R. Gray

German 390/Comp. Lit. 396/Engl 363/CHID 498/JSIS 488/Lit 298

Lecture Notes: Schnitzler, Lieutenant Gustl

I. Background
--Arthur Schnitzler (1862-1931); a contemporary of Freud's (6 years younger than Freud); lived in Vienna; was a physician; Jewish heritage (like so many Viennese intellectuals of the time). Schnitzler was a reserve officer in the Austro-Hungarian army; he lost his commission as a result of publishing Gustl.
--Schnitzler known as a writer largely for his tremendously popular dramas, which were among the most-played in Viennese theaters:

Anatol (1893): parody of the social interaction in Viennese Bourgeois and aristocraatic society; he lambastes the culture of enjoyment, hedonism, spontaneity, live-for-the-day mentality, all of which was typical of Viennese life at the turn of the century

La Ronde (1900): A sexual farce that employs the image of the "Round Dance" to expose loose sexual mores that bleed through the surface of Victorian Vienna. Freudian themes: centrality of sexuality; demonstrates how drive for sexual satisfaction crosses class boundaries and how general libertinism thrives beneath the social facade of moral propriety.

Freud once remarked that he saw Schnitzler as his "double," and hence avoided him (this reflects Freud's awareness that Schnitzler's treatment of his literary characters reflected aspects of Freud's own theories).
Freud to Schnitzler on May 4. 1922 (the eve of Schnitzler's 60th birthday):
"I shall make you a confession . . . I have been struggling with the question of why I have never, in all these years, made an effort to meet you ... I think I have avoided you out of a kind of fear of finding my own double [Doppelgänger] . . . When I read one of your beautiful works I seem to encounter again and again, behind the poetic fiction, the very presumptions, interests and conclusions so well known to me from my own thoughts . . . Your ability to be deeply moved by the truths of the unconscious, the recurrence of your thoughts to the polarity of love and death—all of this had for me an uncanny familiarity . . . Forgive me for straying into analysis—that is, after all, all I know."

Central formal features of Gustl as literary text:

-- Lieutenant Gustl published in 1900--the same year as Freud's Interpretation of Dreams.

-- Exclusive use of "stream-of-consciousness" technique (or "interior monologue") makes this a revolutionary and innovative text. James Joyce's Ulysses, with which this technique is commonly identified, was not written until 1914-1921 (published 1922); Joyce's Finnegan's Wake did not appear until 1939.

a) Exposes inner thoughts of protagonist; "spectral stenography" (Dorritt Cohn); as though Gustl had a recording device in his brain; text reads lilke a constant repetition of Freudian "slips";

b) As readers we occupy the brain of the fictional character; we are mental "voyeurs";

c) Readers privy to character's most intimate thoughts, feelings, emotions; also to his contradictions;

d) The empirical world is filtered solely through the mind of the character; we only become aware of what his mind "records" or reacts to (example of clock bells; other people he encounters, etc.). Absolute subjectivity.

e) Ideal form for presenting conflict between public and private, self-deception, self contradiction. We as readers are located in that transition space between the conscious and the unconscious, like in the state of dream. Hence Gustl's frequent reference to dreams and dreaming. This transitional space as domain of conflict between unconscious urges and conscious insights.

Time and Narration in Lieutenant Gustl

Narrated time (the "plot" or "events" or "thoughts" related in the story) and time of narration (the process of telling the story, the act of relating the thoughts and events) tend to converge and overlap:
-- The pace of narration is approximayte to the pace of the narrated events. Note that Gustl spends much of the narrative walking around Vienna and thinking while he walks; the narrative about his thoughts stays in step with his perambulations.


6:00 PM: Gustl is in his Café and gets the ticket from Kopetzky for the Oratorio.


9:45 PM: Gustl at the Oratorio; he looks at his watch. (p. 251)
11:00 PM: After the concert and the confrontation withe baker, he hears the bells of a clock tower (p. 260) and walks to the Prater.
Midnight: On the bench at the Prater, he again hears clock chimes (p. 267)
[Gustl falls asleep.]
3:00 AM: Gustl wakes up and checks the time (p. 269). He begins to walk back into the city and decides to visit his café.
3:30 AM: He is at the North Train Station and hears the clock bells (p. 271).
5:45 AM: He goes to his café; again the clock bells tell him the time (p. 276)

Future (Projection in thought):

7:00 AM: Gustl must shoot himself.
4:00 PM: Gustl has his duel with the lawyer.

Significance of interior monologue as literary technique or method:

--Prose fiction as privileged literary form with regard to its ability to portray self-division realistically.

--Poetry can give voice to interior states, emotional content, subjective impressions, but it has difficulty exposing them as falsehoods, lies, self-deceits. We rely on the voice of the lyrical "I".

--Drama requires the artificial device of the aside, in which the dramatic character steps out of the stage action and addresses the audience (or other characters) directly in order to expose his/her own actions or words as a facade. "Breaking the fourth wall": dispelling the illusion of events on stage as real.

--Narrative fiction can use the omniscience of the objective narrator to describe and tell about a character's innermost thoughts, but it cannot portray self-contradiction immediately. However, stream-of-consciousness, or interior monologue, represents a technique that can show immediately and expose the conflicts embeddded in the very psyche of the fictional character. It is thus a perfect device for demonstrating Freud's thesis about the conflicted nature of the human psyche. Like Freudian dreams, interior monologue provides us with access to the psychic data of a fictional subject: to conscious musings, unconscious drives, urges, etc. We as readers assume a position analogous to that of the Freudian analyst vis-à-vis the character whose subliminal mind is laid bare for us.

II. Formal Structure of Lieutenant Gustl
Description of method of "interior monologue" as presented by Edouard Dujardin (
hand-out; click here to view).
--Traits Dujardin associates with this method:

    1. Direct portrayal of the interior, psychic life of the character without intervention by the author or narrator; no commentary on the character or his/her actions by the narrator. A technique that runs counter to "omniscient" narration.
      --But note that this technique, while penetrating more deeply into the character, also has severe limitations and excludes many aspects that are part of more traditional narratives, such as objective description of surroundings, reports on external events, insight into the emotions and motivations of secondary characters, etc. (Hence Gustl's mantra: "I wonder . . .")
    2. Formally, the text takes the form of an unspoken monologue that, like traditional dramatic monologue or asides, has no immediate hearers and is technically not spoken aloud. Thoughts of the character as a flow of language, a kind of dialogue with the self. Note the relationship here to Freud's dream texts.
    3. The text expresses the most intimate thoughts of the main character, those closest to the unconscious (in the Freudian sense). If we were to graph this psychic position onto the Freudian topography, we would have to locate it in the "preconscious," or at the very borderline between the unconscious and the conscious mind, in the liminal zone in which unconscious thoughts emerge into consciousness and disappear again--in part as a result of repression.
    4. The text reproduces these intimate thoughts without logical organization, following the seemingly chaotic pattern with which they naturally emerge: impressions, impulses, ideas, perceptions of the external world, etc. occur in a kind of hodge-podge, as they attract the attention of the conscious mind. Associative chains: the linkage of thoughts according to a "logic" of random association mimics the "logic" of the unconscious mind, as well as the central psychoanalytic practice of "free association." In the case of Gustl, we might be tempted to call this "associative banality"! For an excellent example of how this operates in Schnitzler's text, see p. 256.
    5. Sentences are reduced to a syntactical minimum. Thoughts are often given in phrases, incomplete statements, frequent use of ellipsis, etc. Ideas or thoughts often fragmentary, incomplete. Undisciplined thought. Note the irony that in Gustl this lack of mental discipline is associated with a military officer!

Transparency: What does this narrative strategy achieve? = The absolute emotional, psychological, characterological, and ideational transparency of the figure: Gustl with a glass skull.

-- Why is this narrative structure so appropriate and effective for Lieutenant Gustl? -- Because transparency and truth are precisely the things the character Gustl fears most, his life is structured around the maintenance of appearances and a powerful façade; this technique pierces that façade and lays bare the motivations that underlie it. "Interior monologue" as a technique of psychic exposé; it reveals Gustl's unconscious thoughts to the reader, and this revelation is precisely what Gustl most wants to avoid. A variation of dramatic irony, projected into fiction, and lent a Freudian cast? See the concluding scene (pp. 277-78) for a concretization of this structure: Gustl sits down at the window of his coffeehouse (transparency), and immediately pulls the curtains closed (hiding, concealment). In the interaction with the waiter, we witness how the external facade (Gustl's statements to the waiter) and the internal voice (Gustl's joy at the news of the baker's death) conflict with each other.

III. Alignments between themes and structure in Gustl and in Freud's theory of the psyche and dreams.
1) Empirical data from the unconscious: If Freud sought to exploit dreams as an avenue of transparency into the dreamer's psyche, Schnitzler employs interior monologue for a similar end: the perfect recording of the unconscious, uncensored thoughts of an individual. The psyche as a "text," as in Freud's dreams (cf. p. 261, where Gustl claims he is always telling himself stories). But Gustl refuses analysis and self-examination; this distinguishes him from the Freudian dream analyst. But we as interpreters of the text do engage in this analysis.
2) Egocentricity: Freud interprets human nature as fundamentally egocentric; Gustl manifests a conception of the world that sees his own ego as its nucleus and others as electrons whose lives have meaning only in relation to his own. See, for example, his joy at the baker's death. Or think how women become interchangeable sex-objects for him, whose names he can't even remember. The world is there to satisfy Gustl's pleasure principle!
-- Corollary: Others are to blame for Gustl's predicament: 1) Kopetzky (for giving him the ticket to the oratorio); 2) Steffi (for not having time to see him that evening); 3) Ballert (for winning the poker game at the club the previous day); 4) the baker Habetswallner (for being unsuitable as a dueling partner).
3) The psyche as structured around conflict: For Gustl, this conflict manifests itself as a contrast between outside and inside, social façade and secret thoughts. But this can also be graphed onto Freud's distinction between the conscious and the unconscious mind, the "ego" and the "id." See pp. 277-78, which choreograph the split between Gustl's outward guise and his devilish inner thoughts.
-- Social obligation: the "must". Gustl is constantly haunted by his sense of social duty, the demands society places on him as an officer, the expectations that come with his advanced social station. He must fight a duel with the lawyer; he must kill himself because he has been shamed; he must pay his debt to Ballert (even in death); he must put up a calm facade.
-- Gustl's fear of scandal; split between public and private: conflict with the baker, he hopes no one has heard the insult (it has not become "public").
--Related to this is Gustl's lack of self-honesty; this correlates with Freud's notion that human beings by nature are unwilling to accept negative insights into their own being. When such critical insights occur, they are immediately repressed..
4) The mechanism of repression: Gustl constantly "forgets," i.e., represses the recognition that he must kill himself to save his honor. See. e.g., p. 263, p. 274.
5) The centrality of sexuality and death: These are the two major poles of Gustl's consciousness, and they are the fundamental concerns of Freud's theory of culture.
6) The associative structure of the psyche and dreams: Gustl moves via serendipitous association (instead of via logic) from one idea to another. See p. 256 for a prime example.
7) The therapeutic nature of self-expression: Gustl is structured as a single monologue or, if you will, a dialogue with the self. It is a kind of confession, but one that never extends beyond the individual character himself. It imitates, or perhaps parodies, the analytic situation.
8) The unconscious (dream) as the seat of wish-fulfillment: Gustl can be read as a parody of the wish-fulfillment fantasy; the wish Gustl expresses (p. 261) that the baker might die of a stroke actually comes to pass in the narrative line of the story. Gustl seems to wish the death of the baker as the resolution for his conflict, and the narrative (ironically) allows this wish to come true. Can we really imagine Gustl killing himself if this artificial resolution were not to occur?
9) The unconscious as memory: At certain points in the text we get a glimpse of long-past events in Gustl's life. See, for example, the childhood experience of being alone in the dark woods (p. 264), which is perhaps a symptom of Gustl's fear of death, of his need for community in the form of the brotherhood of army officers, etc. See also p. 265, where he recounts his first sexual encounter. As he contemplates the necessity of suicide, his life (as monotone as it is) passes before him.
10) Humor as a psychological release-valve: Note the prominence of Gustl's "gallows humor" as he contemplates his suicide (see p. 267). He even reflects on his own tendency to slip into humor as a way to come to terms with–and escape–the purported "inevitability" of suicide as his last resort.

IV. Gustl as a comedy of failed anagnorisis, of failed self-recognition, insight, and realization.
-- In Aristotle's theory of tragedy, anagnorisis describes that moment of self-reflection and self-recognition that marks a turning point in the life of the tragic hero. One might think here of the moment in which Sophocles' Oedipus recognizes that he has fulfilled the prophecy that he would murder his father and marry his mother, which results in him blinding himself. Schnitzler's text is structured as a series of brushes with self-recognition that in each instance are dispelled and "repressed." It is hard to imagine Gustl actually arriving at true self-insight, or at least embracing the "truth" of his inner self.
-- The general movement of the text is circular. Just as Gustl's adventure begins in the coffeehouse (where Kopetzky gives him the ticket to the oratorio), meanders from the concerthall through the streets of Vienna, to the Prater, and back eventually to the coffeehouse, Gustl moves, in terms of character, from overbearing self-confidence, to diffident insecurity in the face of death, back, finally, to a pompous self-certainty about his impending victory in the duel with the lawyer. The ending repeats the beginning, in this regard, after a lapse of about 12 hours. Gustl arrives at no final insight into himself or his character; he is a static figure in this regard, and hence also comical (in the technical sense of related to comedy).
-- The scene in which Gustl describes the encounter with the lawyer, which leads to him challenging the lawyer to a duel (p. 255): what Gustl wants to deny is the truth of what the lawyer says. Gustl's psyche is constantly in the mode of denying "truth" (as Freud claims for our conscious life in general).
-- Gustl at times comes close to true self-recognition: see, for example, p. 260 (Gustl recognizes the necessity of suicide since others might discover what has happened), p. 267 (Gustl comes close to self-blame, after repeatedly trying to blame others), p. 270 (Gustl claims he is "sick of himself"), p. 272 (Gustl asserts he has no self-worth).
-- All these approaches to self-recognition are undone and banished by the conclusion of the novella, which proves that as long as the incident with the baker does not become public knowledge, it has, in effect never occurred. Radical empiricism: if a tree falls in the forest and no one but Gustl is there to experience it, does the tree really fall? Not as long as Gustl denies or represses it!
-- Irony of the "stroke of fortune" (p. 263) or Gustl's "stroke of joy" (279): Gustl's story gives new meaning to the phrase "stroke of good luck," because his luck is predicated on the baker's stroke. The baker is silenced, and the danger of exposure and transparency averted. But the final irony is that the text itself choreographs the exposure and transparency on the level of formal structure that it denies on the level of plot.