BEER-HOFMANN, RICHARD (1866–1945), Austrian poet and playwright. The son of a Moravian lawyer, Beer-Hofmann was adopted by his uncle, the Viennese industrialist Alois Hofmann. After graduating in law at the University of Vienna, he was drawn into the "Young Vienna" literary group, which included many of his close friends, Arthur *Schnitzler, Peter *Altenberg, Hermann Bahr, Theodor *Herzl, Hugo von *Hofmannsthal, and Felix *Salten. He influenced the style of Viennese Décadence in his Novellen (1893) and in his earliest lyric poem, Schlaflied fuer Miriam (1898). His only novel, Der Tod Georgs (1900), depicts a main protagonist whose fascination with paganism and aestheticism is replaced in the end by a return to Jewish tradition. Self-sacrifice for the glory of God remains an enduring motif in Beer-Hofmann's oeuvre. His first drama, Der Graf von Charolais (1904), features a character – the "Rote Itzig" – who contrasts the Elizabethan tragedy of the narration with the ongoing suffering of Jewry. Beer-Hoffmann's work reveals the special message Judaism seems to offer the world when Nietzschean philosophy considers it lost to man.
If Beer-Hofmann's early works can be interpreted as seeing the rebirth of modernity out of the spirit of Judaism, his subsequent work may be viewed as seeing the rebirth of Judaism out of the spirit of modernity. Impressed and inspired by the Neo-Wagnerian theater concept of Max *Reinhardt, who had already staged Der Graf von Charolais, Beer-Hofmann tried to open to Jewry a space from which religious imperatives had banned it: the theater. In pursuit of a "Jewish national drama," he continued work on his biblical cycle, Die Historie von Koenig David, for decades. The prologue Jaákobs Traum, premiering in 1918, focuses on Israel's election by blending Jacob's dream of the ladder and his wrestling with the angel. In contrast to the pagan rituals of sacrifice in which contemporary dramatic theory identified the roots of tragedy, the play makes the sacrifice of Isaac the primal scene of Jewish theater. The transition play Ruth und Boas remained a fragment. The third part of a planned pentalogy, Der junge David, was completed in 1933 but never staged. The drama shows David in conflict between his destiny as king and his wish to leave royal dignity to God. Again, the action is linked to the sacrifice of Isaac. Jewish theater, in Beer-Hoffmann's conception, is legitimate only if it eschews idols and has no symbols or icons at its disposal, just as Abraham stood at Mount Moriah with nothing to sacrifice but his own offspring. Further theoretical reflection is provided by the prelude to a nonexistent fourth part, the Vorspiel auf dem Theater zu Koenig David (1936), where the stage is likened to an altar on which theater itself must be sacrificed to avoid idolatry. The only one of Beer-Hofmanns dramatical works to achieve sustained international attention was Jaákobs Traum, which was staged in Palestine as early as the early 1920s.
Beer-Hofmann emigrated from Austria to New York in 1939. Verse (1941) includes all the poems that he wished preserved. A posthumous fragment in tribute to his wife, Paula (1949), captures the autumnal mood of Austria as it influenced his own life and shaped his personality.
S. Liptzin, Richard Beer-Hofmann (1936); E. Kahler, Verantwortung des Geistes (1952), 131–42. add. bibliography: R. Hank, Mortifikation und Beschwoerung. Zur Veraenderung ästhetischer Wahrnehmung in der Moderne am Beispiel Richard Beer-Hofmanns (1984); S. Scherer, Richard Beer-Hofmann und die Wiener Moderne (1993); M. Bunzl, "The Poetics of Politics and Politics of Poetics: Richard Beer-Hofmann and Theodor Herzl Reconsidered," in: The German Quarterly 69 (1996), 277–304, P. Theisohn, Die Urbarkeit der Zeichen. Zionismus und Literatur – eine andere Poetik der Moderne (2005), 129–80.
[Sol Liptzin /
Philipp Theisohn (2nd ed.)]
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