chapter  4
38 Pages

Song of the Body: Mahler, Kafka and the Male Jewish Body at the Habsburg fin de siècle

I … am in such a state of flux, sometimes I should hardly be surprised suddenly to find myself in a new body.2


Introduction: Mahler’s Body

It is clear (or, at least, intensely apparent) that bodies are the sites of discourse. This is amply demonstrated at the Habsburg twilight by the proliferation of theses on pathology, disease, gender and sexuality, which concentrate their energies on the fleshly; they constitute a powerfully overdetermined focusing of discursive activity on the body. Whilst it is certainly the case that the Habsburg fin de siècle deals with the body in ways deeply indebted to a long and vigorous humanist tradition of the body,3 the particularity of the re-figuration of that tradition is what concerns us here: how did the new sciences of the body circumscribe the public experiences of Mahler’s body? And how did public debates about the body and its appropriation frame Mahler’s private figurations of his own body? To attempt to answer this last question is no simple matter: unlike many of his contemporaries, Mahler has left us very little of the usual material for biographical speculation – no diaries, no memoirs, very little in his letters. This chapter will thus attempt to think through the problematic of Mahler’s body as both an historical and a political object of analysis by scrutinizing some of the contemporaneous literatures (fiction,

1 Emil Gutmann, ‘Gustav Mahler als Organisator’, Die Musik, 10(8) (June 1911), 364-365. My translation. Available in translation by Peter Rivers, ‘Gustav Mahler as Organizer’ in Herta Blaukopf (ed.), Mahler’s Unknown Letters, trans. by Richard Stokes (London: Victor Gollancz, 1986), 84-88: 88.