Egon Schiele’s Representation of Lovemaking Is Incompatible With Today’s Propaganda Of Private Happiness

Schiele was active at a time when Emperor Franz Joseph had found it politically profitable to marginalize the liberals and to court Austro-Hungary’s subject nationalities instead. As elsewhere in Europe, the age of humane liberal reforms in Austria was coming to a halt… A tide of virulent nationalism and political reaction set in…
Lee Siegel, The Atlantic Online, February 19, 1998

Egon Schiele’s “Lovemaking”, (1915)
Egon Schiele’s “Lovemaking”, (1915)

The both beloveds belonging to this amorous couple, who are clinging to each other during the coitus, look at the painter and the viewers (personifying for them the human society – those who look at them with the right to evaluate and judge them), as if they want to say, that in spite of love for one another and god’s gift of amorous sexuality – they are not a happy people.

Of course, most Western viewers, today, equipped by their privileged child-raring to feel themselves as representatives of democratic society, are quite surprised. What on earth could be the “Lovemaking” protagonists’ problem? They have each other and they love one another, what’s the matter with them then? Why do they have such sad faces? Aren’t they making love? Aren’t they indulging in sexual embrace to feel happy? May be, they are in a deep depression? Are they unemployed, homeless, sick, penniless? What kind of perversion, sexual and moral can make them not to feel blissfully happy while giving themselves to the ultimate mutual bodily embrace?

To the personal opinions that it is not quite normal not to be happy while diving into one of the sweetest experiences given to human beings when our erogenous zones, and brain and endocrine centers of pleasure are all activated and moving through us like breeze of earthly paradise, the position of a democratic society is added, a society which came up with sexual revolution to crown its youth with sexual liberation from traditional authoritarian – psycho-biologically repressive position towards sexuality. Sex is for joy! Sex is for being happy! Sex is for respecting our bodily needs! Sex is democratic! Sex is revolutionary! Sex is innovative, creative and unleashes our mysterious human potentials. We cannot and must not try to return to the repressive past.

When we look at Schiele’s protagonists who are not happy with all their right to sexual pleasure, we are struck with the fact that their feelings somehow are not limited by the early 20th century Europe. Schiele gives his young couple’s complaining-and-insistent position a touch of absoluteness, he gives them a pass into what transcends concrete historical and personal circumstances. More, something troubling is in the intensity with which they are making their point to us. By looking at them we, somehow, feel that it is possible to refuse sexual happiness if you are born in human history. A rare human generation is brought to life in the normal international and societal conditions. We live amidst wars and a disgusting intra-social fight for a higher place in the social hierarchy. From childhood we live amidst inequality and injustice, humiliation and envy, mutual hate and manipulating efforts to promote our interests at the expense of others. We feel and observe the poverty. Wars, revolutions and crimes are literally our cradle. And in this situation our societies with ideological self-image as democracy matter-of-factly offer us the avenues of sexual happiness. Therefore it is not surprising that the majority of us, hungry for happiness, will jump upon sex as we do on hotdogs, potato chips and Pepsi, like boxers on the boxing bag, like hockey players on puck and pop-singers on their high-tech guitars, and the army on its super-drones. And it is not surprising that the most sensitive among us will refuse this happiness as cynical efforts to brainwash us into making us insensitive towards our own or our fellow human beings’ sufferings.

Indeed, something cynical is present in our ability to praise our democracy when it creates one war after another and austerity programs for us, Americans while we cling to our private liberties. Marcuse few decades ago warned us about the socio-psychological manipulative strategies of repressive tolerance and repressive de-sublimation which stimulate in population a fixation on and addiction to the de-sublimated pleasures while repressing sublimated – cultural activities (not directly, of course – this could be imitation of totalitarianism, but through distraction and selective investments – enjoy sex and consumerism while tolerating our wars, bail outs and bail ins of bankrupt financial entrepreneurs and austerity policies).

When Schiele created his painting – concepts of repressive tolerance and repressive de-sublimation didn’t exist yet, but when you are born amidst wars, epidemics, social strife for survival and success and moralistic hate and intolerance, like Schiele did – to enjoy sex means to be more than a hypocrite. Egon Schiele was too talented (oriented on truth through his art) to accept this avoidance of the truth position. His talent needed his sensitivity and his humanism to develop and flower amidst wasteland.

Our twenty-first century tough pop-pedagogy is that people must succeed in order to survive. The conservative ideological propaganda is preparing us for wars, intolerance, indifference and cruelty. The rich decision-makers seduce our children to learn from all sorts of violent entertainments. We have to learn how to mix opposites – to be militant while feeling that we are kind, to be cruel but caring, to kill because we love (the more love we have the more killing we have to do). It was like this already in the Soviet Union – the “unity of contradictions”. There is no love without hate, and no peace without wars. Peace is made of wars like human flesh of bodily cells.

But geniuses like Schiele try to return us to normal human reactions, when cruelty is cruelty, hate is hate, love is love, war is war, decency is decency. But they also teach us how to resist the psychological and logical mess created by propagandists of obedience to power and wealth as the ultimate benefactors of humankind. Schiele in his “Lovemaking” teaches us that pleasures and private liberties can turn into vanities and betrayal of human decency. To become conscious about repressive de-sublimation as a consequence of the policy of repressive tolerance as examples of propagandist misleading of the population, is a very difficult, almost impossible task. But so was the very life of Egon Schiele, one of our teachers of the tormenting beauty of truth.