Beneath Karlsplatz, in the endless terminal corridors for the subway, stars are inlaid showcasing the signatures, names, and life dates of famous European intellectuals, composers, and the like. The style evidently parodies or mimics (however you choose) that of the Hollywood walk of stars. None of the stars I saw were from Wien, though I imagine they were tread upon too, somewhere amidst the sea of ruffians and
The first thing that one might bemoan, especially someone from the rank and file of bohemians, fashionable iconoclasts, secondhand kulturati, is the wicked influence of new media. Or perhaps would balk, with no thought beyond the programmed disgust entailed in their membership as one among the crowded barn of chic thinkers. Some, of a slightly more thinking, but equally programmed order might comment on the irony- that being: that magnificence commanding such acknowledgement (Saint-Saens and his symphonic poems for instance) is sullied, precisely by its commemoration in such a garrish-derivative-frivolous-empty form.
But, commemoration is empty. Even if the walk of intellectual stars beneath Karlsplatz is obviously a rendition of the one in California, its thunderous similarity is not as obvious. Whether those responsible were paying honest tribute, performing tongue-in-cheek exercises, or slighting a culture that would ignore ‘real genius,’ I cannot tell. What I do know is that it is not merely the appendage of some Hollywood juggernaut that levels intellectual shrines and palaces to build shopping malls; it’s human Dreck-
the German word for dirt, and a category that can be used to convey hopeless, vulgar besmirchment.
This is not a Jeremiad, nor a precious defense of worthy cultural artifacts. Rather, I got a sense when I was walking past the stars of a connection with my sad, fellow Dreck lovers- that is to say fellow humans.
I had been at the Secession Museum earlier in the day, which was constructed by Gustav Klimt and his clan at the turn of the century as a loud break with the stuffy Viennese academy of art. The art rejected the Academy, and the buildings which housed it, with its intensely Art Nouveau style, and thumbed its nose at the delicately arranged ring of neo-baroque buildings on the Ringstrasse. The building is still a gallery for new, ascending artists, but in the basement is Klimt’s fresco, which is an interpretation of Richard Wagner’s interpretation of Beethoven’s ninth symphony. In arch Wagnerian fashion, the underlying moral conviction is that humans are weak, hardly capable of salvaging themselves. However, if there were no vices, then humans, in their ever-imperiled human-ness, would make sure and create them. The fresco is optimistic instead of admonitory. The narrative in the joined pieces is moved from each tablet by gentle, angelic characters that barely take on the appearance of three-dimensionality and are supposed to represent Hope. From each frame Hope leads the viewer through scenes of nude, pleading, weaklings, entreating Beethoven, clad in golden armor (obviously impervious to vice), through the labyrinth of fickle human desires, to final scenes of redemption and consummation in art. The point being that only art and creation can save us. Sure. But, only from the easy vices, Gustav.
The most disabling vice, equally pathetic and
reasonable in every respect, is that of commemoration, which I am afraid Klimt himself is victim, though my intention is not to quickly fire a charge of hypocrisy- he was hardly a hypocrite.
Instead, I have a new tenderness. Had Hollywood never developed because the seas to the New World were too treacherous to navigate, or moving pictures never found an audience, one can rest assured that some commensurate form of commemoration would have heralded, in an equally piteous way, some equally flawed icons. Just like the invention of vices, we will make heroes. Against the tempest that reveals our fragility, and leaves us trembling, wet, and disoriented, beacons are built that give the onlooker hope, and the potential for redemption- saints, movie stars, and Saint-Saens, Goethes, and Schillers. I am hardly convinced they thought of themselves as redeemed- otherwise they would have lacked the necessary conflict for creation.
And while I love grandeur, I can also believe that it is the Dreck that, like pigs in mud, shields us from the elements.
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