gustav-klimt-death-and-life-dornai

 

Reflecting on her summer in Vienna, Ioanna Batzoglou considers art, psychology, and recent atrocities. 

 

After personally experiencing the impeccable Viennese transport system for a month I can testify that Vienna keeps up with the expanding, modernising world remarkably well. Of course the implications of modernisation are sometimes complex (the term complex does not necessarily have negative connotations). After all, it is due to this so-called globalisation that Otto Wagner’s architectural masterpieces function today as H&M stores and corporate offices, or that Viennese Wurstl stands transform rapidly into Turkish Kebab ones. 

Whereas most Viennese have a positive disposition towards Austria’s present EU membership and their country’s membership in the global community, they share an underlying nostalgia. Strauss’s “Blue Danube Waltz”, the Albertina and Schonbrunn palaces, and the Central Café are not only reminiscent of the city’s glorious past but are also eternal symbols of a world-class cultural centre.  

Vienna reflects in the mirror, reflects in what Jean Cocteau saw as the membrane between the visible world and the hallucinatory parallel.  As I roamed around the streets of Vienna in August, trying to sense this ambivalent city, the words of Egon Schiele were echoing in my mind: ‘I love life and I love death’. Freud’s threefold deconstruction of the human psyche into Id, ego and super ego, indicates that – like its people – Vienna cannot be captured by simplistic Manichean divides between black and white. 

If you visit by chance the Jewish museum in Hofburg you will find out that despite its current admiration for Freud, Vienna was for centuries an anti-Semitic city. Whereas in the imperial years some intellectual members of the Jewish community were tolerated (in exchange for a tolerance fee), anti-Semitism increased gradually after the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and ultimately peaked after the Anschluss with Germany in 1938. 

Ironically, after my visit to the Jewish museum I witnessed some protesters in Stephansplatz holding placards reading: “Israel is real criminal!” Yet this was not, in my opinion, a 21st century resurgence of anti-Semitism, but a sign of indignation for Israel’s attacks against the Palestinians. We all remember since early July listening to the detailed descriptions of the hideous atrocities towards the civilians in Gaza.  For 50 days instead of Mozart’s 40th symphony, the civilian population in Gaza heard bombs exploding. Those were 50 days of rocket fires, sirens and air strikes. Those were 50 days of dead corpses and tears. Those were 50 days of overcrowding, limited humanitarian aid, lack of water and electricity. 

Alas, this was not Cocteau’s psychedelic parallel; this is the abhorring reality of summer 2014. I do not know where you spent your summer, but wherever you’ve been, I bet it was better than Gaza. 

 

Ioanna Batzoglou

 

Photo credit: Life and Death by Gustav Klimt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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