Gender Roles and Krenek

Let me start off this post by noting that Krenek was a very smart man, but lived in a period where in much of Western Democracy, the right for women to vote was limited for much of his youth (In Switzerland for more than half his life!), and that feminist ideas had not wholly penetrated the West.  That being said, some of the dynamics between male and female leads in his opera highlight a male dominated world and a view that is seated inside it. In Stewart’s biography on Krenek he notes Karl Kraus’ influence on Krenek’s view on women,

“The emotional essence of woman is not wanton or nihilistic, but rather is a tender fantasy which serves as the unconcious orgin of all that has any worth in human experience.  herein lies the source of all inspriation and creativity…Reason must be supplied with proper goals from the outside; it must be given direction of a moral or aesthetic type.  The feminine fantasy fecundates the moral reason and gives it that direction…The feminine is the source of all that is civilizing in society.”

Stewart, J. L. (1991). Ernst Krenek: The man and his music. Berkeley: University of California Press. (335)

This is not as wholly offensive as the idea of The Eternal Feminine, or Ewig-weibliche as espoused by Otto Weinenger in Sex and Character, which Kraus was responding to in formulating his ideas on the female’s essence,

“Woman is neither high-minded not low-minded, strong minded or weak-minded.  She is the opposite of all these.  Mind cannot be predicated of her at all; she is mindless.  That however does not imply weakmindedness in the ordinary sense of the word, the absence of capacity to “get her bearings” in ordinary, everyday life…Woman is engrossed exclusively by sexuality, not intermittently, but throughout her life…The idea of pairing is the only conception which has positive worth for women.”

Weininger, O. (1906). Sex & character. London: W. Heinemann.

That being said, according to Sterwart, Krenek did indeed agree with Kraus’ idea of Ewig-weibliche in that it is,

“The mysterious centre of man’s nature – but it is also the purest expression of the orignal divine principle, undisguised essence, the primal order before the fall, the real likeness of God.  This automatically puts the male world of wanting and doing into a dialectical relationship with this Ur-nature [that of the eternal feminine]; it becomes the central principle of the Fall, of ambiguous thought and intellectualism, which must be paid for with punishment and repentance.  The repentance produces the creative principle of male organization  demonstrated most clearly in the act of artistic construction.”

Krenek, E. (1966). Exploring music; essays. New York: October House. (116)

You can see the Krenek’s contrasting ideas of female and male essence clearly in Jonny Spielt Auf’s representation of the character Max, who is prone to brooding and being overly intellectual and his romantic interest, Anita who becomes a sort of muse to Max. Further on in Krenek’s essay on Berg’s Lulu he states the dialectical relationship more clearly,

“When the nightingale, speaking for the bird-world in Kraus’ poem,¹ says ‘you have the law, we have the world’, it voices an opposition of the most profound kind between the pre-logical sphere which is the real domain of the female nature, and the sphere of law which is thoroughly dominated, with inexorable logic, by language and the norms of art.”

[1. Text of Kraus poem below the fold.]

Krenek, E. (1966). Exploring music; essays. New York: October House. (117)

Although it’s wonderful to think of the idea of the female nature as inspiring, the “real likeness of God,” and “all that is civilizing in society”, the ideas engage in an incredible amount of “gender Orientalism”.   What I mean by this is that it otherizes an entire gender.  Indeed, coursing through the language of Krenek and Kraus, we have them calling female nature  “pre-logical”, and outside reason, while representing the male nature as one of “wanting and doing”, and “Reason”.  Orientalism as described by Edward Said uses the exact same kind of implicit dichotomy, even along the same lines of “rationality”, but instead of between the male and female genders, it is West vs. East.

1. Kraus, K., & Fischer, H. (1959). Worte in Versen. München: Kösel-Verlag.

You children of men, are you not leaves
blown about in a forest,
You are of dust,
And vanish so soon!
But we exist always.

We announce to you the change of year,
You ask our councel
And we tell you the truth
And we conduct the deed
We weave and we know.

You have the law, we have the world,
And to us is permitted
What pleases us!
O come and believe!
We love lovers.

First Eros dwelled in golden Light
And we came to the grove
As his master poem
On a glorious day
We were created by him.

We birds, awakened before the gods
Born from the depth,
We offspring of the night
Bathed with fire of of the day,
We are love!

Original text (German):

Ihr Menschenkinder
Ihr Menschenkinder, seid ihr nicht Laub,
verweht im Wald
ihr Gebilde aus Staub
und vergeht so bald!
Und wir sind immer.

Wir verkuenden euch den Wechsel im Jahr,
ihr fragt uns un Rat
und wir sagen euch wahr
und wir fuehren die Tat.
Wir weben und wissen

Ihr habt das Gesetz, wir haben die Welt
und uns ist erlaubt,
was uns gefallt.
O kommt und glaubt!
Wir lieben Verliebte.

Zuerst war Eros im goldenen Licht
und wir warden im Hag
als sein Hochgedicht
am stralenden Tag
von ihm erschafen.

Wir Voegel, vor den Goetttern erwacht,
der Tiefe enstammt
wir Enkel der Nacht
vom Tag ueberflammt,
wir sind die Liebe!

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