Leopold Museum: Marjorie Perloff awarded Austrian Cross of Honor for Science and Art, First Class, as well as Citizenship

Decoration and citizenship certificate bestowed on renowned literary scholar at the Leopold Museum

The President of the Austrian National Council, Wolfgang Sobotka, the Vienna City Councilor for Cultural Affairs and Science, Veronica Kaup-Hasler, the President of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Anton Zeilinger, and the Leopold Museum’s Director Hans-Peter Wipplinger congratulated Marjorie Perloff, who was presented with the Austrian Cross of Honor for Science and Art as well as the certificate of conferment of Austrian citizenship during a ceremony held on the afternoon of 10th June.

The Leopold Museum and the Wittgenstein Initiative, represented by general secretary and co-founder Radmila Schweitzer, hosted a special event on Thursday: The Ministry of Cultural Affairs invited guests to attend the ceremony, which saw the Austrian Cross of Honor for Science and Art, First Class, as well as the certificate of conferment of Austrian citizenship awarded to the renowned Austrian-American literary scholar Prof. Dr. Dr.hc.mult. Marjorie G. Perloff.

Born Gabriele Mintz in 1931 in Vienna, the daughter of economist Ilse Mintz and lawyer Maximilian Mintz, Perloff was forced to flee Austria together with her parents at the age of six-and-a-half after the National Socialists’ seizure of power. Despite all the difficulties they encountered, the family managed to establish themselves in the US, and Gabriele Mintz, who later called herself Marjorie, embarked on an exemplary academic career.

Following a welcoming address and introductory words by the Leopold Museum’s Director Hans-Peter Wipplinger, the invited guests listened to Prof. Perloff’s speech on the topic Austrian Culture Today – The View from Los Angeles. A laudation was delivered by the Austrian quantum physicist and President of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Prof. Anton Zeilinger. The Cross of Honor was awarded by Senior Civil Servant Reinhold Hohengartner on behalf of Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen. The certificate of citizenship was bestowed by the Vienna City Councilor for Cultural Affairs and Science, Veronica Kaup-Hasler, on behalf of the Mayor and Governor of Vienna, Michael Ludwig. In his capacity as the second highest-ranking representative of the Republic of Austria, the President of the Austrian National Council, Wolfgang Sobotka, gave a speech on the history of commemorative culture.

The Director of the Leopold Museum, Hans-Peter Wipplinger, who was more than happy to provide the museum’s auditorium as the venue for this event, highlighted the connections between Prof. Perloff’s research into philosophy and literature of Viennese Modernism and the core competencies of the Leopold Museum. In the permanent presentation Vienna 1900. Birth of Modernism, the museum affords arguably the most comprehensive overview of the artistic, cultural and intellectual life in Vienna between 1870 and 1930. Many of the writers and philosophers, from Karl Kraus to Ludwig Wittgenstein, Perloff has focused on in her publications – most recently in Edge of Irony: Modernism in the Shadow of the Habsburg Empire (2019) – are also honored in the Leopold Museum’s permanent exhibition. The cover of the aforementioned book by Perloff features Egon Schiele’s 1912 Self-Portrait with Chinese Lantern Plant, a masterpiece from the Leopold Collection. As Wipplinger reminded guests, “the view from outside has made essential contributions to the development of the brand ‘Vienna 1900’”, adding that “some of the most eminent publications on the topic were written by Anglo-American scholars, among them Eric Kandel, Carl E. Schorske and Alan Janik”. He went on to call researchers like Marjorie Perloff “ambassadors for the Republic of Austria, who make the achievements of Austrian artists and intellectuals known around the world”. Wipplinger highlighted the Jewish culture and tradition, without which the unparalleled heyday of Viennese intellectual life in the early 20th century would not have been possible, naming, among others, the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, the composers Gustav Mahler and Arnold Schönberg, the man of the theater Max Reinhardt and the author of the Austrian constitution, Hans Kelsen. He closed by saying that the Leopold Museum imparted this message to around 500,000 people a year, including 30,000 pupils, reminding them of the bitter cultural loss sustained by this Cultural Exodus from Vienna (Peter Weibel).

Marjorie Perloff was delighted that the ceremony was held at the Leopold Museum, which she called her “favorite museum”. She was especially impressed with the way the museum presentation illustrates the rupture between the art of the late 19th century and the moment at the beginning of the 20th century when “things suddenly changed completely”. Perloff further expressed her admiration for the Vienna Literature Museum. While she conceded that her native Los Angeles could not be more different from Vienna in terms of its landscape and view over the Pacific, she stressed that, in some ways, L.A. had been much closer to Europe than New York on account of the presence of émigrés from the fields of art and culture, including Thomas Mann, Vicki Baum, Bertold Brecht, Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, and from the scholarly circles surrounding Friedrich Hayek and the economist Ludwig von Mises, and also due to exponents from Hollywood’s film scene, among them the director Billy Wilder and the actor Paul Henreid, both of whom had been born in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. She called this phenomenon a renaissance accompanied by nostalgia. According to Perloff, the ironic designation “Beiunskis” – coined by the frequent lamentations of the exiled that “bei uns” (at home) everything had been better – was commonly used among the expatriates. Over the past decades, several stays in Vienna, some of which caused long-forgotten memories to resurface, have helped Perloff to gradually reacquaint herself with her birthplace.

Anton Zeilinger recalled his encounter with Marjorie Perloff in connection with the documentary film project, based on his idea, The Class of ‘38. Exile & Excellence by Frederick Baker. The film features preeminent scholars, including Eric Kandel, Martin Karplus, Ruth Klüger and Walter Kohn, all of whom were united not only by their persecution and expulsion from Austria by the National Socialists following the “Anschluss” in 1938 but also by their stellar academic careers. The fates of these people are presented in personal interviews, affording subsequent generations insights into the experiences of persecution, flight, displacement and the forging of new lives in foreign countries. Zeilinger, who was born in 1945, told of his first, shocking discovery of the tragedy of genocide, when, aged 13, he visited an exhibition with his school which showed photographs of survivors of a concentration camp after its liberation. When he moved to the US, where he taught at the MIT in Boston, he met the physicist Victor Weisskopf, who had emigrated from Vienna. After a lecture, Weisskopf approached Zeilinger, who was rather proud of his English, with the words “Are you also from Vienna?” – proof that his accent was clearly assignable. Zeilinger also mentioned Marjorie Perloff’s grandfather. Her mother Ilse Mintz was the daughter of the economist Richard Schüller, who from 1932 to 1938 acted as Austria’s envoy and authorized minister to the League of Nations. When Perloff returned to her lost home in 1955, she found a city whose Jewish citizens had all but vanished, while in 1930 around 10 % of the Viennese population had been Jewish. Zeilinger closed by referring to a photograph taken in 1967 in the Salzkammergut region showing Marjorie Perloff and her two daughters wearing dirndls – some 30 years after the Nazis had banned Jewish fellow citizens from wearing traditional Austrian costumes.

Senior Civil Servant Reinhold Hohengartner (Federal Ministry of Arts, Culture, Civil Service and Sport), who presented Marjorie Perloff with the Cross of Honor on behalf of Federal Minister of Culture, Werner Kogler, honored her as someone who had made an outstanding contribution “not only as a scholar but also as a cultural mediator in the best sense of the term”. He emphasized that the Austrian Cross of Honor was awarded to those “who have gained wide recognition and an outstanding reputation through their eminent achievements in the fields of science or art”. He went on to stress that Perloff had always publicly championed art and culture, and had made an especially important contribution to the study of literature, adding that – particularly in light of the pandemic and its “Generation COVID”, which is called a lost generation by some – it was important to honor those who had achieved great things for society despite enormous obstacles, such as persecution, expulsion and loss, and to try and keep humanity from drifting off into a cultural pessimism.

City Councilor Veronica Kaup-Hasler joined the well-wishers, referring to herself as “postwoman” of the Mayor of Vienna Michael Ludwig, and handing Perloff the certificate of citizenship with the words “we are proud to call you our fellow citizen”. Kaup-Hasler, a German philologist, acknowledged the vigor and spiritedness with which Perloff invited readers to enter her world of thought. She thanked the Austrian-born neo-citizen for accepting the gesture, lamenting the lost “flow of intellect and humanity” that went hand in hand with forced emigration. Kaup-Hasler emphatically stated: “There is a mandate for our future, for our descendants to ensure that what happened will never happen again”, adding that it was about a “gesture of community” and about sending a “clear message to the country and future generations”.

The President of the Austrian National Council, Wolfgang Sobotka, expressed his delight at Prof. Perloff having accepted her Austrian citizenship. He congratulated Marjorie Perloff on her academic achievements and stressed that it was his personal wish and a great honor to be part of the festivities celebrating a personality “whose expertise led to outstanding accomplishments”. Perloff presented her findings on Austrian modernist literature on 11th June in her lecture Die verschwundene Austromoderne nach 1938 [The Lost Austro-Modernism after 1938] during the 2021 Wittgenstein Conference, addressing the consequences of emigration and the enormous loss of culture to the remarkable Viennese society of the interwar period. Sobotka called the conferment of citizenship “a late but all the more important sign of reconciliation”, stating that of the 120,000 people who had once lost their identity, 15,000 have since agreed to re-affirm their affiliation with Austria. He thanked Perloff for “having taken this step”. He went on to say that 1938 had not come out of nowhere: “In 1945, Austria redefined its role. Only Federal Chancellor Franz Vranitzky made it unequivocally clear in his speech before the Knesset that Austria was not only a victim of National Socialism, but that there had been many Austrian offenders. A further important step in our culture of remembrance is the Shoah Wall of Names that is being erected at Ostarrichi Park in front of the Austrian National Bank, which commemorates the 45,000 Jewish children, women and men from Austria murdered in the Shoah”.

Prof. Marjorie Perloff thanked Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen for awarding her the Cross of Honor, the Austrian Embassy in the US for suggesting the award, Prof. Anton Zeilinger for his speech, Senior Civil Servant Reinhold Hohengartner for presenting her with the decoration, as well as the President of the Austrian National Council, Wolfgang Sobotka, for his well-chosen words and presence. She further thanked Radmila Schweitzer for the work carried out by the Wittgenstein Initiative, as well as Vienna’s Governor Michael Ludwig for the conferment of Austrian citizenship and City Councilor Veronica Kaup-Hasler for presenting her with the certificate. Perloff went on to express her gratitude to Leopold Museum Director Hans-Peter Wipplinger for agreeing to make “his wonderful and world-renowned museum” the venue of the ceremony, as well as her daughter Carey Perloff and her granddaughter, attorney Alexandra Perloff-Giles, for having accompanied her to Vienna.



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