Rudolf Kassner

Rudolf Kassner (1873–1959) was an Austrian writer, essayist, translator and cultural philosopher.

His Early Years

Rudolf Kassner was born on 11 September 1873 in Gross-Pavlowitz in southern Moravia. His maternal ancestors were peasants from Silesia. On the paternal side, also from Silesia, they were townsmen, officials and businessmen. A little after Kassner’s birth, his father Oskar Kassner moved to Nikolsberg in southern Austria, where he leased imperial property, profitably cultivated beet, and ran a sugar factory. In his old age he moved to Vienna where he died in 1906.

Rudolf Kassner had seven brothers and two sisters; of the ten he was the seventh. The children did not attend the local village school. Kassner’s primary education was through a governess, Miss Bache. After her a tutor named Spatni prepared him for the annual examination meant for private students. In his later autobiographical writings we find some extremely intense recollections of this period of his childhood. His high school education was in the neighboring calm provincial town of Nikolsberg. Much of his early life was spent in the countryside. This gave his ideas and visions an extraordinary freshness and rustic charm.

Student Life

In 1892 Kassner enrolled at the University of Vienna. He set out to study German Philology, Latin, and Philosophy. He spent the last two semesters (1895-96) at Berlin. This was the period when the theatre in Germany flourished and held great public appeal. Kassner too was an enthusiastic theater-goer. This formed the basis for later reflections on acting and the role of the actor, important for his physiognomic worldview. In 1896 he returned to Vienna and completed his study with a doctoral dissertation on Der ewige Jude in der Dichtung. Strangely, by a remarkable coincidence, his life too resembled that of a Wandering Jew, in spite of a major physical handicap.

His Travels

When he was only nine months old, Kassner contracted poliomyelitis, which affected both his legs. All his life he lived with this disability. But through his remarkable will power and the hard training given by a physiotherapist, he achieved extraordinary mobility. Prof. Zinn remembers in his commemorative lecture that Kassner could move faster on crutches than most normal humans on foot and he seldom required help. It is with this disability that Kassner traveled throughout the world. It is a fact that he traveled more widely than most of his contemporaries. Between 1898 and 1912 Kassner traveled far and wide. In the years 1897-8, 1908, 1910 and in 1912 he was in England. His first book Die Mystik, die Künstler und das Leben is about English poets of the eighteenth century. The English writer Lawrence Sterne influenced Kassner; in fact he appears as a character in one of Kassners important works Die Chimäre. He translated Sterne’s Tristram Shandy and Cardinal Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua into German. All these and his essays on Sterne, Thomas de Quincey and Thomas Hardy as well as his brilliant sense of humor are proof of the influence of English literature and culture on him. In 1900 he traveled for the first time to Paris. Here he met Andre Gide, whose work ‘Philoktet’ he translated into German. He also met Maurice Maeterlinck in Paris. His involvement with French culture is reflected in his essays on Baudelaire, Auguste Rodin, Abbe Galiani and Diderot and in his translations of the works of Gide and St. John Perse. We also know that T. S. Eliot visited Kassner in Paris. Paris was also the place where his great friendship with Rilke, the poet, was formed. In many histories of German literature, Kassner finds mention at best as a friend of Rilke and Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Yet, the two poets have testified amply to Kassner’s profound influence on them. In fact Rilke dedicated his eighth Duino Elegy, the most important elegy, to Kassner. In a letter to Princess Marie von Thurn and Taxis, Rilke says of Kassner: “…is not this man, I say to myself, perhaps the most important of all those who are writing today?” Even on his deathbed Rilke would recall with great fondness his association with Kassner.

Kassner’s association with Hofmannsthal commenced in 1902. He visited the poet in Rodaun. Both of them belonged to that generation of Austrians who were witness to the steady decline of the west and the inexorable erosion of its institutions. Hofmannsthal wrote about Kassner in 1904: “ I believe that he is perhaps the most important literary man, the most important culture critic that we have ever had in Germany” Kassner also knew Houston Stewart Chamberlain, the notorious racial theorist and anti-Semite, to whom he had sent his first book. At Chamberlain’s House in Vienna Kassner often met Count Ulrich von Brockdorff-Rantzau, Count Hermann von Keyserling and the Indologist Leopold von Schröder.In 1905 Kassner traveled through Spain. From Spain he traveled towards Tangier in Morocco. His father passed away in Vienna in 1906 and Kassner spent that year in Vienna. In 1907 he traveled again to Italy, further to Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and by motorcar through the Sahara. On 16th October 1908 Kassner’s great Indian journey began. From London he proceeded by sea to Bombay. On board he got to know the Maharaja of Kapurthala and one Mr. Inder Choudhary, a judge at the Calcutta high court. In the first week of November 1908 Kassner traveled from Bombay to Jaipur; then to Thaneswar and arrived on 24th November 1908 in Kapurthala to take part in the birthday celebrations of the Maharaja. From there he went towards Lahore and Peshawar, also a jaunt to the Khyber Pass. He came back southwards through Delhi and Agra to Lucknow. In a train accident on 3rd December Kassner lost his baggage. Ten days after that he reached Benaras via Allahabad. Next he proceeded to Calcutta, where, incidentally, he met Stefan Zweig. In Calcutta he stayed with his friend Inder Choudhary. On 1st January 1909 he went to Darjeeling, from where he viewed the Kanchanjunga. He went by steamer to Burma and traveled up to Bhano on the Chinese border. From Calcutta Kassner went by sea to Colombo, from there he reached South India in mid-February; setting out most likely from Tuticorin to Madras via Madurai and Thanjavur. He reached Madras on 24th February 1909. He also visited Hyderabad and Ellora and journeyed home from Bombay on 6th March 1909. On the return journey he spent some time in Egypt; from there he proceeded to Rome and spent the rest of that year in Italy. We do not know much about Kassner’s experiences in India or about the sources of his knowledge about India, apart from what he himself says in his writings. But it is evident that India deeply influenced Kassner. Kassner himself confessed later that he became a philosopher through the Indians. Besides his two major works on India, Indian themes constantly recur in Kassner’s writings. Kassner’s Indian journey and his experiences in India are of immense importance in understanding his life and works. In 1911 he traveled to Russia. He started from Vienna in May 1911 and traveled to St Petersburg; then to Moscow and from there along the Volga up to Saralow. He went southwards to Yalta and then to Kieslovodsk, north of Caucasus. In an automobile he crossed the Caucasus and went along the route that leads via the Caspian to Samarkhand in Turkestan. He returned after a brief stay in St. Petersburg and Moscow to Berlin towards the end of October 1911. Soon translations from the Russian followed : Pushkin, Gogol, Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy.

Kassner married in 1914. About his wife no information is available except that she might have been Jewish, for because of her origin the publication of Kassner’s works were prohibited by the Nazis in 1940.During the war years Kassner passionately studied Mathematics and Physics; for this was the period when Einstein’s great work was published and much of the work on the foundations of mathematics were taking place. We know that he met Einstein once in Vienna. Kassner tried to understand in his own way, new ideas such as the concept a four dimensional space and the concept of Number etc. His book Zahl und Gesicht is the result of this deep engagement. During this period he was often in Berlin were he met Georg Simmel, Gerhart Hauptmann and Walter Rathenau. After the war and the dissolution of the Austrian monarchy followed the inflation period. In 1924 and in 1931 Kassner was again in Rome. From 1926 to 1931 he traveled every year to Paris and he spent every late summer in the castle Schönhausen, where Princess Herbert Bismarck lived. During the interwar period also Kassner published many books. From 1938 when Nazis occupied Austria till the end of the world war Kassner remained in his home in Vienna. Out of his year long work in isolation emerged a monumental work Das neunzehnte Jahrhundert: Ausdruck und Größe. Through the intervention of some of his Swiss friends he escaped to Switzerland. There he lived in Sierre, Canton Wallis, till his death after a long period of illness, on 1st April 1959, persisting in writing till the day before his death.

Kassner’s Impact: Kassner the “Die unbekannte Größe”

Switzerland honored him in 1948 with the Gottfried- Keller Prize. His homeland Austria awarded him the highest literary award in the country. He was also awarded the Schiller Memorial Prize of the state of Baden-Wittenberg. On the occasion of this award Theophil Spoerri spoke of Kassner as Die unbekannte Größe , the unknown eminence. Anyone who tries to understand Kassner’s work has to confront this paradox. Kassner is remarkably great and yet unknown. Here is a person, of whom it can be said without reservation that he is one of the greatest minds of the twentieth century; and some of the greatest writers, poets and philosophers of Europe have acknowledged their indebtedness to him. “A new Nietzsche has appeared among us. He is called Rudolf Kassner and he speaks in antitheses, contradictions and paradoxes, deep and mystical, here and there in the tone of a prophet. Whether ‘the Modern’ places him above, below, or beside Nietzsche one does not know yet, but as far as I am concerned he is to me dearer than Nietzsche” hailed a reviewer of his first published work in 1900. Congratulating Kassner on his eightieth birthday T. S. Eliot writes: “To contribute to the chorus of praise and thanks which should greet Rudolf Kassner on his eightieth birthday is a privilege which confers greater honour to the contributor than to the recipient. I am happy to have the opportunity on this occasion to salute and pay homage to so distinguished an author and so great a European who has every reason to look back with pride upon his life-work.” In the same volume W. H. Auden writes on Kassner’s book Zahl und Gedicht: “Among all the books which a writer reads over the years, the number which have so essentially conditioned his vision of life that he cannot imagine who he was before he read them is, naturally, very small…. Zahl und Gesicht was for me, and still is, such a book; in such a case discussion is not called for, only gratitude and homage.” Ludwig Curtius wrote to him: “You were to me always a ‘sage’ like the sages of the ancient times, whom I approached as a child, which I still do today.” In Kassner’s writings on system and order in the work Zahl und Gesicht the Swiss dramatist Dürrenmatt could read a premonition of later inhuman totalitarian regimes. Yet Kassner is unknown; most histories of literature and philosophy do not even mention his name.Kassner introduced the work of William Blake to Germany. He discovered the Christian poet in Baudelaire. In 1903 he made the German public aware of the works of Andre Gide through his translation. Even before existential philosophy came into vogue, Kassner in his essay on Kierkegaard, which incidentally is the first German writing on Kierkegaard, had spoken about the existential predicament, the thrown-ness of man in the World. He translated from Greek, English, French and Russian. His understanding of the Indian society is full of rich insights quite different from that of a philosopher like Hegel, who had never set foot in India. Despite his physical handicap, Kassner traveled to India, met people there, saw for himself how people live there. Kassner’s insights into India are an admirable example of his distinctive approach to cultural understanding and anthropology. In his own unacademic way he was one of the most learned men of the last century. He traveled far and wide, even to inaccessible regions. He was more widely traveled than most of his contemporaries. His knowledge of the classical world, of the oriental and occidental texts, of religion and philosophy, of history and culture, of literature and art is profound and comprehensive. He had a deep knowledge of the cultural history of modern man. He saw, as perhaps no one else saw, the internal contradictions and discontents of modernity. Kassner was immensely productive; his literary activity extends over sixty years and he was writing till the age of eighty-five. He is considered one of the greatest essayists and “the only German essayist who processed humor.” In his writings he judges severely his contemporaries and his criticisms are provocative. Given his vision and his relentless focus on man even his silences are telling! Kassner was no less an iconoclast than Nietzsche, though temperamentally he is the exact opposite of the overwrought philosopher. Mason wonders: “How little there is in the post-renaissance mental activities and achievements that he does not abominate!” But he adds, “There is something curiously authoritative about these denunciations of his…. They raise important issues, which have hitherto been overlooked; one cannot afford to ignore them.” But this criticism of his never ended up in nihilism. He was above all an anti-nihilist. Kassner speaks of being a mystic in order not to become a nihilist. Though Kassner says that he is a conservative due to the exasperation and consternation that modern world caused him, he is in no sense a reactionary, cynic, pessimist or defeatist and had no romantic yearning for the past, and no escapist delusions.Yet he is unknown. Could it be that Kassner’s works were ‘out of season’? In as early as 1929 Hofmannsthal wrote about Kassner’s writings that “a not too distant future will wonder how our period that is craving for new forms and contents could neglect such fresh content in such novel forms.” Forty years later in 1969 Michael Schmidt comments that “this ‘staunende Zeit’ cannot of course be ours.” Still a generation later in 2005 in the latest article published on Kassner Prof. Subramanian writes that even today “fame has eluded Kassner.” Kassner is variously described as ‘Philosopher’, ‘Thinker’, ‘Cultural–Historian’, ‘Platonist’, and ‘Philosopher–Poet’. One may call him a ‘cultural philosopher’, for the primary object of his studies were cultures and their symbolic representations. His contributions to the understanding of Greek antiquity, ancient India and European Modernity form an essential part of his writings. It is indeed appropriate to call him a ‘seer’, in the multiple sense of the term, for ‘seeing’ and ‘vision’ are central to his physiognomy. Whenever he observes, he conveys unfailingly his sense of wonderment. It is this wonderment of the seer that sets in train his deep probing inquiry bordering on the mystic, which yet again to Kassner becomes manifest when poetry affiliates to philosophy. It is his vision, his “Anschauung” that gives his works an intensity and luminosity.

For as Kassner himself said “I should regard every line of my work suspect… if the knowledge and the feeling desert me that any enlightenment of man from them must work like a physical light; out of this desire arose the form, style and the language of the whole work”. His works present a distinctive way of seeing, totally different from the current empirical methods of the social sciences.

For Kassner the physiognomy is basically a ‘phenomenology of Being’. It is based on Goethe’s anti-Kantian statement “The highest is to understand that all facts are already theory. One need not search behind the phenomenon, for they themselves are the theory”. Kassner’s physiognomy is an attempt to portray the world in all its manifestations. Of course, Kassner’s teachings are not easy to understand. Kassner's physiognomy though is distinct from the traditional rational physiognomy from pseudo-Aristolte to Lavater. Rational science objects to physiognomy thus: How can one draw conclusions about the inner character of anybody from his external features? Can one? Yet, physiognomy tried to be ‘scientific’and came to be devalued. Even in the eighteenth century Lavater tried to reduce the differences among the human faces to certain common denominators and tried to build a system of symbols to interpret it. (Kant considered it too pretentious a task for mere mortals). Nevertheless the idea was to build a system and to give a scientific explanation.

Kassner’s physiognomy studies the rhythmic and changeable aspects of the face, which are not accessible to the rational physiognomy characteristic of its early period. Freudian psychoanalysis considered every face a mask and tried to unravel what lies behind it. This is a far cry from Kassner’s physiognomy. Of course psychoanalysis has recognized that “man no longer appears as he is”. But Kassner’s physiognomy asserts, “ Man is just as he appears to be because he does not appear as he really is.” This is the basic axiom of Kassner’s physiognomy. Kassner developed a style suited to the articulation of this physiognomy: the frequent use of zeugma for example is characteristic of his writing; he brings together things that appear to be contradictory on the surface in order to show not immediately evident interconnections between them. The seemingly contradictory phenomena combine to give a total image of the whole. One distinct advantage of this method is its usefulness in avoiding of the tendency to reify. Kassner uses many ideas such as form, gestalt, whole, order, idea etc. in order to emphasize the holistic aspects of his approach. The activity that forms the basis of this type of perception is seeing and interpreting (deuten). It calls for seeing–together, for a synoptic vision. This is why Kassner rejects the ‘thing-in-itself’ that never manifests itself in phenomena. Kassner holds that the image includes the thing along with its movement, its dunamis. The phenomena are not the external covering of content. Form and content yield a unity, held together by imagination, whereas critical reason separates them. Imagination is synthetic; reason is analytic. The paradox as a form of thinking is very important to understand Kassners diagnosis of modernity. The incongruence between the external appearance and the internal disposition of man, the surface and deep structure of humans, as it were, forms the basis of his understanding of the modern individual. Psychoanalysis and other theories of human nature, analyse the appearance to unmask the reality. Kassner avoids all reification and takes that which appears first to his sight, his vision, namely human action and behavior, as the basis for his searching physiognomic enquiry. Phenomena considered purely externally call for a rational explanation for establishing causal nexus, whereas to understand authentic form requires imaginative interpretation. To be able to see the “form”, one need to fuse critical and creative faculties, in short ‘räsonnieren’ as Kassner terms it. Hence, the conscious use of paradoxes that characterizes much of Kassner’s writing. This indeed produces a shock-effect, much like the stunning effect of the Socratic elenchos. His zeugmas confront the reader to provide him a surprisingly new perspective. Like a Zen master with his counter-rational sayings, Kassner shakes the reader’s rational, analytic thought processes in order to make him aware of the dynamic whole, the whole reality of the appearance.

Kassner’s works are difficult to understand; even his reminiscences contain passages, which are not easy to follow because of their idiosyncratic terminology. But many great modern texts are difficult (who will not vouch for enigmatic intricacies of Eliot and Pound, Joyce and Heidegger to mention but a few). “Works of this kind with their closely woven thoughts, are not easily accessible”, wrote Hofmannsthal. “It consists of a number of unconnected writings…the contents are new and important, the title is unobtrusive. In the writings there is no system or definite terminology nor does the author mention about the unity of the work” . Surely Kassner does not provide an easy approach to his works. One cannot build a system out of his works. As he himself says “I have no system and hence not the language of the system”.

The characteristic of Kassner’s knowledge is an abundance of enchanting images, invoked out of a primary wonderment. Instead of analytic concepts he deliberately employs paradoxes and zeugmas that meaningfully bring together the small and the big, the near and the distant to obtain deep insights. In this context one needs to investigate Kassner’s key terms such as Middle, Measure, Magic Body, Personality, Imagination, Vision, Seeing, Order, Umkehr, Saint, Chimera etc.“His concepts are not really concepts,” writes Usinger “… not defined, the ideas occur again and again.” One of Kassner’s characters says, “You know very well my weakness and understand that I cannot define and all my definitions are false.” His works have no linear development and do not yield swiftly to rational analysis. The same themes recur in Kassner again and again, in their prismatic break-up as essays, parables, dialogues and reminiscences. He visits the same zone time and again with profit. It is not as though there is no progress, indeed the progress in thought can be said to have a spiral movement, as his dogged, unflinching gaze winds itself around the phenomena.

But as Eudo C. Mason suggests, Kassner’s texts, given their importance and greatness are justifiably difficult. For when we seek the source of their difficulty we cannot say that his style is pedantic or jargon-filled. His sentences are always clear and sober without rhetorical flourish but laced with gentle humor and irony. It is in a sense unfortunate that he labeled his worldview physiognomy, for it was a discredited discipline and Kassner has had to an explain over and again how his physiognomy differs from traditional physiognomy. Kassner’s physiognomy is not about naïve inference of individual characteristics from physical features. It is a seeing-together of the soul and cosmos. Kassner uses the word ‘Gesicht’ (an untranslatable word which refers to what sees, namely face or countenance, and also what is seen, the vision.). This physiognomy is also a cosmogony. For Kassner all that can have a form: animals and humans, ideas, philosophies and religions, concrete things and products of pure fantasies, things of the present and the remote past all these can be ‘Gesicht’. In this ‘Gesicht’, rather than behind it, is the relationship of the soul to the entire cosmos and it needs interpretation. For Kassner the physiognomist is the mystic of the whole created world.

Kassner’s world is a world without masters and disciples. It is not built upon his predecessors, he had no precursors, hence the difficulty of categorizing his work. From the viewpoint of a traditional Indian one can designate him a ‘Gnanayogi’. His life as second birth, as second sailing was the journey of a soul to realization, an unending journey of the quest for knowing. It is not as though his physical disability prompted an inward journey. No, in Kassner the elemental and strong power of the senses and the spiritual energy is unmistakable. Kassner’s world is a paradox. In it there is suffering and that makes it very ChristianFact|date=September 2007, there is in him the drama of the soul, a deep, unresolved tension; every feeling call forth its denial, with every thought its contradiction. There is also unity in division. With every division there is also a crossing. It is lived paradox, not dialectics. It is tension, not antitheses. No dialectic, no millennium, no utopia, no synthesis, no telos, only the ‘middle’ and one has to live with it. Hence the absence of any revolt in him. This is ‘titiksha’ in the real sense of the term.

Kassner’s View of History

In his keen inquiry into human history Kassner differentiates two worlds– ‘the world of the father’ and ‘the world of the son’. ‘The world of the father’ is the world of the ancient man. Kassner says that ancient man with his magic hieratic cultures had no sense of individuality. These myth-dominated cultures, like that of the Greeks, are also a space world (Raumwelt). It is a world without division. It is also the world of identity. In this finite world, the polis with its norms regulates the tension between the individual and the group and the word approximates the thing designated by it. The divergence between the word and the thing occurs in ‘the world of the son’, which is a time world (Zeitwelt), the world of individuality. The conflict between inside and outside, form and content, soul and body, dream and reality, begins in this ‘world of the son’. Here myth and mystery part company. The magico-mythical world, the unified but repetitive world gives way to the world of individual, divided but unique in history. But in Kassner we find no theories about the philosophy of history, no conflict of nature versus civilization as in Rousseau, no progress in history as in Hegel. In Kassner there is no dialectic but drama. The figure of Christ and the Word becoming flesh are of central importance to Kassner’s thoughts. Kassner said that the hold of the myth held sway as ‘grand form’, as order, rank and institution even in the ages of Christian dogma. The complete dissolution takes place in the age of baroque. Then in the nineteenth century, the French Revolution, Kant’s Critiques and Goethe’s Faust inaugurate the real chronicle of the individual. Through a ‘Gleichgewichtstörung’, to use Kassner’s phrase, the individual is loosened from tradition and becomes a slave to the collective. Kassner diagnoses the individual of his times as dilettante, achiever, speculator, actor, dialectician, materialist, mediocre, indiscrete humans lacking altogether the sense of measure. But the world of the individual is also the world of freedom. The isolated derailed individual seeking his counterpart finds him in the ‘Gerechte’ (the just man). The notion of the der Heilige is absent in the western world. Kassner says the counterpart of the Indian Rishi in the West is the Just Man. Kassner sees the saviour of the modern times in the Just man, in the pilgrim, in the Christian and the child like man. According to Kassner the contradiction between thought and action is Christian. This state of being at odds with oneself, induced no doubt by the elemental tension occasioned by the psyche’s experience of contradictory, or even conflicting experiences, is what prompts Kassner to rehabilitate Platonic periagoge in a Christian context. In other words, the want of alignment with the temporal world leads to the profound onset of imagination –Einbildung, restored by Kassner to the transitive sense of Middle High German– the boundless imagination, i.e. its “lack of measure” holds for today’s humans according to Kassner the only promise of accomplishing the amalgam of truth and justice. Steigerung and Umkehr (antilepsis) are the twin features of this transcendence in immanence.


A. Primary Literature

Collected Works:

1. Rudolph Kassner, Sämtliche Werke, Bände I – X, Ernst Zinn und Klaus E. Bohnenkamp (Eds), Günther Neske, Pfüllingen, (1969-1991).


1. Rudolph Kassner, Brife an Tetzel, Ernst Zinn und Klaus E. Bohnenkamp (Eds), Günther Neske, Pfullingen, 1979.2. Bohnenkamp, Klaus E. (Ed.), Rainer Maria Rilke und Rudolph Kassner, Freunde im Gespräch: Briefe und Dokumente, Insel, Memmingen, 1997.

B. Secondary Literature 1. Acquistapace, Eva: Person und Weltdeutung: Zur Form des Essayistischen im Blick auf das literarische Selbstverständnis Rudolf Kassners, Peter Lang, Frankfurt a. M., 1971.

2. Andreas, Willy: Das Neunzehnte Jahrhundert, Ausdruck und Größe von Rudolf Kassner, in: Historische Zeitschrift, 169, Leibnitz Verlag, Munich, 1949, pp.127-131.

3. Bachmann, Dieter: Rudolf Kassner (1873-1959), Essay und Essayismus, Kohlhammer, Stuttgart, 1969, pp. 44-65.

4. Baumann, Gerhart: Rudolf Kassner, Goethe-Sehen und Gesicht, Entwürfe zur Poetik und Poesie, Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 1976, Munich, pp. 147-163.

5. Baumann, Gerhart: Rudolf Kassner, Gericht und Gegengericht- Aus den Schriften- Auswahl mit Nachwort, Insel Verlag, Frankfurt a. M./ Leipzig, 1992, pp. 342-367.

6. Baumann, Gerhart: Rudolf Kassner- Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Kreuzwege des Geistes, Rede zum 90. Geburtstag Rudolf Kassners gehalten am 30 Oktober 1963 in Wien, W. Kohlhammer Verlag, Stuttgart, 1964.

7. Bock, Werner: Rudolf Kassner und die moderne Physiognomik, in: Universitas, 10.Jg., Heft7, 1955, pp. 715-719.

8. Bohnenkamp, Klaus E.: Ein wenig bekannter Aufsatz von Rudolf Kassner über die Prosa des jungen Hofmannsthal, Für Rudolf Hirsch, (Ed.) J. H. Freund, pp. 295-309.

9. Bohnenkamp, Klaus E.: Kassner und Rilke im gegenseitigen Urteil, in: Rilke Symposium, 'Rainer Maria Rilke und Österreich' , im Rahmen des Internationalen Brucknerfestes'83, (Ed.) Storck, Joachim W., Bruckner Haus , Linz, 1986.

10. Bohnenkamp, Klaus E.: Rudolf Kassner und Andre Gide, in: Germanisch - Romanische Montatsschift, 29 / 1979, Carl Winter Universtätsverlag, 1979, pp.94-102.

11. Bong-Hi Cha: Das Erstlingswerk Rudolf Kassners, Ansätze zu seinem 'physiognomischen Weltbild', Doctoral Dissertation at Eberhard- Karls University, Tübingen, 1976.

12. Borchart, Rudolf: Rudolf Kassner, 'Melancholia', eine Trilogie des Geistes, in: Prosa I, Stuttgart, Ernst Klett Verlag, 1957, pp.485-487.

13. Böschenstein, Bernard: Stefan George vu par Rudolf Kassner, Melanges a David, 1986, pp.171-188.

14. Brunnemann, A. Brandl: Kassner's " Die Mystik, die Künstler und das Leben", Book Review, in: Frankfurter Zeitung, 06 January 1901 & Deutsche Literaturzeitung, 21April 1900, Nr17, pp1133-34.

15. Büchler, Franz: Schizoider Zeitgeist, Wasserscheide zweier Zeitalter, Essays, Lothar Steihne Verlag, Heidelberg, 1970, pp.102-121.

16. Burnke, Eduard (Ed.): Rudolf Kassner, Die Mystik, die Künstler und das Leben, Book Review in: Literarisches Centralblatt, 51Jg.,Leipzig, No.27, July 7, 1900, pp.1135-37.

17. C.J.: Künstlermystik, Review of Kassner's work Die Mystik, die Künstler und das Leben, in: Die Grenzboten, Zeitschrift für Politik, Literatur und Kunst, 59.Jg., Leipzig, 1900.

18. Burckhart, Carl Jakob: Rudolf Kassner, Bildnisse, S. Fischer, Frankfurt a. M., 1958, pp. 268-273.

19. Chapple, Gerald: 'Diese drei Jahre München', Rudolf Kassner writes to Rilke, in: Modern Austrian Literature, Volume15, Numbers3/4, 1982, pp.221-237.

20. Chapple, Gerald: Aus Rudolf Kassners Reisebriefen an Lili Schalk, in: Neue Zürcher Zeitung , 9 September 1973, zum 100. Geburtstag Rudolf Kassners.

21. Chapple, Gerald: Rudolf Kassners Platonismus, in: Neue Zürcher Zeitung , 9 September 1973, zum 100. Geburtstag Rudolf Kassners.

22. Eisenreich, Herbert: Kassner und keine Nachwelt 1959, in: Reaktionen, Essays zur Literatur, 1964, pp.271-276.

23. Enzink, Willem: Erinnerungen an Max Picard 1888-1965, in: Neue Deutsche Hefte 35.Jg. 1988. pp. 189-205.

24. Enzink, Willem: Erinnerungen an Rudolf Kassner, in: Neue Deutsche Hefte, 31, 1984, pp.288-297.

25. Glasnapp, Helmuth von: Das Indienbild deutscher Denker, K. F. Koehler Verlag, Stuttgart, 1960.

26. Hecht, Hans: Rudolf Kassner. Englische Dichter, in: Beiblatt zur Anglia, pp. 32-33.

27. Heinecke, Hans: Rudolf Kassner, Dichtung und Dasein, Gesammelte Essays, Karl H. Hensel Verlag, Berlin, 1950.

28. Howes, Geoffrey C. : Emerson's Image in Turn of the century Austria, The cases of Kassner, Friedell and Musil, in: Modern Austrian Literature, Volume 22, Nos. 3/4, 1989, pp. 227-240.

29. Janitzer, Hermann: Rudolf Kassner. Englische Dichter: Book Review, in: Zeitschrift für Englischen Unterricht, 21.Bd. 1.Heft, Breslau, 1922, p.132.

30. Kamper, Dietmer: Rudolf Kassner: Kuturphilosoph und Schriftsteller, in: Neue Deutsche Bibliographie, pp.320-21.

31. Kassner, Rudolf: Erinnerung an Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Worte des Gedankens, Nachrufe aus dem Todesjahr 1929, Sign HOF 120/138, Lothar Stielem Verlag, Heidelberg, pp. 41-55.

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48. Mason, Eudo C.: Der Erlöser Gottes, Rudolf Kassners esoterisches Christentum, in: Wort und Wahrheit, 07-01-1952.

49. Mason, Eudo C.: For Rudolf Kassner’s Eightieth Birthday, in: German Life and Letters, vol VIII, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1953-54.

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51. Meyer, Richard M.: Rudolf Kassner, Die Mystik, die Künstler und das Leben, Book Review, in: Euphorion, Bd.8, Leipzig/Vienna, 1901, pp.138-39.

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54. Michael, V. Albrect: Praktische Philosophie im Zeichen des Sokrates- zwischen römischer Daseinbewältigung und moderner Physiognomik.

55. Mühlberger Josef: Der Mensch mit Eigenschaften, Zum Tode Rudolph Kassners, in: Welt und Wort, Literarische Monatsschrift, Heft1, (Ed.) Dr. Ewald Katzmann, 14 Januar 1959, pp136-138

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57. Paeschke, Hans: Rudolf Kassner, in: Merkur, VII Jg., 9. Heft, September 1953, pp. 802-833.

58. Paeschke, Hans: Rudolf Kassner, Neske, Pfüllingen, 1963.

59. Paulsen, Wolfgang: Das Neunzehnte Jahrhundert. Ausdruck und Größe, von Rudolf Kassner, in: Modern Language Notes, June 1949, pp.430-31.

60. Pellegrini, Allesandro: Begegnung mit Rudolf Kassner, in: Literatur und Kritik 18, 1981, pp. 4-13.

61. Peukert, Hans: Rudolf Kassners Gleichnisse, in: Wort und Wahrheit 13, II/1958.

62. Picard, Michael: Annährung an die Physiognomik Rudolf Kassners von der Erfahrung aus, in: Antaios XI, Stuttgart, 1969, pp.48-65.

63. Rilke, Raine Maria: Briefe an Fürstin Marie von Thurn und Taxis, in: Rudolph Kassner zum achtzigsten Geburtstag, Gedenkbuch, Eugen Rentsch Verlag, 1953, pp. 7-1164. Rougemont, Denis de: Rudolf Kassner und die Größe, in: Monat, 12.Jg., Berlin, 1959-60, pp.22-30.

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73. Sieber, Karl: Rilke's aüßerer Weg zu Goethe, in: Euphorion, Dichtung und Volkstum, Stuttgart, Band 37, 1936, pp. 51-60.

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Another Contribution


Kassner's family immigrated to Moravia (at the time part of Austro-Hungary) from Silesia in Germany. His father, Oskar Kassner, was a landowner and factory owner. Kassner regarded himself as a German-Slavic mixture, having inherited German "blood" from his mother and a Slavic "spirit" ("Geist") from his father ("Das physiognomische Weltbild", 116ff.).

Rudolf was the seventh of 10 children. At nine months he contracted polio which left him lame for the rest of his life. He grew up in a strict Catholic milieu and was schooled at home. He studied national economy, history, and philosophy in Vienna and Berlin where he attended the lectures of the nationalist historian Heinrich von Treitschke. He received his doctorate in 1897 with a dissertation on "Der ewige Jude in der Dichtung" ("The Eternal Jew in Literature").

Despite his physical handicap, Kassner traveled extensively in Russia, North Africa, and India. He lived in Paris, London, and Munich for short periods of time. His first publications found favor among "fin-de-siécle" poets and artists. He was a member of the bohemian circle in Munich to which Frank Wedekind und Eduard Graf von Keyserling also belonged. Kassner was acquainted with Ulrich Graf von Brockdorff-Rantzau, Paul Valéry, and André Gide. From 1900 to 1906 he was a regular member of the Viennese group around the cultural philosopher and antisemite Houston Steward Chamberlian. Kassner later distanced himself from Chamberlain.

In 1902 he met Hugo von Hofmannsthal and in 1907, Rainer Maria Rilke with both of whom he developed deep and lasting friendships. Rilke dedicated the eighth "Duineser Elegie" to Kassner. For a time both Hofmannsthal and Rilke considered Kassner to be the most far-sighted contemporary cultural philosopher. His close friendship with Rilke has received a great deal of scholarly attention. Schmölders (in: Neumann/Ott 1999) speculates that at least on Kassner's part this friendship was latently homosexual in nature.

After the outbreak of World War I Kassner moved to Vienna. The Nazis officially prohibited his writings in 1933. Nevertheless, his books continued to appear until he was forbidden to write ("Schreibverbot") after the Nazi annexation of Austria in 1938. Kassner's wife who was Jewish was able to escape from Austria with the help of Hans Carossa.

Kassner emigrated to Switzerland in 1945. In 1946 he moved to Sierre (Siders) in Valais where his Rilke had also spent the last years of his life. He lectured at the University of Zurich and lived in Sierre until his death in 1959


Kassner himself divided his work, which is extremely individual and shows his wide reading, into three periods: aestheticism 1900-1908; physiognomy 1908-1938: and after 1938 autobiographical writings, religious and mystical essays, and "meta-political" interpretations of world events. Kassner rejected rigid philosophical systems and thus preferred looser literary forms such as essays, aphorisms, prose sketches, parables, and allegories. Nevertheless, his works revolve around certain coherent contexts and returns again and again to the same themes.

Kassner can be characterized as an antirationalist. His writings deal with themes and concepts of medieval mysticism, hermetics, and Indian philosophy. For him the most important ability of the mind ("Verstand") is not reason ("ratio") but rather the imagination ("Einbildungskraft")which he believed make "living perception" possible. He believed that he had overcome the analytical and rational dissection of the world by means of a "totality" of perception.

According to Schmölders (1999) Kassner's essays have a "predatory component." His early adversary was the "dilettante," that is, modern man who overestimates himself and his place in the world, who would be an artist without being able to the recognize the "whole" of the world, who is a victim of relativism and individualism. He accuses modernity of being without "standard" ("Maß"), no longer able to show man his place in the world. The only way to attain "standard" and "greatness" is through passion and suffering. Kassner further denounces the "actor" who only plays with social roles and turns himself into the accomplise of modernity.

Kassner's post-1908 writings on physiognomy are probably the most original part of his work. His physiognomy is not a system for reading character from facial features; rather it is at its core a conservative cultural philosophy. Kassner saw in modernity a cultural crisis that leaves traces of alienation and uprootedness in human faces. In the intellectual landscape of the 1920's Kassner's world-view thus reflects the "conservative revolution."

According to Kassner's physiognomy, in the old, aristocratic corporate society every person had a face that resulted from his connection to his estate. Modern man has, however, lost the "standard" that anchored him in the community: the face of modern man is thus "gaping" like a wound because it is no longer anchored in the world. Kassner uses "face" in its dual meaning as "vision" and "visage", seeing and countenance. Physiognomic interpretation is, however, not something that can be learned; Kassner believed that the "seer" alone is called to physiognomy. "Imagination" becomes for Kassner the most important human ability, for it alone makes it possible to see the world as a unity or "form" and "to see things together."

Kassner addressed the important intellectual movements of his time. He is a pronounced opponent of psychoanalysis which for him is a further symptom of cultural crisis. It tries to discover in man the most extreme appetites - parricide, incest - and turns the great into the banal. On the other hand, Albert Einstein's theory of relativity was for him the most important confirmation of his philosophical thought. In "Zahl und Gesicht"Kassner even tried to make Einstein's theory compatible with his own understanding of "space world" and "time world."

Although Kassner again and again alludes to currect events in his writings and analyzes contemporary society, this is done in his later work increasingly in a kind of private mythology that makes use of ambiguous, enigmatic and often unclearly defined ideas that often cannot to attributed to a political stance.

Politically, Kassner saw himself early on as a European who tried to characterize the peoples of Europe without favoring his own. His sharpest criticism is often reserved for the Germans. In spite of his youthful enthusiasm for Treitschke and Chamberlain he was never openly antisemitic; he married a woman of Jewish ancestry. Nevertheless, derogatory comments about Jews and Jewish stereotypes can be found in his writing (cf. Schmölders in Neumann/Ott 1999).

In his late work the tendency toward mystical and religious syncretism comes to the fore: Kassner sees himself as the "magician" who employs a magical and inaccessible language to point to "mysteries" and "secrets" of the world: he plays with themes of Buddhism and Indian religions that he mixes with Christian ideas.

Kassner regretted his early admiration of Friedrich Nietzsche. As early as 1910 in "Dilettantismus" he accuses Nietzsche of having contributed to "everyone wanting to be an artist." One of the greatest influences on Kassner was Søren Kierkegaard to whose Christian anthropology he refers again and again. Other named role models are Blaise Pascal and Plato.

Intellectually, Kassner is closest to his contemporaries Hofmannsthal and Rilke, Karl Wolfskehl and Marx Picard (who also produced physiognomic works), but there are also clear philosophical parallels to Oswald Spengler.

Georg Lukács, Georg Simmel and Walter Benjamin admired Kassner's early works - although Benjamin also sharply criticized Kassner. He was praised by his contemporaries: in 1908 Rudolf Borchardt called him the "only genuine mystic of quality;" in 1911 Friedrich Gundolf attested to his "purity and loftiness of sentiment;" Dolf Sternberger, Fritz Usinger, Hans Paeschke were among his admirers. But Kassner also encountered criticism and a lack of understanding, for example, by Rudolf Alexander Schröder. Thomas Mann characterized his book "Zahl and Gesicht" as "hair-splitting and precious;" Friedrich Dürrenmatt reported that for him a meeting Kassner had "broken Kassner's spell."

Kassner received the Gottfried Keller Prize in 1949; the Great Austrian State Prize for Literatur in 1953; and the Schiller Memorial Prize of the State of Baden-Württemberg in 1955.


* "Der ewige Jude in der Dichtung." Dissertation 1897
* "Der Tod und die Maske: Gleichnisse." Leipzig: Insel 1902
* "Motive: Essays." Berlin: Fischer (1906)
* "Melancholia: eine Trilogie des Geistes." Berlin: Fischer 1908
* "Der Dilettantismus." 1910
* "Von den Elementen der menschlichen Groesse." Leipzig: Insel 1911
* "Der indische Gedanke." Leipzig: Insel 1913
* "Die Chimäre." Leipzig: Insel 1914
* "Zahl und Gesicht: nebst einer Einleitung: Der Umriss einer Universalen Physiognomik." Leipzig: Insel 1919
* "Die Grundlagen der Physiognomik." Leipzig: Insel 1922
* "Die Mythen der Seele." Leipzig: Insel 1927
* "Narciss: oder Mythos und Einbildungskraft." Leipzig: Insel. 1928
* "Physiognomik." München: Delphin 1932
* "Transfiguration." Erlenbach-Zürich: Rentsch 1946
* "Die zweite Fahrt." Erlenbach-Zürich: Rentsch 1946 - autobiographisch
* "Das neunzehnte Jahrhundert. Ausdruck und Grösse." Erlenbach-Zürich: Rentsch 1947
* "Das inwendige Reich: Versuch einer Physiognomik der Ideen." Erlenbach-Zürich: Rentsch 1953
* "Das Antlitz des Deutschen in fünf Jahrhunderten deutscher Malerei." Zürich; Freiburg: Atlantis 1954
* "Buch der Erinnerung." Erlenbach-Zürich: Rentsch 1954
* "Geistige Welten." 1958

Kassner also translated works by Plato, Aristotle, André Gide, Gogol, Leo Tolstoy, Dostoievsky, Pushkin and Laurence Sterne.

Complete works

* "Sämtliche Werke", 10 Volumes., edited by Ernst Zinn and Klaus E. Bohnenkamp, Pfullingen: Neske 1969 - 1991

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  • Rudolf Kassner — (* 11. September 1873 in Groß Pawlowitz, Mähren; † 1. April 1959 in Sierre, Kanton Wallis) war ein österreichischer Schriftsteller, Essayist, Übersetzer und Kulturphilosoph. Inhaltsverzeichnis 1 Leben 2 Werk …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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  • Касснер Р. — Рудольф Касснер (нем. Rudolf Kassner, 11 сентября 1873, Гросс Павловиц, Моравия, тогда Австро Венгрия – 1 апреля 1959, кантон Вале, Швейцария) – австрийский писатель, философ культуры, мыслитель эссеист, переводчик греческой философии, английской …   Википедия

  • Касснер Рудольф — Рудольф Касснер (нем. Rudolf Kassner, 11 сентября 1873, Гросс Павловиц, Моравия, тогда Австро Венгрия – 1 апреля 1959, кантон Вале, Швейцария) – австрийский писатель, философ культуры, мыслитель эссеист, переводчик греческой философии, английской …   Википедия

  • Рудольф Касснер — (нем. Rudolf Kassner, 11 сентября 1873, Гросс Павловиц, Моравия, тогда Австро Венгрия – 1 апреля 1959, кантон Вале, Швейцария) – австрийский писатель, философ культуры, мыслитель эссеист, переводчик греческой философии, английской, французской и… …   Википедия

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