The former Empire, Perloff makes clear, while providing a solid German-language education to its citizens, was a multi-lingual world with a wide-range of languages; accordingly the writers we now perceive as some of the most noted German-language figures of the century—Perloff centers her study on Karl Krauss, Joseph Roth, Robert Musil, Elias Canetti, Paul Celan, and, as a “coda” Ludwig von Wittgenstein—spoke several languages, coming as they did from the far corners of that empire, none of them born or raised in Vienna. What these writers have in common, the author makes clear, is a sophisticated education within a multi-cultural perspective that allowed for intellectual perceptions that, in their erotic, linguistic, and, most importantly, ironic viewpoints, were far different from the more analytical and political concerns of authors of the German Weimar Republic. As Perloff expresses it:
Weimar was the workshop for radical ideas, from Marxist theory
These writers’ works may often seem, on the surface, less experimental than the European Dada, Futurist, and Surrealist writers; Kraus, Perloff argues, was often an early conceptualist, using (a bit like the American writer John Dos Passos) found materials; both Musil and Roth created highly plotted fictions whose stories interwove characters and events that, sometimes like musical symphonies, repeated and reiterated literary themes; Canetti used the autobiographical form to explore his literary concerns; Celan, in an argument by Perloff which surely might raise some hackles, wrote several of what she describes as “love poems” (she also offers us her own translations, which are fascinating for rendering his often clotted poems in translation much more clearly); and the philosopher Wittgenstein who, as we know, did not so much postulate philosophical concepts as question and challenge ideas in his notebooks, dialogues, and propositions.