Friday, June 18, 2021

Vienna as an ideal "place"

 Stephen Budiansky early in Journey to the Edge of Reason reports that Godel was affected by the suicide of Joseph Roth, "one of the countless victims of what the historian George Berkley called 'the most unrequited love affair in urban history" -- the tragic devotion of Vienna's 300,000 Jews to the country that had given them and 2 million of their kinsmen an unparalleled haven and hope only to see it ground to ashes." 

Budiansky adds, "'Austria is neither a state, a home, nor a nation,' says the mad brother of one of Roth's characters, a Polish count from the Austrian territory of Galicia.  'It is a religion.'  'It is thus not a multinational state, but a supra-national one,' he explains: 'the only supra-nation which has existed in the world.' (As a private person my brother is as mad as a hatter,' says the count, 'but where politics is concerned he is second to none' -- one of Roth's many wry allusions to the schizophrenic realities of Austrian life.)"

Further down, Budiansky writes, 'Those years, recalled the writer Stefan Zweig, another contemporary of Godel's, and like Roth another Austrian Jew who managed to escape Hitler only to die by his own hand in heartbroken exile, were the 'Golden Age of Security.'"

Comment:  I've been walking about with the idea of "place."  But none of California's places are as well established as those in Europe where 300,000 people can have a love affair with Vienna.    I didn't care about that sort of thing.  I'm used to getting everything else from magazines, books, and the internet.  And yet, I've been wondering lately what it means to miss out on the sort of thing 300,000 Viennese Jews felt for their place.

When our ancestors began farming about 15,000 years ago they had "places" that their hunter-gatherer ancestors didn't. Did early farmers love those places?  Or did the love have to wait until more beautiful places were built?

To what extent Godel was affected by the loss of Vienna, I have thus far only Budiansky's hint, but Budiansky quotes Godel's psychiatrist to say that Godel mourned the loss of the intellectual vigor he had in his twenties when his mathematical achievements were established and praised.    

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