The Naked Truth: Viennese Modernism and the Body

by Alys X. George (2020)


- Human body -- Austria -- Vienna -- History -- 19th century.
- Human body -- Austria -- Vienna -- History -- 20th century.
- Human figure in art.
- Human body in literature.
- Human body in popular culture.
- Modernism (Art) -- Austria -- Vienna -- History -- 19th century.
- Modernism (Art) -- Austria -- Vienna -- History -- 20th century.

Viennese modernism is often described in terms of a fin-de-siècle fascination with the psyche. But this stereotype of the movement as essentially cerebral overlooks a rich cultural history of the body. The Naked Truth, an interdisciplinary tour de force, addresses this lacuna, fundamentally recasting the visual, literary, and performative cultures of Viennese modernism through an innovative focus on the corporeal.
Alys X. George explores the modernist focus on the flesh by turning our attention to the second Vienna medical school, which revolutionized the field of anatomy in the 1800s. As she traces the results of this materialist influence across a broad range of cultural forms—exhibitions, literature, portraiture, dance, film, and more—George brings into dialogue a diverse group of historical protagonists, from canonical figures such as Egon Schiele, Arthur Schnitzler, Joseph Roth, and Hugo von Hofmannsthal to long-overlooked ones, including author and doctor Marie Pappenheim, journalist Else Feldmann, and dancers Grete Wiesenthal, Gertrud Bodenwieser, and Hilde Holger.She deftly blends analyses of popular and “high” culture, laying to rest the notion that Viennese modernism was an exclusively male movement. The Naked Truth uncovers the complex interplay of the physical and the aesthetic that shaped modernism and offers a striking new interpretation of this fascinating moment in the history of the West.

Introduction  (1–22)

1. The Body on Display: Staging the Other, Shaping the Self
Science and Spectacle: “Exotic” Bodies on Display
Fictional Encounters? Peter Altenberg’s Ashantee (1897)
Somatic Utopias: Viennese Hygiene Exhibitions
Literary Life Reform: Peter Altenberg’s Pròdrŏmŏs (1906)
Nature and Culture on Stage

2. The Body in Pieces: Viennese Literature’s Anatomies
Becoming the Blade: Vivisection as the Primal Scene
In the Dissecting Room: Arthur Schnitzler and Marie Pappenheim
Viennese Symptoms, Human Fragments: Joseph Roth’s Journalism
The Politics and Poetics of Viennese Corpses: Carry Hauser and Joseph Roth
Corpse as Capital: Ödön von Horváth’s Faith, Hope, and Charity (1932)

3. The Patient’s Body: Working-Class Women in the Clinic
Finding a Voice: The Poetics of Pregnancy (Marie Pappenheim and Ilka Maria Ungar)
Egon Schiele in the Clinic
In the Women’s Clinic: Architecture, Gaze, Film
Speaking for Suffering Mothers: Else Feldmann and Carry Hauser
The Politics and Public Visibility of Proletarian Bodies

4. The Body in Motion: Staging Silent Expression
Body Language and Crisis of Language
Hugo von Hofmannsthal and the Power of Pantomime
Self and Other: Exploring Identity through Free Dance
Making Modern Dance Viennese
Celluloid Gestures and the Cinematic Body
The Worker’s Body: Modern Dance, Machine Culture, and Social Democracy



Alys X. George is assistant professor of German and affiliate faculty of the Center for European and Mediterranean Studies at New York University.



“A sweeping survey of the primacy of the body in the Vienna modern, The Naked Truthdemands a reorientation of our assumptions. This book will make a difference.”
— Scott Spector, University of Michigan

“ The Naked Truth offers a brilliant challenge to popular myths about fin-de-siècle Vienna. In its cross-disciplinary focus on the dissected, gendered, classed, and moving body in Viennese culture, it reads Gustav Klimt’s famous icon Nuda Veritas as a purloined image: always in plain sight but consistently overlooked. By including noncanonical women and expanding the frame beyond the political divide of 1918, George gives us a supplemental and alternative genealogy of Viennese modernism.”
— Andreas Huyssen, Columbia University

“In this finely written and meticulously researched book, George expands our definition of Viennese modernism. Ranging across various art forms and media, she brings the high modernist narrative from earlier scholarship into dialogue with popular culture. We readers stand to profit from this enriched conversation, learning about an age no less biopolitical than our own.”
— Fatima Naqvi, Yale University


George, Alys X.
The Naked Truth: Viennese Modernism and the Body.
Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2020, xii, 322 p., ill., 24 cm.
ISBN 9780226669984 (hb., $45,00)
ISBN 9780226695006 (pdf., EUR 58,95)
[Bibl. refs.]