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May. 25th, 2004


Because there are only so many things one can do one-handed, and fewer M. would actually let me do, I read Schnitzler's Lieutenant Gustl at work - which is so utterly brilliant, I can't believe I never read it before. But in fact my knowledge of Austrian literature is so deplorably lacking, that at no point I was aware that he in fact would not have to kill himself in the end. I guess I probably should be terribly embarrassed, but I can't really regret it either, because it made following his steps through night-time Vienna so much more poignant; no emotional safety-net, so to speak. I was standing behind the counter, swallowing back tears, hoping that no one would ask me anything, realising that this perhaps wasn't the best time and place to read this, but unable to put it aside, either.

No doubt there exist countless in-depth analytical essays dealing with the political, socio-critical aspects &c., but what really got me on a visceral level is the humanity and realism of his inner monologue, having to suddenly come to terms with the immediate prospect of his death; sadness, anger, sarcasm; all the more touching because there are no deep philosophical musings, just very ordinary, sometimes petty, human concerns, though the situation makes even someone like Gustl very occasionally tentatively questions some of the aspects of his life a little, as far as his personality permits him to do so. And at the end, his relief and joy at learning about the baker's death, at 'being allowed to live'... for all it reveals the concept of 'honour' as a sham, as something externally imposed, rather than an inner value, it's so deeply human and honest that it's impossible not to emphasise.

I'm not sure I altogether agree with the commentary of my edition. So what if it's hypocrisy, if he didn't 'learn' anything, or if the tragic-comical end is no real resolution of his moral dilemma - as a reader you'd have to be pretty jaded not to at least partly share his relief, however tragically inappropriate its cause.

Certainly at the end there is the dichotomy between what according to the codex of honour he would have been obligated to do, but doesn't, once the danger of the incident becoming public knowledge is removed, but I can't help thinking that this pure, instinctive joy at not having to die is one of the more positive things about this character. I don't know what Schnitzler's intentions were and at the moment am too lazy to do any research, but sometimes letting your protagonists live is more subversive than killing them off in deeply tragical and angsty ways. It's a message in and of itself.



(The joy of first readings... )

Not so long ago I half-smirked at someone mentioning in a lj entry, how during a viewing of Troy the woman beside her gasped in surprise when the Greek soldiers came out of the wooden horse. Or at stories of people complaining that someone 'spoiled' the movie for them by telling them the end. But beyond this admittedly not very nice reflex to mock, part of me in fact rather envies those people. I can't even remember what it was like, hearing those stories for the first time, not knowing the outcome, who would live and who would die... Kind of sad, really.

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