The Principles of Pleasure
Reading through a series of Arthur Schnitzler novellas alongside Dream Story, (Traumnovelle) including Mother and Son, A Confirmed Bachelor and The Spring Sonata, we can see that what the others gain in feeling, they lose in ambiguity and originality. While the latter are character studies with suspense, Dream Story is closer to a reverie that may or may not be actualized. While in A Confirmed Bachelor and The Spring Sonata the womanizer who has never married, and the widower who has never before had a proper love affair, manage to engage themselves in suspense entanglements, in Dream Story the ethical complications of the realist tales become a series of oneiric possibilities in the fantasy life. Near the end of Dream Story, the wife Albertine says, "I think we should be grateful to fate that we've emerged safely from these adventures - both from the real ones and from those we dreamed about." Husband Fridolin replies, "are you quite sure of that?" "As sure as I am of my sense that neither the reality of a single night nor even of a person's entire life can be equated with the full truth about his innermost being." Fridolin replies, "And no dream...is altogether a dream."
This ambiguity is quite clearly missing from A Confirmed Bachelor and The Spring Sonata, which in each instance works with the problem of choice and singularity. In A Confirmed Bachelor, Dr Graesler finds himself increasingly drawn to a woman close to half his age in a small village. She seems very happy in his company, but he wonders if he is reluctant to declare his feelings to her does it rest on indecisiveness on his part or perceived indifference on hers? He is no longer so young he admits to himself; why would Sabine be attracted to him, even if the available options in the village would be minimal. In time he finds that there was someone she very much loved but he has long since passed away. One night after an awkward encounter, Sabine writes to him, saying that she senses he is very fond of her, that she is fond of him, and though she isn't in love she thinks a very good marriage might come out of a conjugal agreement. There is nothing cynical in Sabine's request - no sense that she has hooked a man, nor that she would be especially perturbed if he were to turn her down. But Graesler wants someone who will love him, so he writes saying that he will give it some thought while he is away for a few months.
We don't want to get bogged down describing the plots of A Confirmed Bachelor and in turn The Spring Sonata when our main focus will be on Dream Story, but detailing aspects of both novellas allow us to see that Schnitzler finds in the latter a means by which to generate an indeterminate story that removes many of the moral quandaries evident in the others. For what happens in A Confirmed Bachelor is that Graebler has an affair with another woman in the city while he wonders whether he will go ahead and marry Sabine. He reckons the working class woman, Katharina, he takes up with is probably just using him and looking for a fling, but in time, and with a tragedy unfolding, he finds that she is very dedicated to him indeed while Sabine is now indifferent. He is a man who must choose and chooses badly, with the story playing like a much more nuanced version of a shorter Schnitzler tale, 'The Man of Honour', where a man kills off one woman he voyages around the world with, hoping to find the one waiting back home in Europe still keen to marry him.
In The Spring Sonata a widower still hardly thirty long ago married out of duty but her husband died after several years, leaving her with a small son upon whom she dotes but who cannot fulfil all her desires. She gets back in contact with a now successful, even famous colleague from the musical school she attended in her youth, and the story focalizes very successfully on Bertha's thought and feelings as she becomes increasingly fascinated by this man from her past. At the same time the novella details the village milieu and nearby Vienna, where various characters go back and forth to the city for shopping, galleries or pleasure Bertha cannot easily see as Schnitzler offers a third person narrative that restricts itself to Bertha's perspective, a perspective that is not, to put it mildly, worldly-wise.
In The Spring Sonata, people live compromised lives and the only way Bertha can hold on to her virtue is by virtue of her denial. Though there is fantasy in Bertha's life, and in some ways Dr Graesler's too, it is the fantasy of anticipation, and hence the emotional suspense evident in both novellas. In the latter, Schnitzler makes great play of Bertha's desire to see the famous colleague from the past, Emil, and also does so again later while she waits for letters from him while she is in Vienna, yet this is the subjective state that needn't cause a crisis in the form. But Dream Story is interested in that crisis.
One way in which to instigate this crisis is through the implausible, through playing up the pleasure principle and undermining the reality principle. These are terms of course from Freud, and plenty have already written about the interweaving connections between these two Viennese, born only six years apart. Frederic Raphael (who wrote the script for Eyes Wide Shut, based on Dream Story) notes in an introduction to the book that Freud saw the slightly younger Schnitzler as his alter-ego, and that "Schnitzler was an artist who had come by instinct and narcissistic intuition to conclusions about the primacy of the erotic which Freud himself claimed that he had discovered by the scientific observation of others." Both A Confirmed Bachelor and The Spring Sonata are reality principle stories, almost aggressively so as they give free play to Graesler and Bertha's fantasies only to dash them cruelly and categorically. Graesler and Bertha are unable to say as Fridolin and his wife can that they cannot easily know where dream ends and reality begins. They know precisely where: in the first instance in the death of Katharina; in the second with the death of Bertha's friend in the village, who seems to have taken her life after a failed love affair. Graesler may take up with another woman and adopt a young child, but this is the happy ending as very bittersweet - he isn't so much the man who has found love but someone who has finally decided to take some responsibility. In The Spring Sonata, Bertha perhaps realises that she will never be more than a casual lover in Emil's life, as if the friend's death may be taken as a warning. This is the reality principle at work as personal fantasies come up against brute realities. In pyschoanalytic terms, Freud would see this as a battle between the id and the ego. "The ego controls the approaches to motility under the id's orders; but between a need and an action it has interposed a postponement in the form of the activity of thought, during which it makes use of the mnemic residues of experience." Freud adds, "in that way it has dethroned the pleasure principle which dominates the course of events in the id without any restriction and has replaced it by the reality principle, which promises more certainty and greater success." (New Introductory Lectures) Reinterpreted in dramatic terms, both Bertha and Graesler must accept that their perception of the world is different from the reality. Graesler might be cynical in his assumptions about Katherina, and Bertha nave concerning Emil, but if both stories have a tragic dimension it rests on the pleasure principle giving way to the real
In Dream Story, it would seem the latter gives way to the former, with Fridolin passing through the Viennese night and through a series of coincidences and unlikely happenings after his wife tells him of a moment the previous year when they were on holiday. She could easily have gone off with a sailor she saw at the resort she tells him. "I toyed with the idea of stepping over to his table and saying to him, "Here I am, my long-awaited one, my beloved - take me away." Yet when she had heard he had left the hotel she heaved a sigh of relief, before saying to Fridolin that she was sure he had had a similar experience too. Here we have the married couple capable of fantasy but relieved that they have held on to the reality of their marriage, But there is no doubt that Fridolin's ego has been hurt, and as he goes out into the night he meets with a world that would seem to satisfy his id and assuage his ego. Over a couple of evenings, he is first he is called out by a patient, finds the man dead and his daughter declaring her love to him; goes back to a prostitute's place after she propositions him on the street, gets harassed by a couple of younger men on the sidewalk, encounters an old friend who tells him of a high-class orgy which he manages to attend, and gets thrown out as one of the women in attendance says that she would sacrifice herself to our hero. This is a great deal to encounter in such a short space of time and we return to our notion of plausibility.
Both The Spring Sonata and A Confirmed Bachelor are plausible works that cause no crisis in the form because they play fair to the coordinates of our perceptual expectations. Few will have problems believing in the doctor's interest in Sabine, and his capacity for distraction with Katharina. When Schnitzler lays out Bertha's limited life opportunities and her stifling small-town life, we're not likely to be surprised when she is so taken once again, and even more now, by Emil. But when Fridolin enters the prostitute Mizzi's apartment in Dream Story he is doing so under what we could call the premise of abdicated responsibility. Berthe may think that is what she is doing too when she takes off to Vienna to see Emil, saying, after their encounter, "she could not observe the slightest trace of repentance in her heart...she believed herself certain that she replied to Emil's tenderness just like a woman accomplished in the art of love, and was very happy in the thought that all those things which came to other women as the result of the experiences of nights of drunkenness had come to her from the depth of her feelings." But when Fridolin enters Mizzi's apartment he asks himself "Am I mad? I won't touch her, of course." He later thinks: "who in the world would guess, he thought, that right now I'm here in a room like this of all places? Would I myself have believed it possible an hour, or even ten minutes ago?" Berthe does not succumb to the premise of abdicated responsibility. We have no sense that what she does is outside her sense of self. It is more an augmentation of it even if society might not entirely approve, and she herself may possess a degree of ambivalence. This is an ambivalence which means she isn't sure if she should keep seeing Emil; if her purpose ought to reside on focusing on her son. But this wouldn't be out of character but well within the realms of it. When Fridolin wonders who would imagine himself in a room like this it has a quite different emphasis than Bertha saying the same thing. Bertha's is the extension of the reality principle as she seeks another man long after her husband has passed away, and sees in Emil someone whom she could love and marry. When she instigates a kiss she wonders if it goes against her resolve that she wouldn't compromise herself in any way. "...But why? She was in love with him, really and truly, and the moment had arrived which she had been awaiting for days...No, for years!" When Fridolin spends time with the prostitute, when he starts to make love to her, she resists his advances, saying "...if anything were to happen, you would curse me." She has at this moment a better grasp of his personality than he possesses, but it is as though he cannot yet countenance a return to himself and continues out into the night as the narrator notes "indeed ever since his evening conversation with Albertine he had been moving away from the habitual sphere of his existence, into some other remote and unfamiliar world."
We could say that two of the most important influences on literature in the 20th century were Freud and Sartre - psychoanalysis and existentialism. Sartre couldn't ignore Freud but he didn't wish to absorb his influence too strongly either. To do so would be to undermine choice, the idea that man must act with responsibility and purpose. Sartre differentiates what he calls existential psychoanalysis from its Freudian version. "Empirical psychoanalysis seeks to determine the complex, the very name of which indicates the polyvalence of all the meanings which are referred back to it. Existential psychoanalysis seeks to determine the original choice." This means also that existential psychoanalysis "rejects the hypothesis of the unconscious; it makes the psychic act co-extensive with consciousness", and "abandons the supposition that the environment acts mechanically on the subject under consideration." On the one hand, we can have Schnitzler's Dream Story, on the other Camus' The Outsider, yet we also have many writers who would seem to combine the two - from Hamsun to Kafka. In both Kafka and Hamsun, we seem to have figures who are existentially resistant to their environments but also at the mercy either of their own inner mechanics or societal forces. There is a sense choice isn't entirely within their control. The central character in Hunger doesn't just live a free life that he chooses; he lives an erratic existence based partly on the sudden shift in moods that he cannot himself easily comprehend. In the Trial, K can insist on his innocence but he doesn't even know what he might be guilty of. The idea of choice is contained within a bigger problem, yet both writers are probably closer to existentialism than psychoanalysis.
But what cannot be denied is that both are major figures in 20th century fiction, well aware that realism is no longer necessarily the means by which the self need be explored. A Confirmed Bachelor and The Spring Sonata don't feel at all modern in their form and only hint at the modern in their content: Sabine writing to Graesler to suggest marriage, Katharina's ready wish to end up in Graesler's bed without a prostitutional exchange, married women taking lovers in The Spring Sonata. The characters are generally phenomenological conformists: in other words, they think standard thoughts in standard ways, and Schnitzler is very good at conveying the conformity of their thinking without just easily ironizing it. When Bertha waits for a reply to a letter she sends to Emil, "the hours, indeed, seemed endless! She was ready to weep with impatience, with despair!" we have a character ripe for mockery who is not at all mocked. She could be seen as the idle bourgeois stupidly awaiting the cliched romance, but Schnitzler makes clear this is a woman who struggles on a small income giving music lessons, and whose potential musically and romantically had been curtailed by limited parental resources and narrow parental expectations. But all Bertha's thoughts, like Graesler's can be traced to psychology rather than phenomenology, to a back story that allows for the specificity of character to be delineated, yet while the originality of character cannot be.
What do we mean by this? If we think again of the existential and the psychoanalytic, and Sartre's resistance to the latter unless contained by the former, the phenomenological can allow a useful tension between the two, if we accept Camus' definition in The Myth of Sisyphus where he invokes Husserl: "thinking is learning all over again how to see, directing one's consciousness, making of every image a privileged place." Camus adds, "in other words, phenomenology declines to explain the world, it wants merely to be a description of actual experience." Phenomenologically we do not choose as we would existentially: our mind perceives in a manner that would often seem too immediate to be called choice. But equally it wouldn't be categorically unconscious thought either, and certainly not symbolically so. Freud's work often brilliantly proposes the latter, as he links slips of the tongue, losing items and forgetful moments to unconscious causes that have symbolic import. It might be a woman who loved the theatre who is in mourning and thinks she shouldn't go again for a period time but whose friend persuades her to go nevertheless. This woman, Freud notes, who would pride herself on never losing anything, manages to lose the ticket and Freud wonders if it was unconscious: that she couldn't face going to the theatre so soon. It could be that "some men scatter small change out of their trouser pockets while they are lying down during treatment and in that way pay whatever fee they think appropriate for the session." (The Psychopathology of Every Day Life) These are accidental actions with assertive unconscious motivations, and while we might often feel that Freud is making too grand a claim, he is often determined to acknowledge that his thoughts are speculative, and also keen to insist that "a fair amount of intellectual education is a prerequisite for believing in chance; primitive people and uneducated ones and no doubt children as well, are able to assign a ground for everything that happens." (New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis) But if the psychoanalytic so often looks for reasons behind behaviour, the existential determines to see the importance of the decision made within the ethical: to show characters who cannot blame their upbringing or their immediate circumstances on their actions. As Sartre gives an example of a homosexual man who won't acknowledge his homosexuality but sees his encounters as isolated acts always in the past, based on certain conceptions of the beautiful that women cannot satisfy him and so on, so Sartre is interested in responsibility. From a certain point of view, psychoanalysis can be seen as its abdication.
The phenomenological however can move away from the unconscious and the responsible and insist on the space between which generates new images, new perceptual possibilities. As Sartre acknowledges at the beginning of Being and Nothingness, utilising Husserl, "all consciousness, as Husserl has shown, is consciousness of something. This means that there is no consciousness which is not a positing of a transcendent object, or if you prefer, that consciousness has no 'content.'" But how does this work in the 20th century novel - in works by Hamsun, Kafka, Proust, Duras, Handke and others? It can give to fiction a far greater perceptual responsibility than hitherto practised, as though writers knew that they had to take far greater responsibility for the images they created rather than the plots they were expected to deploy. As Malcolm Bradbury and James McFarlane propose in Modernism, "the communal universe of reality and culture on which nineteenth-century art had depended was over...the assumption that the age demands a certain kind of art, and that Modernism is the art that it demands, has been fervently held by those who see in the modern human condition a crisis of reality, an apocalypse of cultural community." What Sartre, Camus, Husserl and others would see as vital to philosophy, that could rely on no perceptual a priori, was at the same time an aesthetic acknowledgement of narrative collapse and new freedoms to perceive. This was never more so than in Proust's In Search of Lost Time, in which Proust's "novel", according to John Fletcher and Malcolm Bradbury in 'The Introverted Novel', was his essential life work, a vastly ambitious enterprise, into which went the bulk of his own personal experience and the full depth of his aesthetic perceptions." (Modernism)
We do not believe that A Confirmed Bachelor and The Spring Sonata possess this type of originality, while also accepting, even insisting, that they are very fine works. We might even find them far more absorbing than Dream Story, while acknowledging the latter is the more important novella. It is in such instances that we can invoke the 'affective fallacy', the literary idea proposed by Wimsatt and Beardsley that we shouldn't judge a work by its emotional impact on the reader. Wimsatt and Beardsley may have wanted to do so to put literature and criticism on an objective footing: that a poem or story induces in them vivid images, intense feelings, or heightened consciousness, is neither anything which can be refuted nor anything which it is possible for the objective critic to take into account." (creativewritingtheory) Our interest isn't so austere - we merely accept that Dream Story would seem to occupy a far more important place in the culture than these other novellas, a place that can't easily be separated from the culture out of which it came, and the modernism it was practicing. As Franz Kuna notes, centres of modernism existed, and one of them was Vienna, and even more specifically, the Cafe Griensteidl where at the turn of the century many writers and artists would mingle, including Stefan Zweig, Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Schnitzler. These writers and bohemians became known as Jung Wien (Young Vienna), even if key figures had an ambivalent relationship with the city. "...It encouraged a peculiar love-hate relationship in Austrian writers for their capital city, drawing some in, pushing others into exile. Freud, Rilke and Kafka came to hate Vienna unambiguously for being what it could not help being: Viennese." (Modernism)
It is this ambivalence that Schnitzler examines much more formalistically in Dream Story than the other works and partly what makes it modernist. While A Confirmed Bachelor and The Spring Sonata explore the lives of particular characters, the complexity of their characterization is not at all matched by the complexity of the society, except in the margins. It is clear that Graesler has had numerous women in his life and hasn't always treated them well; might have assumed he didn't need to treat them well since their purpose would be chiefly to take advantage of him. When he regards Katharina with suspicion there is nothing to suggest this isn't what he has been doing for years: taking advantage of people's bodies as if in fear that they will take advantage of his comfortable position. In The Spring Sonata, Bertha is rather less cynical but it is partly her obliviousness that leaves Bertha unaware of the affairs that are takjng place around her. Schnitzler gives us a sense of a giddy Vienna but doesn't focus upon the values of the city and how those values might impact on the form.
In Dream Story he does, with Fridolin passing through the narrative drawn to the city's night-life but also ensconced in a marriage that pleases him. He appears like a man beside himself with jealousy after his wife tells him of her interest in the naval officer, but Schnitzler uses the idiom to suggest a man who really is beside himself: who can't quite countenance who he is as he wanders through the night. We have already quoted the passage with Mizzi, but there are numerous other moments too. At the orgy we hear how Fridolin was "intoxicated, and not merely by...[someone's] presence, her fragrant body and burning red lips, nor by the atmosphere of the room and the aura of lascivious secrets that surrounded him..." He notices a "sea change within himself." Later on, the next day, when going to Mizzi's apartment intending to give her a parcel, he finds she isn't in. Leaving, he felt tears welling up in his throat; yet he was well aware that this was not so much an indication that he had been moved as a sign of incipient nervous collapse."
Schnitzler wants to suggest someone who is collapsing in a quite different manner from either Graesler and Bertha. In many ways, Graesler and Bertha are deeper characters than Fridolin. When Graesler becomes attracted and even attached to Sabine there is weight behind this feeling. He knows he is getting older, he is childless and has for many years prioritised his own feelings over others. Here he is at the point where he might marry and settle into small-town life by opening a practice in the community after years travelling from place to place. Bertha though fifteen years younger would seem to see that while she is still very pretty this might not last forever, and she wants to love someone entirely before it is too late. She finds in Emil a man she would like to spend her life with and also, she hopes, a father for her child. Schnitzler builds tension into their actions and their decisions because their lives will change greatly on the basis of those decisions.
Dream Story is a much more trivial novel, yet also a much more important one? Is this contradictory? Only if we believe that literature is about character and story to the detriment of other elements - like collapsing perceptual certitude and the questioning of the form. The latter works don't conform to our view of the world but constantly call that world into question, finding ways in which to generate a schism in perception by our inability to feel comfortable in the form itself. There are numerous works of science fiction, for example, that do not present a world as we usually perceive it, but there are enough generic markers, stereotypical characterisations and allegorical certitudes for the reader to feel no perplexity. A modernist work on the other hand will assume "the condition for the style of the work is a presumed absence of style for the age; and each work is a once-and-for-all creation, subsisting less for its referential than its autotelic constituents." (Modernism) In other words, we cannot so easily read into the modernist work the sort of fret and anxiety about ageing and responsibility we find in A Confirmed Bachelor and The Spring Sonata partly because it will be less likely to reference a real world than the form out of which the work is made. Others might make a claim for a modernism that is contrary to this, or at least can be placed along side it, with Joyce's Ulysses both self-reflexively drawing parallels with Homer, and also providing numerous specifics about Dublin at the beginning of the 20th century. But it is the rare modernist work that doesn't problematise an aspect of the form - Dream Story does so through asking us to wonder where the reality if the story begins and the fantasy ends. How much of it is a dream, or a projection of Fridolin's insecurities as he goes out into the night and finds other women he can desire beyond his wife? How much of it is the desire to escape a marriage and a child without quite committing to that impulse? Out of these ambiguities, Schnitzler can generate a modernist aesthetic missing from the other novellas which we have paid attention to.
To conclude, we can notice this in the nature of speculation, how Dream Story differs from the other novellas in relation to the suppositional. While both Graesler and Bertha will muse over what Sabine and Emil will be thinking, wondering whether Sabine will see him as a man past his prime, and Emil will see her as gauche and uncultured, their speculative thoughts are usually grounded in the narratively assured. It is part of the suspense in both books: what do these other characters really think about our central figures, with the reader aware that how Sabine and Emil think hinges on the development of the story. When Graesler sends a reply to Sabine's letter he wonders if he has worded it properly and imagines how she will have taken it. When Bertha writes a note to Emil she is desperate for a hasty response. These are common enough, and any epistolary novel knows the suspense that can be generated out of awaited letters. But Dream Story speculates into the void, seeing the meditations of Fridolin as pertinent to character but less to action. We see this in the following passage, thinking of a woman he never really knew who had died a few hours earlier. "He had seen only her body and never her face, except fleetingly last night as he had left the dance hall or, more accurately been expelled from it. He had not taken this factor into consideration before, because ever since he had first read the notice in the paper he had been imagining the faceless suicidal woman as having Albertine's features." We are hearing here a narrative voice closer to Kafka or Proust (and not just in the presence of an Albertine). Bertha and Graesler do not invoke the void, they generate tension within the narratives of their own lives, making us feel what is of import resides in the decisions others will make. It happens to be the case that a high degree of subjectivity is involved: we're aware that Graesler's interest in Sabine probably comes out of seeing she is a very attractive woman in a very small town, and that he is beginning to believe his bachelor days must come to an end. Bertha has for too long been confined to village life and living for her son, and sees in Emil a passionate possibility. But in Dream Story, the space of speculation opened up cannot be met by a decision on someone else's part that matches one's hopes. What Fridolin 'hopes' for is closer to the comprehension of a dream than the manifestation of a particular reality and thus close to Freud. Yet if we have invoked both Kafka and Proust it rests first and foremost on an invitation to thought over action. That speculative dimension which means the event can never quite be actualized or that its actualization is never the most important aspect of it. It isn't Albertine's actions that matter in Proust's work, but the narrator's thoughts on them, what they symptomize about his behaviour. K will not find out what he is accused of; what is more important is that he is a persecuted character, someone for whom the trial can only be an extension of the court case going on in his head, and to which no explanation will be available. This is modernism and Dream Story a modest addition to it. We might in rereading the other novellas feels a certain loss in 20th century fiction that does not engage us in more conventional tension, but that would be to ignore the numerous gains: a modern literature that can give texture and purpose to the developments of modern thought and feeling in Freud, Sartre, Husserl and numerous others.
© Tony McKibbin