Auersberger apartment. Location of the dinner party in Vienna. The narrator’s rage is directed primarily against the artistic pretensions of his hosts and their friends, which he detects in every aspect of their existence. Regardless of what they wear, what they eat, or what they say, he sees only sham and pretension in their efforts to impress their fellow guests. The narrator spends most of the evening sitting alone in an out-of-the-way corner, which gives him the opportunity to watch without being seen and also symbolizes his profound estrangement from this social gathering.
Although the narrator has something nasty to say about all who are at the dinner, he reserves his severest comments for those who represent three aspects of Viennese cultural life. His hosts are musicians; the guest of honor is an actor, and another severely denigrated guest is an author with whom the narrator once had an affair. In describing his deep dislike of these people, he does not stop with his contempt for their personalities, but goes on to justify his opinions by sketching a bleak picture of the cultural context of their individual art forms. Thus his hosts are the pathetic survivors of a moribund musical tradition, the actor is a pompous example of the theater’s irrelevance to contemporary life, and the author is an all-too-typical representative of the mutual admiration society that stifles genuine literary talent. These exercises in sociological analysis of the places where culture...
(The entire section is 623 words.)