Hot Tears of Ice

A cold wind blows tiles off of roofs and hats off of heads. The first pages of Robert Schindel’s new novel Der Kalte (The Cold One), read here by the author, are stormy. The Austrian novelist, poet and essayist born in 1944 already won over his readers with his persuasive images and poetic language in Gebürtig (Born-Where), published in 1992. Here too, the atmospheric beginning is reminiscent of the first line of the expressionist poem “Weltende” (End of the World): “From bourgeois’ pointed heads their bowlers flew, the whole atmosphere’s like full of cry” (Jakob van Hoddis).

An expressionistic painting of an apocalyptic landscape

Apocalyptic Landscape by Ludwig Meidner, 1913
© Ludwig Meidner-Archive, Jewish Museum Frankfurt-am-Main

Yet in the first scene of Schindel’s novel a world unfolds: Vienna of the Waldheim affair, from 1985 to 1989. During the 1986 Austrian election campaign, a debate ignited around the conservative candidate, Kurt Waldheim, who was indicted for war crimes. In his autobiography, he had concealed his time as a Wehrmacht-officer. Represented in the novel by the figure Johann Wais, he professes “that he had done nothing that one hundred thousand other Austrians had not done, too.” This is precisely why he functions “as an involuntary clarifying machine.”  continue reading

The U.S. Jewish Vote, 2012

The race for the next U.S. presidency is on, but this time, not so many Americans are heading for the exits. Four years ago, when presidential contender, 76-year-old Arizona Senator John McCain, named the intellectually feather-weight Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate, many serious people considered emigration to Canada or Australia. The thought of having Sarah Palin, who in an interview could not name a single newspaper she read and who claimed she could see Russia from her upstairs window, being only a heart-beat away from the presidency scared the bejeebars out of many U.S.-citizens.  continue reading

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Naked Ladies, Political Messages

R.B. Kitaj, Juan de la Cruz, 1967 © R.B. Kitaj Estate. Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo

 Only now do I realize, really examining my favorite Kitaj painting closely, that Juan de la Cruz also has those explicit and aggressive sexual components so peculiar to his work: naked women are a vehicle for political messages (here about the Vietnam War) and historical episodes, for instance about St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, and their Jewish origins, which I find inherently problematic. Despite this, however, I like the painting: the many powerful colors, the deep blue sea under the brilliant blue sky, the green cap on the soldier’s head, and the yellow behind him. The painting and the contradictions it binds together – the soldier’s finely-drawn features beside the sober geometric forms – they emanate something of summer’s optimism.

For more on R.B. Kitaj, see:

Christine Marth, Publications