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  • Print publication year: 2018
  • Online publication date: August 2018

18 - Wretched Superfluity: Divided Loyalties (1915–1916)

Summary

ON NEW YEAR's DAY 1915 Eisner reviewed for the Post Eugen Kilian's curious minimalist production of Much Ado about Nothing at the Royal Residence Theater. Although Eisner praised the comic genius of Albert Steinrück in the role of Dogberry, the lightning repartee of Mathieu Lützenkirchen and Emma Berndl as Benedick and Beatrice, and the exquisite charm of Berta Neuhoff's Hero, he questioned the stark sets and absence of orchestra, particularly in light of the court theater's profitability before the war, undiminished state funding, sustained attendance, and cost savings from a program truncated by two days a week. This “strategic financial retreat” unwarranted by actual necessity deprived personnel—carpenters, costumers, musicians, and stagehands—of muchneeded income in a time of need. The issue exceeded the aesthetic considerations of stagecraft: “Ultimately it would be of sociopolitical value at the moment to expend something on settings and thereby support callings on which the war's economic burden weighs more heavily.”

At midmonth the commanding general of the Eleventh Army Corps at Kassel banned publication of the Social Democratic Volksblatt of Gotha for repeated transgressions against the censorship policy. For the most part, though, party newspapers blithely acquiesced in the Burgfrieden. On the sixteenth Eisner used his review of Ludwig Biro's comedy Der letzte Kuß (The Last Kiss) to call attention to the acerbic critique of the hawkish press by Biro's Dual Monarchy compatriot Karl Kraus. For months following the Sarajevo assassinations Kraus suspended publication of his Viennese journal, Die Fackel. On 5 December 1914 it reappeared with the essay “In This Great Time,” scathing the bombardment of cathedrals, submarine warfare, military manipulation of the media, cultural war-profiteering, and the complicit journalism that he deemed “the most murderous weapon of all.” Indeed, the horrors of combat paled in comparison to “mankind's intellectual self-mutilation by its press.” In one brilliant sentence Kraus registered his full scorn: “In the realms of impoverished fantasy where man perishes from mental starvation without feeling the pangs of hunger, where pens are dipped in blood and swords in ink, what cannot be imagined must be done, but what can only be imagined is unspeakable.”