Hannah Höch, "Cut with the Kitchen Knife Through the Beer Belly of the Weimar Republic, Berlin

Hannah Höch, "Cut with the Kitchen Knife Through the Beer Belly of the Weimar Republic, Berlin
Hannah Höch, "Cut with the Kitchen Knife Through the Beer Belly of the Weimar Republic," Berlin

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

3/12 Dream Story

Dream Story was published in 1926. This work is actually not German but Austrian, however Austrians see themselves as being a part of German culture and ethnicity. One of the major "achievements" of Hitler's regime was the union of Germany and Austria, known as the Anschluss. Austria, or more specifically its capital Vienna, is also the birthplace of modern psychology as embodied by such icons as Sigmund Freud. Psychology is something that we have already discussed in this class, and there are very strong psychological themes in this work as well, particularly with sexuality, a favorite topic of Freud and many other psychologists and psychiatrists. Nietzsche is credited with anticipating many of the central themes and concerns of psychologists in his work: aggression, sex, domination, self-expression, depression, alienation, and ecstasy are some of the psychological themes he explores. Freud is supposedly said to have become upset when reading Nietzsche because he feared he would have nothing original to contribute. 
This work deals primarily with sexuality. The main characters Dr. Fridolin and Albertina are two young and fairly attractive people that deal with numerous sexual encounters throughout the book especially Fridolin. Like many psychological works, the book probes the secret, inner lives of its characters set apart from their public persona. For example the book begins by showing the couple doing fairly normal things a young couple would do--reading a bedtime story to their young daughter. However, the story really begins when we begin to see through their fairly normal exterior and enter into the more mysterious world of sexuality when the characters attend a dinner ball. Again attending a ball, is on its surface, a fairly mundane social activity but you quickly learn there is more going on beneath the surface: Fridolin is apparently tempted and flirted with by young women, and his wife Albertina is approached by a seemingly distinguished older man who tries to seduce her. The couple both pass on these offers, but it prompts them to begin discussing or even confessing past sexual experiences or even thoughts of sexual experiences as Albertina details an episode where she fantasized about a young officer she saw once on vacation.
Psychology, especially back then before the development of pharmaceutical drugs, was known as "the talking cure". This was the means Freud devised to get to the "unconscious" which he is largely credited with discovering. Fridolin and Albertina engage in a kind of therapeutic discussion in this manner by revealing their own past sexual experiences and thoughts to each other. However, there are mixed results, despite also confessing to fantasizing about other women, Fridolin is shocked to hear of his wife also having sexual thoughts and fantasies of her own and this plants the seeds of his own attempts to have a sexual affair which drives most of the story line in the book. This is interrupted by news that one of his patients has died and Fridolin is forced to leave and attend to the family. 
Once there, Fridolin encounters the deceased patent's daughter Marianne. Fridolin acts professional, but secretly enjoys the thought that the daughter is in love with him and always has been. This is actually confirmed when Marianne breaks down and confesses her love for him. It seems strange and may suggest something that this entire scene plays out: Fridolin thinking about Marianne's love for him and her actual confession of her love for him--with her dead father laying on the bed the entire time! You would think that the doctor would be more focused on his patient, and the daughter is either suffering from hysterical trauma or so overwhelmed with passion that even the death of her father is not enough to stop her from throwing herself at Fridolin. Before there is time to process what has happened, Marianne's fiance shows up (who Fridolin cannot help but feel superior to even though he also acts professional) and Fridolin leaves.
The major conflict in this story stems from Fridolin's jealousy over his wife's fantasy about other men. What seems puzzling right away about his actions is that while his wife confesses to fantasizing about another man, Fridolin is seeking to do the real thing, to actually have an affair on his wife and in his quest to do so comes across several women who he almost sleeps with but never does or fails in the end which culminates in the scene at the mansion.

Is anyone to blame here in this story? Is Fridolin wrong to attempt to pursue these kinds of affairs or is he reacting to his wife? His wife has confessed to fantasizing about another man, but later on tells him about a dream she said where she watched with delight as her husband is beaten and crucified!  
All of Fridolin's encounters with women in the story seem like more of a fantasy than reality. Like Marianne who confesses to always being in love with him from a distance. Then afterwards he encounters the young prostitute Mizzi who almost immediately entices him into her apartment despite just meeting. Then he encounters the costume shop owner's daughter who he calls Pierette, also a very young girl. Finally, in the orgy scene at the end he encounters the mysterious woman who "saves" him. This only happening after he "heroically" refuses to leave her. As reality begins to creep in however the fantasy is ruined. Marianne is engaged and is probably acting out over the death of her father. When he goes to find the young girl Mizzi again, her roommate tells her she is in the hospital and seems to hint that she has a sexually transmitted disease. When he returns to the costume shop he realizes that the owner is pimping out his own daughter. The mysterious woman may or may not be dead from poisoning or form suicide
Nihilism and Sex
As the story relates to nihilism it calls into question one of the oldest and most traditional values--monogamy, and the institution of marriage. Fridolin and Albertina seem bored with each other and both fantasize and are drawn to other partners, although Fridolin is the one who actually acts or attempts to act on his desires (he never actually succeeds in sleeping with any of these women). The orgy scene towards the end has the guests dresses like monks and nuns until the orgy begins. This story also like the Blue Angel features supposedly respectable citizens being drawn into a world of sex and desire. Rath was a professor, Fridolin is a doctor, and presumably the guests at the orgy are respectable and influential people as well. There is a sense that the morality of the monks and nuns (Christianity) regarding sex is just a surface appearance or something for the lower classes to follow, while the elites who outwardly approve of and sanction these values freely ignore them in their private lives. Also sex may seem like the only thing worth doing in a nihilistic world. Some interpret nihilism to be a kind of hedonism: the endless pursuit of pleasure. This could make sense if one doubts the existence of any values like a nihilist would. Since there are no higher values in the world--including marriage--or moral restrictions on your action then a life pursuing only sex or money might make sense. The masks and the costumes become an elaborate game to compensate for the absence of the mysterious or supernatural.
Please choose a quote from Dream Story write out the quote. Then interpret the quote and explain why you chose this passage.
I would suggest watching the film "Eyes Wide Shut" which is a film version of this novel and the final film by director Stanley Kubrick. The film is almost an exact recreation of the novel, and aside from different locations and different names, the film follows the book almost exactly.

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