realm, tend­ed to thrive on stereo­typ­i­cal images when dis­play­ing the oth­er (Drees­bach; Wolter), in many artis­tic and lit­er­ary works, we find inter­pre­ta­tive rep­re­sen­ta­tions, which  reveal an artist’s read­ing of Euro­pean home culture.

In this essay, I turn to the per­cep­tion of the female Jew­ish body at the Vien­nese fin-de-siè­cle and exam­ine two artists’ expres­sion of the famil­iar by mask­ing it with the for­eign. Schol­ar­ship of the body as rep­re­sen­ta­tion of cul­ture has accom­pa­nied the move in lit­er­ary, cul­ture, and Jew­ish stud­ies, from focus­ing on “cul­ture as text” to “cul­ture as per­for­mance” (Hödl 83). At least until the turn of the nine­teenth to the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, Jew­ish iden­ti­ty and cul­ture tend­ed to be rep­re­sent­ed in iso­la­tion from non-Jew­ish cul­ture and often in asso­ci­a­tion with phys­i­cal weak­ness. Even in the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, Jew­ish con­tri­bu­tions to Euro­pean cul­ture were most­ly iden­ti­fied as occur­ring through non-phys­i­cal pro­fes­sions and tal­ents, or in short, through text and book. Lit­er­ary or cul­tur­al schol­ar­ship has only been giv­ing atten­tion to the Jew­ish body for a lim­it­ed num­ber of years. Of those works, the major­i­ty focused on the male Jew­ish body, until fem­i­nist schol­ar­ship drew atten­tion to the female Jew­ish body[1].

In his book Mus­cu­lar Judaism, Todd Pres­ner iden­ti­fies the decades around the fin-de-siè­cle as the moment when a Jew­ish self-trans­for­ma­tion takes place from a peo­ple “who had for cen­turies been con­sid­ered weak, pow­er­less, phys­i­cal­ly unfit, cow­ard­ly, and even degen­er­ate […] into a mus­cu­lar, mod­ern peo­ple, able to found a nation-state based on and inspired by the Euro­pean mod­el” (217). Since Nordau’s term “the mus­cle Jew,”[2] which is cen­tral to Presner’s book as well as to the dis­course on Zion­ism, pri­mar­i­ly refers to the male body, the female Jew­ish body is due its own con­sid­er­a­tion. In this essay, I turn to the aes­thet­ic atten­tion the female Jew­ish body received in the works of two Vien­nese Mod­ernists. I con­cen­trate on the depic­tion (and its lack­ing) of the Jew­ish female body by the non-Jew­ish Gus­tav Klimt and the assim­i­lat­ed Jew Peter Altenberg. My inter­pre­ta­tion of both artists’ work sug­gests that female Jew­ish­ness was trans­formed through ele­ments of non-Euro­pean imagery, in order to cre­ate an effec­tive rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Under­ly­ing this obser­va­tion is the fact that the female Jew­ish body has no one spe­cif­ic loca­tion where her Jew­ish­ness can be iden­ti­fied. Because only the male Jew­ish body dis­tin­guish­es itself as Jew­ish through cir­cum­ci­sion, accord­ing to Sander Gilman, “the male Jew” was marked as “the exem­plary Jew.” Gilman writes: “The cen­tral­i­ty of the act of cir­cum­ci­sion in defin­ing what a Jew is made the very term ‘Jew’ in the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry come to mean the male Jew” (Freud, Race, and Gen­der 49). Both Klimt and Altenberg cre­at­ed or described female bod­ies whose look was dis­tinct from tra­di­tion­al appear­ances in Vien­nese soci­ety by draw­ing atten­tion to for­eign elements/cultures/races that have been pseu­do-sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly and stereo­typ­i­cal­ly asso­ci­at­ed with Jew­ish­ness in pop­u­lar cul­ture around 1900.

Ali­son Rose observes about the fin-de-siè­cle that “The Jew­ish woman was an attrac­tive fig­ure on the Vien­nese stage despite anti-Semi­tism. Whether she func­tioned as a vic­tim or as a vil­lain, she almost invari­ably appeared exot­ic, allur­ing, and beau­ti­ful […] The attrac­tion of the ‘oth­er­ness’ of the for­bid­den Jew­ish woman undoubt­ed­ly con­tributed to her pop­u­lar­i­ty on the stage” (Rose 213). As I intend to show, Rose’s char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of the Jew­ish woman in Vien­nese the­ater can extend to oth­er modes of cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion where sim­i­lar per­spec­tives were preva­lent. Fur­ther­more, Klaus Hödl’s argu­ment that the pre­sen­ta­tion and inter­pre­ta­tion of Vien­nese Jew­ish his­to­ry must shift its focus from “the exis­tence of two dis­tinct, Jew­ish and non-Jew­ish, social enti­ties ” to “mutu­al exchange of Jews and non-Jews ” (Hödl 7), points out cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion as a whole to be a par­tic­u­lar­ly vibrant area of Jew­ish and non-Jew­ish exchange, and there­by, sup­ports the inter­sec­tion of the fine arts, lit­er­a­ture, and the­ater. Dif­fer­ent modes of cul­tur­al expres­sion, there­fore, may reveal over­lap­ping perceptions.

Klimt and Altenberg, for exam­ple, share an affin­i­ty with women and have become known for their effort to inter­pret them in their life’s work. Strik­ing­ly, both men have moments in their career, when they turn to non-Euro­pean cul­tures, which inad­ver­tent­ly rep­re­sent and inter­pret their own. A selec­tion of these two artists’ most well-known works demon­strate two frame­works in which Jew­ish­ness can be read through their align­ment of the female body with Asian and African cul­tures. Gus­tav Klimt’s imple­ments an aes­thet­ic dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion of the Jew­ish Vien­nese female body, which pri­mar­i­ly aligns itself with cul­tur­al expres­sion of Mid­dle-East­ern and Asian cul­tures. Although Jew­ish pres­ence in Vien­na is not actu­al­ly men­tioned in Peter Altenberg’s Ashantee, his lit­er­ary descrip­tion of the Ashan­ti vil­lage on dis­play in the Vien­na Zoo­log­i­cal Gar­den mir­rors the sta­tus of the Jew in his world. Both Klimt’s aes­thet­ic and Altenberg’s phys­i­cal descrip­tion of bod­ies dif­fer­ent from the main­stream cul­ture offer us exam­ples of the per­cep­tion of the Jew as a non-Euro­pean race and cul­ture, root­ed in nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry Euro­pean racial science.

Gus­tav Klimt was known for his large Jew­ish clien­tele through­out his career, which also made him sub­ject to anti-Semit­ic jabs by con­tem­po­rary crit­ics includ­ing Karl Kraus (Brand­stät­ter 29; Nat­ter 69). Of course, the cen­tral­i­ty of the Jew­ish body in Klimt’s por­traits was not an aes­thet­ic one, but a finan­cial one. After he with­drew him­self from pub­licly com­mis­sioned work fol­low­ing the scan­dal of the uni­ver­si­ty paint­ings[3], he had to rely on his pri­vate patrons, many of whom belong to the Vien­nese Jew­ish upper-class. A result of Klimt’s close rela­tion­ship with such fam­i­lies as the Bloch-Bauers, Led­er­ers or Zuck­erkan­dls is a num­ber of Jew­ish fam­i­ly por­traits which, by default, dis­play the female Jew­ish body. “Indica­tive of Klimt’s reliance on these fam­i­lies are the myr­i­ad por­traits he made of his patrons’ wives and daugh­ters, with many of whom he forged strong alliances” (Lil­lie 56). Pos­si­bly because some of his Jew­ish patrons were also his strongest sup­port­ers, Klimt imple­ment­ed a strik­ing free­dom in the por­tray­al of the fam­i­lies' women. Many of these pri­vate por­traits are marked by a trans­for­ma­tion or even mask­ing of the body with ele­ments far out­side of tra­di­tion­al nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry por­trai­tures, result­ing in an often eth­nic inter­pre­ta­tion of the female Jew­ish body. In par­tic­u­lar, Klimt used Byzan­tine, Egypt­ian, Japan­ese, and Chi­nese the­mat­ic and styl­is­tic ele­ments. He tend­ed to com­bine Byzan­tine mosaics with Egypt­ian, and Japan­ese orna­ments, while employ­ing the Chi­nese ele­ments by them­selves. Giv­en Klimt’s many non-Jew­ish clients, one might argue that his ori­en­tal focus was like­ly not the Jew­ish­ness of his female sub­jects, but the cre­ative expres­sion of fem­i­nin­i­ty. The com­mon­al­i­ty of ele­ments between some of the Jew­ish fam­i­ly por­traits with his myth­i­cal works, how­ev­er, allows an iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of some com­mon ele­ments and themes among Jew­ish female bod­ies craft­ed by Klimt.

The works of Klimt and Altenberg also hap­pen to mir­ror a trend among Vien­nese fin-de-siè­cle artists which Ali­son Rose iden­ti­fies as non-Jew­ish artists depict­ing Jew­ish fig­ures much more fre­quent­ly than assim­i­lat­ed Jew­ish artists did (185). In con­trast to Klimt stands Peter Altenberg, who includ­ed a very lim­it­ed num­ber of Jew­ish fig­ures in his lit­er­ary works. By itself, this obser­va­tion is unre­mark­able, if it were not for the impor­tance he placed on social class, which (in his vignettes about female char­ac­ters and their lives) reflects nation­al back­ground.  The lack of explic­it Jew­ish pres­ence in Altenberg’s lit­er­ary texts, thus, con­trasts his oth­er­wise demon­strat­ed inter­est in peo­ple of dif­fer­ent races, cul­tures, and nation­al­i­ties. Where­as Klimt ren­ders the female bod­ies Jew­ish through the aes­thet­ic sto­ry he pro­vokes in them and the, at times, stereo­typ­i­cal­ly ori­en­tal­ized but also empow­er­ing styl­iza­tion, Altenberg inevitably express­es the sta­tus of the Jew in Vien­nese soci­ety by engag­ing in racial dis­course, albeit with an attempt at demon­stra­tive innocence.

Gus­tav Klimt was a mas­ter at orig­i­nal inter­pre­ta­tions of fem­i­n­i­ty. He reg­u­lar­ly engulfed woman in artis­tic, exot­ic worlds and gar­ments, often in direct rela­tion to Asian art and cul­ture. The present analy­sis con­cen­trates on the first por­trait of Adele Bloch-Bauer that was pri­vate­ly com­mis­sioned by her hus­band Fer­di­nand and com­plet­ed in 1907, along with the two Judith paint­ings (1901 and 1909) which have been spec­u­lat­ed to por­tray Adele Bloch-Bauer as well (Kallir 42). Judith I and II mark the begin­ning and end of Klimt’s famous gold­en peri­od, where­as Adele Bloch-Bauer I rep­re­sents one of the paint­ings at its pin­na­cle. Adele Bloch-Bauer I, of course, gained world­wide fame and sky­rock­et­ed in val­ue due to the 2006 resti­tu­tion case in which Aus­tria returned it, along­side four oth­er Klimt-paint­ings, to Bloch-Bauer’s niece and remain­ing heir (Lil­lie 55). Here, I dis­cuss Adele Bloch-Blauer I as one of the most well-known exam­ples of the por­traits Klimt paint­ed of bour­geois female Jews between 1900 and 1918[4] and Judith I and II as exam­ples of Klimt’s more con­tro­ver­sial myth­i­cal work.

In his por­traits, Klimt cre­at­ed an indi­vid­ual world for each of the women, a “dream world” as crit­ics described his var­i­ous spaces (Bai­ley 51). Paint­ings from the “gold­en peri­od,” por­tray either no move­ment, or move­ment that seems to be frozen in place, as in Adele Bloch-Bauer I, where the opu­lence of the pre­cious gold lends the por­trait a metal­lic and life­less atmos­phere (Nat­ter, “Gus­tav Klimt: Female Por­traits” 116). In many of Klimt’s por­traits, he out­lines ges­tures by shap­ing the gar­ment, not the body, as is cer­tain­ly the case in Adele Bloch-Bauer I. Rather than loose­ly hang­ing down her body like the reform fash­ion Klimt liked to wear him­self (Eder 53; Houze 40), this dress seems to hold up Bloch-Bauer and there­by has the appear­ance and func­tion not unlike a piece of furniture.

In many of his por­traits, espe­cial­ly dur­ing the gold­en peri­od, Klimt presents a dis­placed world, in which every ele­ment, includ­ing the woman “trapped” in its cen­ter, is a care­ful­ly craft­ed work of art (Kallir 32). Klimt’s con­tem­po­rary Her­mann Bahr said: “This muta­bil­i­ty of appear­ances in which none of the crea­tures is empow­ered in itself, but can be imposed on any one of the oth­ers, trou­bles him. He paints a woman as though she were a jew­el. She mere­ly glit­ters, but the ring on her hand seems to breathe, and her hat has more life in it than she her­self. Her mouth is like a blos­som, but one does not imag­ine it can talk—yet her dress seems to whis­per” (qtd. in Schmidt 30). This artist’s increased free­dom in the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of fem­i­n­i­ty, how­ev­er, comes at a price. Along with the body, her per­son­al­i­ty and even­tu­al­ly even her iden­ti­ty dis­ap­pear. The sym­bol­ic elim­i­na­tion of Bloch Bauer peaked in the era­sure of her iden­ti­ty dur­ing the Third Reich, when the paint­ing was exhib­it­ed as “por­trait of a lady against gold back­ground” (Lil­lie 80) and became known only as “lady in gold” (Nat­ter, “Princess with­out a His­to­ry?” 72-73). In fin-de-siè­cle schol­ar­ship, too, though, Adele’s along with many oth­er paint­ed wealthy Jew­ish women’s iden­ti­ties proved of lit­tle inter­est until the 2001 exhib­it Klimt and his Women at the Öster­re­ichis­che Galerie Belvedere. Since said exhib­it, schol­ar­ly inter­est in Klimt’s Jew­ish patrons has increased dras­ti­cal­ly (Strauss; Lillie).

In por­traits, Klimt was at his best when he removed the bour­geois women from the com­forts of their domes­tic­i­ty and dis­placed them into unfa­mil­iar and fan­tas­tic spaces, with Adele Bloch-Bauer I as one of the high­points. When ignor­ing the subject’s Jew­ish iden­ti­ty, one could sim­ply argue that he enabled an escape through art by replac­ing her body shape and phys­i­cal expres­sion with for­eign, but also estrang­ing ele­ments. When con­sid­er­ing Bloch-Bauer’s Jew­ish iden­ti­ty, one must ques­tion whether her styl­iza­tion serves as an enhance­ment, a stereo­typ­ing or detrac­tion from the Jew­ish­ness. For sure, the metal­lic dis­em­bod­ied woman Klimt por­trays becomes a type of untouch­able oth­er, not unlike the Jew­ish char­ac­ters we find on Vienna’s stages to refer back to Rose’s quote. Fur­ther quot­ing Rose: “The con­fla­tion of the image of the Jew and the woman and the sex­u­al­ized image of the Jew pos­si­bly found their most fer­tile soil in fin de siè­cle Vien­na” (221).

In con­trast stand two well-known por­traits Klimt paint­ed of non-Jew­ish women. The por­traits of Son­ja Knips (1898) and Emi­lie Flöge (1902) pre­date Klimt’s gold­en peri­od, but fea­ture a toned-down ver­sion of many of the char­ac­ter­is­tics that make out his lat­er por­traits. Son­ja Knips is the first por­trait in a series of pri­vate­ly com­mis­sioned por­traits paint­ed for and of the mod­ern Vien­nese bour­geoisie (Kallir 12). The square dimen­sions and the depar­ture from the real­ist depic­tion deter­mine the begin­ning of Klimt’s art nou­veau style (Kallir 12, Nat­ter 84). The heav­i­ness of the dress also pre­views Klimt’s lat­er ten­den­cies to put empha­sis on his subject’s gar­ment and not her face, as is epiphomized in Adele Bloch-Bauer I. The head dress and dress com­prised of orna­ment in Emi­lie Flöge like­wise antic­i­pate the style of the gold­en peri­od when gar­ments were almost entire­ly con­struct­ed of orna­ment (Kallir 20). Yet, the images of these two non-Jew­ish women lack the ref­er­ences to the non-Euro­pean which we find in the Judith and Adele Bloch-Bauer paint­ings. The con­trast of the desex­u­al­ized, albeit orna­men­tal, Euro­pean look­ing Emi­lie Flöge and the ori­en­tal, sex­u­al Judith I—paint­ed only one year apart—is an exam­ple of two dras­ti­cal­ly dif­fer­ent inter­pre­ta­tions of the female sub­ject. Son­ja Knips set the stage for the style of his lat­er por­traits, includ­ing Adele Bloch-Bauer I. “This was not the erotics of the typ­i­cal fin-de-siè­cle femme fatale, but rather of a phys­i­cal­ly potent woman with great sen­su­ous pres­ence, as well as the fresh­ness of youth […]” (von Miller 197). This same inter­pre­ta­tion could apply to Emi­lie Flöge, a paint­ing like­wise con­trast­ing the orna­men­tal heav­i­ness of Adele Bloch-Bauer I and the fatal eroti­cism of Judith I and II. In Adele Bloch-Bauer I, Klimt replaces the del­i­cate flow­ers imple­ment­ed in Son­ja Knips and Emi­lie Flöge with over­pow­er­ing ori­en­tal sym­bols, giv­ing this par­tic­u­lar Jew­ish sub­ject a more arti­fi­cial, per­for­ma­tive aura than the women in the ear­li­er portraits.

Klimt’s Judith paint­ings offer the staged sex­u­al­i­ty Adele Bloch-Bauer I is miss­ing. In this case, how­ev­er, Klimt’s inter­pre­ta­tion of Judith fol­lows the tra­di­tion of the char­ac­ter of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, but it turned out that the audi­ence added its own twist by con­flat­ing Judith with Salome.  The Judith of the Old Tes­ta­ment is a faith­ful wid­ow who tries to pre­vent Holofernes from destroy­ing her besieged town. She gains his trust and ulti­mate­ly decap­i­tates him in his sleep. Because she act­ed in faith, the mur­der is inter­pret­ed as a saint­ly action. Unlike the orig­i­nal sto­ry which paint­ed Judith as a chaste heroess, the Judith since the sec­ond half of the 19th cen­tu­ry has become the quin­tes­sen­tial femme fatale, con­net­ing sex with mur­der (Ham­mer-Tugend­hat; Kul­ter­mann). Start­ing with a play by Friedrich Hebbel in 1840,  cul­tur­al pro­duc­tions begin to present Judith as a sex­u­al being, which also becomes the point at which a con­ver­gence of the fig­ures Judith and Salome takes place in art and lit­er­a­ture (Sine). Salome, from the New Tes­ta­ment, is famous for the dance in return to which she demands the head of John the Bap­tist. In Flaubert, “she twist­ed her waist, made her bel­ly rip­ple like the swell of the sea, made her breasts quiver, while her expres­sion remained fixed, and her feet nev­er stood still. She danced like the princess­es of India, like the Nubian women from the cataracts, like the Bac­cha­ntes of Libya” (qtd. in Kul­ter­mann 190). Like Judith, she did not acquire the image of the sex­u­al revengess until the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, but  Salome’s main char­ac­ter­is­tic also became an erot­ic orientalism.

Although Klimt named both of his paint­ings Judith (I and II), and both paint­ings clar­i­fy that the sev­ered head she holds is Holoferne’s, crit­ics per­sist­ed in chang­ing the woman’s iden­ti­fi­ca­tion from Judith to Salome. Judith I expe­ri­enced the name-change from the begin­ning, but Judith II was not unof­fi­cial­ly renamed until after Klimth’s death (Kallir 42). This con­fu­sion of myth­i­cal fig­ures rep­re­sents a symp­tom of the new­ly found pref­er­ence in art and lit­er­a­ture for cre­at­ing the dead­ly sex­u­al woman. Because we do not see a weapon in the image, Judith’s part­ly exposed body and pos­ture exude a mix­ture of eroti­cism and pow­er, but not mil­i­taris­tic strength. Judith II is the much more threat­en­ing fig­ure due to her pos­ture, facial expres­sion and the cramped posi­tion­ing of her hands and fin­gers. The col­or­ful robe has an organ­ic qual­i­ty that is in stark con­trast to the arti­fi­cial gold­en nature in Judith I. Here, the move­ment of the robe resem­bles that of a dancer, deter­min­ing the align­ment with Salome.

Klimt dis­plays many of the ele­ments of the bib­li­cal ori­en­tal sto­ry and inserts ele­ments adopt­ed from Egypt­ian, Japan­ese, and Chi­nese art, but gives his main sub­ject what his con­tem­po­raries rec­og­nized as dis­tinct­ly Jew­ish fea­tures. Com­ment­ing on Judith I, Felix Salten states, “One often encoun­ters such slen­der, glit­ter­ing Jew­ish women and longs to see these dec­o­ra­tive, flir­ta­tious and play­ful crea­tures sud­den­ly hurled toward a hor­rid des­tiny, to det­o­nate the explo­sive pow­er that flash­es in their eyes” (qtd. in Kallir 16). Jane Kalli sum­ma­rizes: “Klimt’s artis­tic real­iza­tion of the preva­lent fan­ta­sy of sex with a dark and dan­ger­ous Jew­ess elo­quent­ly expressed the comin­gled strains of misog­y­ny and anti-Semi­tism that char­ac­ter­ized fin-de-siè­cle thought” (Kallir 16). So, in the Judiths, sex­u­al­i­ty, Jew­ish­ness, and the Ori­en­tal merge to con­vey a pow­er­ful and dan­ger­ous woman, known for male fatal­i­ty. She even rep­re­sents a female con­trast to Nordau’s “mus­cle Jew,” or the “new type of Jew who is cor­po­re­al­ly strong and moral­ly fit,” which them­selves are the char­ac­ter­is­tics need­ed to real­ize the Zion­ist nation state and the “rebirth of the Jew­ish peo­ple” (Pres­ner 1).

Peter Altenberg was one of Klimt’s fans who read his work through a roman­tic lens. Sim­i­lar to his own inten­tions, Altenberg inter­prets Klimt’s artis­tic treat­ment of women as: […] man hat sie erhöht zu ihren eige­nen roman­tis­chen Gipfelpunk­ten! Man wird ihr gerecht, man verk­lärt sie, man macht sie sicht­bar­lich für die Skep­tik­er mit ihren trüben freude­losen Augen! Gus­tav Klimt, ein mys­ter­iös­es Gemisch von Ur-Bauernkraft und his­torisch­er Roman­tik, dir sei der Preis (Altenberg, Bilder­bö­gen des kleinen Lebens 116).[5] An artist’s role, then, is not only to dis­play, but to offer an inter­pre­ta­tion of the women he describes through paint or words. Although, at first glance, Altenberg is a mas­ter at tun­ing into the indi­vid­ual and reveal­ing a moment in their lives that encap­su­lates their entire being, in the end, he nev­er just writes about one indi­vid­ual. Woman, in par­tic­u­lar, is linked to myr­i­ad cri­tiques Altenberg offers of bour­geois Vien­nese soci­ety (Schön­berg 53). In Ashantee, he focus­es on the Ashan­ti women con­tained and dis­played in a pre­scribed space—similar to a per­for­mance in the theater—in the midst of bour­geois Vien­nese society.

In his Ashantee, we find an osten­ta­tious “respect” for the Africans along­side pas­sages that are in line with his con­tem­po­raries’ hier­ar­chi­cal clas­si­fi­ca­tion of the races, Jews includ­ed. As Sander Gilman has dis­cussed, in nine­teenth cen­tu­ry racial sci­ence, light-skinned Euro­peans were ranked above dark-skinned Euro­peans and black non-Euro­peans rank well below. The Jew ranked as black as the black African. “The Jews are black, accord­ing to nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry racial sci­ence, because they are not a pure race […] But the black­ness of the African, like the black­ness of the Jew, was cred­it­ed to the effect of cer­tain dis­eases, […] It is the change in the nature and col­or of the skin which marks the syphilitic; it is the col­or and qual­i­ty of the skin which marks the Jew” (The Jew’s Body 99-100). Here, I read Altenberg’s por­tray­al of the Africans as a reflec­tion of the Jew­ish pres­ence in Vien­nese soci­ety.  As Ian Fos­ter points out, the pres­ence of the Ashan­ti as the “sym­bol­ic absolute Oth­er” in Vien­na auto­mat­i­cal­ly placed them in the cen­ter of an ongo­ing “rhetoric of dif­fer­ence” which also includ­ed the cast­ing of the Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion as outsider:

The sig­nif­i­cance of this rhetoric of difference—of belong­ing and not belonging—in a city where over half of the pop­u­la­tion had been born else­where and where vir­u­lent anti-Semi­tism was in the process of cel­e­brat­ing its polit­i­cal tri­umph is plain. With­in a few weeks of arrival in Vien­na, the Ashan­ti entered a high­ly dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed lan­guage of racial/ethnic dif­fer­ence. (46)

Hence, Altenberg’s text fits into an expand­ed dis­course that to a large degree revolves around the issue of Jew­ish inclu­siv­i­ty or exclu­siv­i­ty in Vien­nese soci­ety and culture.

In Altenberg’s Ashantee of 1897, one of his most long-lived pub­li­ca­tions,[6] the nar­ra­tor (who Altenberg iden­ti­fies as him­self by nam­ing him P.A. or Sir Peter) sketch­es out his encoun­ters with a group of Ashan­ti from Ghana who resided the pre­vi­ous year in an ethno­graph­ic exhib­it at Vienna’s Zoo­log­i­cal Gar­den. The text is ded­i­cat­ed to “meinen schwarzen Fre­undin­nen, den unvergesslichen ‘Paradieses-Men­schen’ gewid­ment [Ded­i­cat­ed to my Black women friends, the unfor­get­table par­adise peo­ple” (trans. von Ham­mer­stein)]. As the ded­i­ca­tion reveals, the text pri­mar­i­ly focus­es on P.A.’s acquain­tance­ship with the Ashan­ti girls and women, although the trib­al group also con­sist­ed of men and boys. Although researchers tend to dis­agree about the actu­al plot in the text (Wolter 144), the narrator’s fas­ci­na­tion and infat­u­a­tion with three African women is clear­ly a major theme, if not the dri­ving force of the “sto­ry.”[7] Con­tem­po­rary Altenberg fans may wish to qual­i­fy Ashantee as a crit­i­cal text in the post­colo­nial sense, but it is unde­ni­able that the actu­al prac­tice of human zoo dis­plays is not the focus of Altenberg’s crit­i­cism. Through­out, he jux­ta­pos­es crit­i­cal­ly-ori­ent­ed sketch­es with moments of cul­tur­al and eth­nic stereo­typ­ing (von Ham­mer­stein 103), which results in an ambiva­lent per­spec­tive from which the assim­i­lat­ed Jew Altenberg presents not only the African oth­er, but also pro­vides a glimpse into his con­flict­ed Jew­ish Vien­nese self.

Altenberg’s read­ers are fore­most drawn to his writ­ing style and approach, both of which reflect the every­day present of fin-de-siè­cle Vien­na through col­lec­tions of short sketch­es. For over 100 years now, Peter Altenberg (born Richard Englän­der) has been acknowl­edged in two ways: as a Vien­nese Mod­ernist, whose Mod­ernism hinges on his unique impres­sion­is­tic writ­ing, and as an eccen­tric Bohemi­an, who shines with moments of lit­er­ary genius. Stud­ies about him rarely dis­cuss his works and his life or lifestyle sep­a­rate­ly, as both are equal­ly unique and, more impor­tant­ly, are eas­i­ly linked. Except for analy­ses of Ashantee, Altenberg schol­ar­ship tends to be  com­pre­hen­sive, rather than focus­ing on a spe­cif­ic aspect of his work or a spe­cif­ic pub­li­ca­tion. With­in these stud­ies, top­ics that tend to receive atten­tion are: Altenberg’s eccen­tric lifestyle, Altenberg as a lit­er­ary impres­sion­ist, Altenberg’s rela­tion­ship to and rep­re­sen­ta­tion of girls and women, Altenberg as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Vienna’s cof­fee­house cul­ture, and his strug­gle with his own phys­i­cal and men­tal health.[8] The sub­ject mat­ter of Ashantee auto­mat­i­cal­ly dis­tin­guish­es the text from the rest of Altenberg’s oeu­vre and schol­ars tend to dis­cuss it in the post­colo­nial frame­work (Wolter; von Ham­mer­stein; Kopp; Schwarz). Hence, Ashantee is like­ly the most polit­i­cal­ly loaded of Altenberg’s pub­li­ca­tions, even if its author did not intend it to be. While the author or nar­ra­tor claims a unique and un-Vien­nese sen­si­tiv­i­ty to non-Euro­pean cul­tur­al tra­di­tions, the actu­al lan­guage of Ashantee often sug­gests oth­er­wise. The text’s mes­sages are, there­fore, of mixed nature.

Altenberg begins Ashantee with an edit­ed excerpt­ed pas­sage from Meyer’s Ency­clo­pe­dia about the Ashanti’s home­land which pro­vides most­ly geo­graph­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal infor­ma­tion.[9] Infor­ma­tion about the Ashan­ti peo­ple and cul­ture is lim­it­ed to the fol­low­ing sentences:

Die Aschan­ti sind echte, kraushaarige Neger, welche das Odschi sprechen; sie sind namentlich im Tep­pich­weben und in Goldar­beit­en sehr geschickt. Es herrscht Viel­weiberei. Die Reli­gion ist Fetis­chis­mus. Die mys­ter­iöse Auf­gabe der Priester beste­ht haupt­säch­lich darin, die bösen Genien durch geheimnisvolle Cer­e­monien und hys­ter­ische Tänze zu beschwichti­gen. (1)[10]

Accord­ing to Fos­ter, Altenberg pur­pose­ful­ly manip­u­lates the ency­clo­pe­dia arti­cle by evok­ing the most pen­e­tra­tive clichés about African peo­ples as a cri­tique of the text and the atti­tudes it rep­re­sents (48-50). Fos­ter argues that Altenberg means to under­mine stereo­types and gen­er­al­iza­tions by draw­ing atten­tion to the Ashan­ti “as peo­ple, as indi­vid­u­als first and fore­most” (51). Some pas­sages of the text sure­ly achieve just that, while oth­ers put into ques­tions the author’s noble inten­tion. Ashantee’s read­er not only learns very lim­it­ed infor­ma­tion about the dai­ly life and liv­ing cul­ture of this African peo­ple, (s)he also does not learn much about the indi­vid­ual women at the cen­ter of the text. While Altenberg appears to crit­i­cize the focus on the Africans’ skin col­or in some moments (see “Der Hofmeis­ter”), in oth­ers, he joins his fel­low Vien­nese in the same skin—and body—focused gaze he just crit­i­cized. Even though the nar­ra­tor dis­plays racial tol­er­ance by form­ing rela­tion­ships with the Ashan­ti, his descrip­tions always include a note of the black­ness of the African body.

He mix­es his gen­er­al­iza­tions of the Ashan­ti (as the “black peo­ple”) with his ever-present infat­u­a­tion with the young women. Here too, the body plays a role, as Altenberg suc­cumbs to the incli­na­tion to point out the women’s breasts and describes which part of the body is bare and which is cov­ered by cloth­ing. In 2008, Sander Gilman argued that the stress on the women’s black­ness changes the under­ly­ing moti­va­tion of the author. “Als Altenberg seinen Text ver­fasste, war im europäis­chen Bewusst­sein die Vorstel­lung von schwarz­er Sex­u­al­ität als pathol­o­gisch bere­its fest ver­ankert” (“Schwarze Sex­u­al­ität” 166).[11] The per­cep­tion that skin col­or deter­mines a dif­fer­ent type of sex­u­al­i­ty mir­rors the per­cep­tion of the Jew­ish woman on the stage or in a Klimt paint­ing where she pos­sess­es a par­tic­u­lar­ly pow­er­ful sex­u­al­i­ty com­pared to her non-Jew­ish view­ers. Wern­er Michael Schwarz observes that the media of the time pro­mot­ed the sex­u­al image of Ashan­ti and Jews alike: Die sex­uelle Promin­skuität, die man nicht nur in diesen Medi­en den ‘Aschan­ti’ unter­stellte, wurde auf Juden und Tschechen pro­jiziert und daraus eine Bedro­hung der ‘deutschen Rasse’ kon­stru­iert’ (Schwarz “’Postlib­erales Spek­takel’ 133).[12]

Altenberg, though, at the same time feeds and under­mines the stereo­types of the black “vis­i­tors” in Vienna’s midst. On the one hand, his por­tray­al of the Ashan­ti reflects the gen­er­al per­cep­tion of non-white races, Jews includ­ed, by the sur­round­ing media and pop­u­lar cul­ture. On the oth­er hand, he pro­vides pas­sages which argue direct­ly against the one-sided per­cep­tion of the out­siders. I argue, there­fore, that Altenberg’s text not only con­tains cer­tain descrip­tive atti­tudes towards the black bod­ies which mir­ror the Vien­nese per­cep­tion of the Jew­ish bod­ies among them, but his incon­sis­ten­cy reveals a per­son­al iden­ti­ty con­flict he may feel as an assim­i­lat­ed Jew who strives to be part of Vienna’s main­stream cul­ture, while liv­ing out the lifestyle of a bohemian.

In the book’s first sketch, Altenberg intro­duces the theme of the self and the oth­er. He depicts a tutor who chas­tis­es his stu­dent for sug­gest­ing a cul­tur­al dif­fer­ence between the Ashan­ti and the Vien­nese: “Mache nur nicht gle­ich solche Abgründe zwis­chen Uns und Ihnen. Für Die, für Die. Was bedeutet es?! Glaub­st du, weil das dumme Volk sich über sie stellt, sie behan­delt wie exo­tis­che Thiere?! Warum?! Weil ihre Epi­der­mis dun­kle Pig­ment-Zellen enthält?! Diese Mäd­chen sind jeden­falls san­ft und gut” (9).[13] In the same sketch, how­ev­er, the nar­ra­tor under­mines this stand­point of osten­ta­tious respect when he describes one of the women he will lat­er befriend: “Tíoko im Garten, bebt, legt den dün­nen heliotrop­far­bigen Kat­tun über ihre wun­der­baren hell­braunen Brüste, welche son­st in Frei­heit und in Schön­heit lebten, wie Gott sie geschaf­fen, dem edlen Män­ner-Auge ein Bild der Weltvol­lkom­men­heit­en gebend, ein Ide­al an Kraft und Blüthe” (12).[14] Although the Vien­nese male vis­i­tor A.P. lat­er uncov­ers the zoo’s out­ra­geous rule that the tribe’s peo­ple were not allowed to wear Vien­na-fall-weath­er appro­pri­ate cloth­ing, as it would be pre­ten­tious and spoil the locals’ view­ing expe­ri­ence, he also takes plea­sure in the dis­play, as he fre­quent­ly men­tions the bare upper female bod­ies for their beau­ty and their nat­u­ral­ness. David Kim judges the lat­ter as “a fan­tas­tic ide­al­iza­tion of the Oth­er where­by any­thing African is cel­e­brat­ed as orig­i­nal­ly whole and nat­u­ral­ly beau­ti­ful” (7). Sander Gilman goes so far as to argue that under­ly­ing Altenberg’s text is sole­ly sex­u­al fan­ta­sy: “Dieser starke Sub­text ver­mit­telt des Autors Assozi­a­tio­nen zwis­chen seinem ‘Sehen’ des Schwarzen und seinem Fan­tasieren über dessen Gen­i­tal­ien. Die Entschlüs­selung dieser ver­bor­ge­nen Codes legt die Funk­tion des Schwarzen inner­halb der Fanat­siewelt von Peter Altenberg und von Wien im Fin de Siè­cle offen” (164).[15] So, Altenberg’s text oscil­lates between cul­tur­al or at least human­is­tic sen­si­tiv­i­ty, or the immod­est gog­gling of a self-declared roman­tic, and pos­si­bly raw sex­u­al fan­ta­sy towards a non-Euro­pean oth­er. His por­tray­al of the African peo­ple is always lined with infat­u­a­tion and the scenes he offers paint an image of a nat­u­ral­ly mild human­i­ty, not of dan­ger­ous activism or sex­u­al­i­ty like Klimt’s Judith. Bar­bara Schön­berg argues about Altenberg’s oeu­vre that “When­ev­er it is a mat­ter of Altenberg’s per­cep­tion of the social injus­tices inher­ent in his world, he con­sis­tent­ly express­es through the vehi­cle of ‘Woman’ the most severe indict­ments against his bour­geois soci­ety. Cor­re­spond­ing­ly, the females in Altenberg’s work most often suf­fer and bear the brunt of social inequal­i­ty and injus­tice” (56). While cer­tain­ly not the objec­tive of the text, Ashantee may serve as the one lit­er­ary work in which Altenberg indi­rect­ly offers his com­men­tary on racial dif­fer­ences in Vien­nese soci­ety, such as the Jew­ish pres­ence in Aus­tri­an culture.

In an 1897 news­pa­per piece, Altenberg con­sid­ers his expe­ri­ences with the Ashan­ti and con­cludes that roman­ti­cism is the core of the experience.

Ein solch­es Medika­ment für die über­lade­nen, über­füt­terten und den­noch schlecht genährten See­len war der Verkehr mit diesen noblen würde­vollen Lüge-losen schwarzen Men­schen. Man kann es sagen, niemals störten sie unsere roman­tis­che Phan­tasie, welche sie zu ‘Paradies-Men­schen’ umdichtete, niemals ent­täuscht­en sie dieselbe. Und wun­der­bar war es zu sehen, wie ‘weiße Men­schen’ in diesem Umgange poet­isch, liebre­ich und ein wenig schwärmerisch wur­den, bei welchen bish­er im Drang des Tages diese zarteren Blüthen nicht trieben. (“Abschied der Aschan­ti” 111-112)[16]

Altenberg’s per­cep­tions of the Ashan­ti are clear­ly lined with infat­u­a­tion, but they are also extreme­ly ego­cen­tric. Ignor­ing the polit­i­cal reflec­tions an exhib­it such as this one may have offered of the Vien­na of his time, Altenberg instead devotes him­self to an inter­pre­ta­tion of the Ashanti’s pres­ence as a time­less phe­nom­e­non that is dis­con­nect­ed from all polit­i­cal real­i­ty.  I argue that the text as a whole sug­gests a dif­fer­ent inten­tion from Altenberg, who means to use some of his jux­ta­po­si­tions between Vien­nese and Ashan­ti to expose emo­tion­al defi­cien­cies in tra­di­tion­al West­ern def­i­n­i­tions of cul­ture. More­over, sim­i­lar­ly to the Ashan­ti text itself, this com­men­tary stays true to the focus on racial dif­fer­ences marked by skin col­or. The black Ashan­ti serve the white Euro­peans by not forc­ing them to be con­front­ed with any mean­ing­ful and enlight­en­ing knowl­edge or real­iza­tions about either cul­ture. This devo­tion to stereo­types and pre­con­cep­tions, and the resis­tance to per­spec­tives that may under­mine them, again reflects the polit­i­cal and cul­tur­al atti­tude towards Jew­ish cul­ture at the fin-de-siè­cle.

In the end, Altenberg’s infat­u­a­tion with the Ashan­ti females and their bod­ies is less about them and more about the narrator’s (and the author’s) self-styl­iza­tion, includ­ing an under­ly­ing con­flict­ed iden­ti­ty. Katha­ri­na von Ham­mer­stein con­cludes: “Lit­er­a­ture of the turn-of-the-cen­tu­ry Vien­na served as a space that allowed for wish­es, anx­i­eties, and myths about the Self and Oth­er to be rep­re­sent­ed and, at times, ques­tioned” (103). Altenberg’s piece, along with its con­tra­dic­tions, joins a larg­er pub­lic dis­course about cul­tur­al legit­i­ma­cy in fin-de-siè­cle Vien­na. At the same time, Ashantee is the one lit­er­ary text in which Altenberg may have masked a con­flic­tion about his own iden­ti­ty as an assim­i­lat­ed Jew in Vien­na, which we oth­er­wise only find in his per­son­al cor­re­spon­dence (see let­ter quot­ed by Gilman, The Jew’s Body 201). Simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, and in con­trast, by choos­ing to align the Jew­ish bod­ies with non-Euro­pean cul­ture in the three paint­ings I dis­cussed, Klimt also removed the sub­ject mat­ter from his own biog­ra­phy and engaged in a pure­ly cre­ative exer­cise. Yet, the result is a fur­ther con­flict­ed aes­thet­ic rep­re­sen­ta­tion of female Jewishness.

Although this essay does not set­tle on one inter­pre­ta­tion of the image and role of the female Jew­ish body in Vien­nese mod­ernist art and lit­er­a­ture, it sug­gests that the rep­re­sen­ta­tion and non-rep­re­sen­ta­tion, the embod­i­ment and disembodiment/masking of female Jew­ish­ness express a strug­gle with the com­plex­i­ties of soci­ety, iden­ti­ty, and inter­cul­tur­al con­tact. As the quote below from Her­mann Bahr, the descrip­tor and crit­ic cen­tral to Vien­nese Mod­ernism, reflects, the pres­ence of the Jew in Vien­na around 1900 is part and par­tial to the def­i­n­i­tion of its cul­ture and mentality:

The real Jew has no pow­er in the city of Vien­na. Unfor­tu­nate­ly. It could use some of his dili­gence, his indus­tri­ous­ness, his earnest­ness. But the city has always defend­ed itself against him. It doesn’t want the com­pe­tence, great­ness, and strength of Jew­ry. But the Jew who doesn’t want to be one, who betrays his race by leav­ing it, the one who plays some­thing he is not, he is Vienna’s kin. The arti­fi­cial­i­ty of these fugi­tive beings who, emp­tied of all past, crave to cloak them­selves in any present and any future, who are no more than shells of men ready to spout off some­thing dif­fer­ent every day, who are capa­ble of being noth­ing but appear­ing anything—these have always allured the Vien­nese. (Bahr qtd. in Spec­tor 621)

With respect to the cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion dur­ing Bahr’s time, the ques­tion of Jew­ish influ­ence to the move­ment remains cen­tral in the schol­ar­ship on Vien­nese Mod­ernism. Gus­tav Klimt and Peter Altenberg are two fig­ures with­in that pro­duc­tion whose art may reveal a per­cep­tion of local Jew­ish cul­ture through their dif­fer­ent foci on the non-Euro­pean female body image. Nei­ther Klimt nor Altenberg delib­er­ate­ly set out to define the Jew­ish woman, but, tak­ing the con­tem­po­rary per­cep­tions on race into account, the works of both inevitably com­ple­ment­ed each oth­er in offer­ing insight into the image of female Jew­ish­ness in the Vien­na of their time.


[1] Ear­ly works include Sander Gilman’s The Jew’s Body (1991) and Susan­nah Heschel’s On Being a Jew­ish Fem­i­nist (1983) for exam­ple.

[2]Specif­i­cal­ly, Nor­dau spoke about “Muskelju­den­tum” in 1903 before and in ref­er­ence to a group of gym­nasts belong­ing to a Jew­ish gym­nas­tics soci­ety in Berlin (Stanis­laws­ki 92).

[3] After the pub­lic scan­dal around three paint­ings, Klimt was com­mis­sioned in 1894 to paint for the new uni­ver­si­ty in Vien­na, the artist vowed to step away from pub­licly com­mis­sioned work. The scan­dal involved a vehe­ment protest against the artist’s uncon­ven­tion­al depic­tion of the sub­jects Phi­los­o­phy, Med­i­cine and Jurispru­dence. Even­tu­al­ly, Klimt for­feit­ed the com­mis­sion for the paint­ings and returned all advances. In 1905, the author­i­ties returned the paint­ings to him. In 1945, all three paint­ings were destroyed in a fire.

[4] Refer to the cat­a­log for the exhib­it Klimt and his Women held at the Öster­re­ichis­che Galerie Belvedere from Sep­tem­ber 20 to Jan­u­ary 7, 2001.

[5] Author’s Trans­la­tion: “You ele­vate them so they reach their own roman­tic peaks! You do her jus­tice, you glo­ri­fy her, you make her vis­i­ble to the scep­tics with their hazy joy­less eyes! Gus­tav Klimt, a mys­te­ri­ous mix­ture of pri­mor­dial nat­ur­al pow­er and his­tor­i­cal roman­ti­cism, you deserve the prize! ”

[6] The first edi­tion of the text was pub­lished in 1897 by Samuel Fis­ch­er and count­ed 33 sketch­es. In 1904, Altenberg extend­ed Ashantee by five sketch­es and includ­ed it in the fourth edi­tion of Wie ich es sehe, pub­lished by Fis­ch­er in 1904.

[7] Altenberg does not write sto­ries in the tra­di­tion­al sense. Instead, each of his books is a col­lec­tion of sketch­es express­ing an obser­va­tion he makes of him­self or the world around him. Altenberg him­self calls them “extracts of life“ (Was der Tag mir zuträgt 6).

[8] See: Bark­er, Andrew. Telegrams from the Soul. (1996); Kosler, Chris­t­ian. Peter Altenberg: Leben und Werk in Tex­ten und Bildern. (1981); Köw­er, Irene. Peter Altenberg als Autor der lit­er­arischen Kle­in­form. (1987); Schae­fer, Camil­lo. Peter Altenberg oder Die Geburt der mod­er­nen Seele. (1992); Simp­son, Josephine M. N. Peter Altenberg: a Neglect­ed Writer of the Vien­nese Jahrhun­der­twende. (1987). Von Wysoc­ki, Gisela. Peter Altenberg: Bilder und Geschicht­en des befre­it­en Lebens. (1979); Weller­ing, Peter. Zwis­chen Kul­turkri­tik und Melan­cholie Peter Altenberg und die Wiener Jahrhun­der­twende. (1999); Zeisl Schoen­ber, Bar­bara. The Art of Peter Altenberg: Bed­side Chron­i­cles of a Dying World. (1984).

[9] See Ian Fos­ter for a com­par­i­son of orig­i­nal Meyer’s ency­clo­pe­dia and excerpt­ed sen­tences used by Altenberg (Fos­ter 47-48).

[10] “The Ashantee are full-blood­ed, authen­tic, curly-haired Negroes who speak Odschi; they are espe­cial­ly skill­ful in weav­ing rugs and mak­ing gold jew­el­ry. They prac­tice polyg­y­ny. Their reli­gious prac­tice con­sists of fetishism. The priests’ mys­ti­cal duties lie main­ly in appeas­ing evil spri­tis through obscure cer­e­monies and hys­ter­i­cal dances. ” (Trans. von Hammerstein)

[11] Author’s Trans­la­tion: “When Altenberg com­posed his text, the image of black sex­u­al­i­ty as patho­log­i­cal was already deeply anchored into Euro­pean con­scious­ness” (“Schwarze Sex­u­al­ität” 166).

[12] Author’s Trans­la­tion: “The sex­u­al promis­cu­ity of which not only these media accused the Ashan­ti, was pro­ject­ed onto Jews and Czechs and pre­sent­ed as a threat to the ‘Ger­man race.’”

[13] “Don’t place such an abyss between us and them. To them, to them. What does that mean? Do you think that way because there are stu­pid peo­ple who act as if they are supe­ri­or to them, and treat them like exot­ic ani­mals? Why?! Because their epi­der­mis con­sists of dark pig­men­ta­tion?! These young girls, at any rate, are gen­tle and good.’” (Trans. von Ham­mer­stein 32).

[14] “Tíoko was shiv­er­ing in the gar­den. She wrapped her thin, heliotrope-col­ored cot­ton shawl over her won­der­ful light brown breasts, which oth­er­wise exist­ed in free­dom and beau­ty, as God had cre­at­ed them, offer­ing the noble male gaze an image of earth­ly per­fec­tion, an ide­al of strength and flow­er­ing.” (Trans. von Ham­mer­stein 34).

[15] Author’s Trans­la­tion: “This strong sub­text com­mu­ni­cates the author’s asso­ci­a­tion of his ‘see­ing’ the black per­son and his fan­ta­sy about his gen­i­tals” (“Schwarze Sex­u­al­ität” 164.

[16] Author’s Trans­la­tion: “The asso­ci­a­tion with these noble dig­ni­fied lie-less black peo­ple was such med­i­cine for the over­bur­dened, over­sat­u­rat­ed and still poor­ly nour­ished souls. One can say, that they nev­er dis­turbed or dis­ap­point­ed our roman­tic imag­i­na­tion which trans­formed them into ‘par­adise-peo­ple.’ And it was won­der­ful to see how ‘white peo­ple’ became poet­ic, lov­ing and a lit­tle infat­u­at­ed in their asso­ci­a­tion, even those for whom the del­i­cate flow­ers had not bloomed until now in the pres­sure of the everyday”(“Abschied der Aschan­ti” 111-112).

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