Translations of Selfhood in Ver Sacrum: Language and Modernity at the Viennese Fin De Siècle


  • Rita Katalin Laszlo University of British Columbia


Ver sacrum, Vienna, selfhood, "gesamt"


Around the turn of the twentieth century, Vienna was blossoming into a tumultuous and buoyant central European hub. Despite political instabilities as part of Austria-Hungary, cultural, artistic and literary productions had come to an anthropocentric turn which marked the surfacing of die Moderne. An increasing (self-)awareness of one’s own psychology, perception and individuality led to radical (artistic and literary) expressions and the realization of social repressions. Viennese modernism launched a new aspect of language; one that would lead to visually and cognitively stimulating and disturbing works of art, literature, architecture, social activities and even medical practices. Ver Sacrum (1898-1903), an artistic and cultural magazine that aimed to be a Gesamtkunstwerk, a transdisciplinary, transmedial total work of art is an evidential reference point to the conceptualization of human selfhood and personhood. In an effort to understand Ver Sacrum beyond its role as the revolutionary and rebellious Kunstblatt of the Vienna Secession artists, the paper examines three entries from Ver Sacrum’s very first January 1898 edition: Max Burckhard’s article “Ver Sacrum,” as well as “Weshalb wir eine Zeitschrift herausgeben?” written by an unknown author¾presumably to collectively represent all members of the Vienna Secession¾and Hermann Bahr’s “Vereinigung Bildender Künstler Österreichs. Secession.” Ver Sacrum incorporates the need to express more of one’s inner (and artistic) perception and further exemplifies a persuasive kind of language, a way with words that portrays a requisite for acquiring (an artistic) selfhood. This requisite is Kunstsinn and Kunstempfindung. Although other cultural spheres such as coffeehouses, ball rooms, and the Ringstrasse also expressed and mirrored a new perception of the world and society, Ver Sacrum was an intentionally organized social and cultural sphere with an emphasis on the individual. The modern environment of this time was a product of das Ich-Empfindung. Ver Sacrum provided an orchestrated use of language commemorating works of art for an existential reason, thus, it was a necessary and primary tool for translating a modern artistic self into an even more comprehensible picture of reality for the Viennese and European society. 

Author Biography

Rita Katalin Laszlo, University of British Columbia

M.A. Student at the Department of Central, Eastern, and Northern European Studies


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