From the Editor: Old Souls

The émigrés return: Eric Kandel, Ari Rath, Eric Pleskow, Ruth Klüger and Carl Djerassi

Opinion | Dardis McNamee | November 2012

Vienna is a city of legends more than ever  these days, with podiums and forums filled with the faces and voices of some of Austria’s most distinguished émigrés, several covered in this month’s issue of The Vienna Review (pp. 4, 20, 32). They are all Jewish intellectuals, people of great talent, drive and accomplishment, who after decades of alienation, have returned to form new ties with a different Vienna from the one they left behind.

It’s a remarkable list:

At the Austrian Academy of Sciences on 9 October, Nobel Laureate Eric Kandel (82) had come to speak about what he called the "genealogy of the modern mind" and in particular, what happens to the human brain when looking at works of art.

A week later, in the Hofburg, Federal President Heinz Fischer hosted Ari Rath (87), long-time editor and publisher of The Jerusalem Post for a presentation of his new memoire Ari heißt Löwe: Erinnerungen (Ari Means Lion: Reminiscences), a man whose candour and charm have made him the toast of the town.

A fortnight after that, legendary Hollywood producer Eric Pleskow (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Annie Hall) would be on hand to open the 50th season of the Viennale Film Festival on 25 October at the Gartenbau Kino, as well as a hand full of other engagements as time and energy allow. (See "Of Films and Forgiveness" in Mar. 2007 TVR, and "Meeting with the Mogul" in Dec. 2008/Jan. 2009 TVR.)

Then on 11 November, Ruth Klüger (81) literature professor, prolific author and social critic, will speak at the Volkstheater on the anniversary of the November Pogrom. (See "The Klüger Campaign" in Dec. 2008/Jan. 2009 TVR, and an exclusive interview in "The Loss of Optimism" in May 2009 TVR.)

And on 21 November, chemist, novelist and playwright Carl Djerassi (89) will read and discuss his work for the opening of the Vienna International Book Fair (Buch Wien, Lesewoche) at Messe Wien in the Prater. (See "Carl Djerassi: The Poet of Progressive Science" in June 2012 TVR, and "Staging Scince, Provoking Thought" in Jul./Aug. 2012 TVR.)

These are Austria’s Old Souls, the wise ones, who through repeated incarnations abroad have come to know themselves and us in a way no one else can. "We can only understand the present," Ruth Klüger once wrote, "when we never cease to talk about the past."

We are privileged to be part of this conversation; that there are so many who have made this choice says a lot about what the Vienna has become, how much it and Austrian have changed.

At the same time, the sense of loss is almost overwhelming, and through these brilliant minds, we are made heartbreakingly aware of the world that vanished when Vienna lost its Jews.

Other articles from this issue