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Claudia Lieb (Münster)

Window-shopping. Fetishistic Transactions in Fictional Prose of the "Münchner Moderne"

Window-shopping. Fetishistic Transactions in Fictional Prose of the "Münchner Moderne"
The 19th century romantic movement is preoccupied with the myth of female seduction and male projections thereof. A revival of these aspects contributes to the turn-of-the-century movement known as "Münchner Moderne": Oskar Panizza’s novella Der Korsetten-Fritz (1893) and Thomas Mann’s novella Gladius Dei (1902) are concerned with mental disorders marked by excessive erotic imaginations and aberrant sexual practices. Both works explore the substitution of the beloved one by an inorganic thing that can be seen in a Munich shop window. The relation between love and madness runs on pre-Freudian theories of fetishism, while the fetish itself has a self-referential meaning. Being an artefact, both a source of voyeuristic pleasures and an object of worship, the fetish serves as a metaphor for art.

Lovelorn Lovers

Throughout the history of literary fiction, discourses of love have been all the rage. As Julia Kristeva puts it, each and every story is about love, for the great artistic oeuvres talk about nothing else (1989:2). But they rarely talk about happiness in love, and pleasurable, lasting and requited love. My reading follows Niklas Luhmann (1999: 10), who says love is both an 'anomaly' and an 'absolutely normal improbability'. If, by and large, love goes beyond the bounds of sanity, literary amour passion does so intensively. More often than not, in literary fiction, the surge of passionate love does not result in fulfilled lovers, but in the failure of love and individual breakdown, for which young Werther serves as the classic example.

As in Werther’s case, literature repeatedly gives force to a specific idea of love. Even if it ends in a grave, true love means loving one, and only one person for life. Examples range from Greek and Roman myth to the minnesingers, from Hero and Leander to Romeo and Juliet. The narratives of great difficulties to be overcome suggest that love’s energies are triggered by craving, and not by possession. Distance rather than closeness, trouble rather than ease, imagination rather than fact are necessary to make this model of exclusive love work. One strategy is to wrap the beloved in a tight garment of virtual images. Goethe’s Werther, for instance, produces paintings and a silhouette of his beloved but untouchable "Lotte".

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To maintain the barrier that passionate love requires, one must be willing to love a substitute, a substitute of the body that reveals its true character as being ultimately textual. Werther’s artistic practice surpasses the reality of love and turns his beloved into graphic signs: "Ich lese in ihren schwarzen Augen wahre Teilnehmung an mir", he writes and concludes that Lotte reciprocates (Goethe 1994: 77). He reads her eyes like a book, and so her body evaporates to become a text. But what appears to be a clear message to its reader is, in fact, ambiguous and open to abuse. Werther’s love is only possible as a literary or artistic act; beyond this it eludes realisation. In his letters, he can communicate the incommunicable: love. In his fantasies, he can breathe life into its images and signs. Amongst others, the novel shows what it means to feel the thrill of love in the world of art: the body vanishes and is replaced by a work of art, or a text (cf. Kremer 2000).

A window on the world

In the deluge of literary love stories since Goethe, women are often connected with pictographic material, and various optical instruments come into play. The German Romantic period imposes many types of glass barriers between the hero and his beloved, such as telescopes, looking-glasses, or windows. Typically, it is the man who looks, and the woman: she is subject to his gaze. The male gaze through a window turns the woman into a mental picture enclosed by a frame. Modern literary fiction is littered with windows because they emphasise the importance of the eye. As far as literary, cultural and media history is concerned, sight dominates the other four senses when related to love and desire (e.g. Elias 1995: 281). In narrative fiction, both visual perception and the act of imagination are foregrounded when someone looks into a stranger’s window and sees an erotic female body. Peering through the filter of thick glass and maybe a curtain, lovesick heroes can expect anything but a clear view. They are restricted, if not blocked by a frame and adjoining solid walls. As it is incomplete and therefore unsatisfactory, the partial view of a woman is bound to fuel fantasies in her male observer. Thus, windows provide a perfect stage for the drama of passionate love.

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A tantalisingly incomplete view behind glass also explains why shop windows attract the gaze of passers-by. The shop window as we know it appeared at the dawn of the modern age in the early nineteenth century. The history of shop windows is linked with the technical innovation of large glass plates. As early as in 1701, it was possible to produce sheets of glass almost two metres square in size, but this was a costly affair. It took a century to make window glass cheaper and, just as important, truly transparent, which was crucial to the development of shop windows. Initially, they served the function of ordinary windows as sources of light for shops. As a side-effect, glancing into a shop’s interior happened to stimulate shoppers. This is why goods were soon placed before windows that grew ever larger. What followed were arcades and spacious department stores: London’s Burlington Arcade was launched in 1819, Paris’s Galerie d’Orleans in 1829, several Berlin department stores started business between 1837 and 1840, Galerie Saint-Hubert hit Brussels in 1846/47, etc. (cf. Weibel 1980: 11-12). Meanwhile, the skill of arranging goods in shop windows grew increasingly important. From 1900 on, window-dressing was a profession that required training, and in 1925, a magazine about window-dressing was initiated (Osterwold 1974: 273). For passers-by, shop windows, like windows, became an effective medium for entertaining fantasies, because they show an intriguing glimpse of what can be found inside the store.

In his Passagen-Werk, begun in 1927, Walter Benjamin stresses the significance of department stores, "a recent invention of industrial luxury" (2003: 31), for the history of the modern age. As the most important architectural form of the nineteenth century, glamorous Parisian shopping arcades – les passages – are at the core of his research into that century’s preoccupations, "glass-roofed, marble-panelled corridors extending through whole blocks of buildings [...]. Lining both sides of these corridors, which get their light from above, are the most elegant shops, so that the arcade is a city, a world in miniature" (Benjamin 2003: 31). In this context, the shop window’s function is analogous to the function of the nineteenth-century interior: "a stimulus to intoxication and dream" (Benjamin 2003: 216). Benjamin defines interior not as the inside of a private habitation, but as a public and urban space related to the flaneur. Embracing the city, the flaneur gazes at shop windows that enticingly offer their wares. A world in its own right seems to rise from the window’s surface, exposing its goods to the eye, but effectively keeping them untouchable.

While cliché has it that window-shopping is a female activity, Benjamin views it as originally a nineteenth-century male obsession. His theory is rooted in historical fact. The seductions of the city and its shopping arcades emerged at a time when the street was a world forbidden to middle-class women. Their space was the house, an area of intimacy and security in contrast to the unprotected space of the city. If women appeared in the streets, they provoked an ambivalent reaction, since this was the domain of workers and prostitutes and no place for a respectable woman (cf. Sykora 1999: 130). Moving about town without a man to escort them, women were perceived as sexual targets. Terms such as street-girl, street-walker, or woman of the town stem from a male-oriented city. Women who left the splendid isolation of the home would be seen as cheap and easy to obtain.

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Eugene Atget Corsets Boulevard de Strasbourg, 1912

Figure 1: Eugene Atget Corsets, Boulevard de Strasbourg, 1912

Shop windows were decorated with female display-dummies from an early stage, and hence, as Peter Weibel (1980: 7) observes, shop windows, like peep-shows, were designed to satisfy male voyeuristic pleasures. In the public space of street life, the erotic promises of a woman shifted from the real body to its artificial double.

Peep show and invitation to voyeurism aside, when shop windows are part of an artwork, they are connected with the self-referential character of art. According to Katharina Sykora (1999), shop windows are close relatives of photographs. In her analysis of modern photography, the shop window is the paradigm of modern cosmopolitan cities. The window motif, like a photographic image, serves the function of a self-referential membrane, she says, for it works in a similar way. The optical lens becomes a substitute for the window glass, both are transparent invisible glass walls. Sykora points out that the two media share the quality of transparency as well as solidity. So, in art’s game of simulation, a photograph suggests direct access to the woman it portrays but blocks this access via its form, just as the shop window does (Sykora 1999: 138).

My suggestion is that this thesis can be transferred to the shop windows of literature. In literary texts, we can see that the window motif can also work as a self-referential membrane – and actually the Middle High German word membrâne denotes a parchment.

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Oskar Panizza: Der Korsetten-Fritz (1893)

Panizza’s novella Der Korsetten-Fritz is structured as a fictional autobiography. Now in a psychiatric clinic, the narrator, "Fritz", writes his memoirs. As a schoolboy, we learn that he lived with his uncle’s family in Munich where he was subject to a strict patriarchal order. His aunt, however, allowed him to make secret trips into the buzzing city, a world apart from his prudish Protestant home. Yet, the freedom he enjoyed rambling about town, did not last long. It 'suddenly' ended when he discovered the shop window of a lingerie store with a fine collection of women’s corsets on show: He was on his way home when "ich plötzlich [...] vor einem großen Glasfenster, wie vom Blitz getroffen, stehen blieb, und fassungs- und willenlos, wie ein angeschossenes Tier, dort hineinstarrte" (Panizza 1997: 116). Robbed of both will and control, the fifteen-year-old was thunderstruck by the display’s attraction, literally captured like an 'animal wounded by a shot'. He stared at the splendid corsets, at their opulent cups and 'precious middle parts'. It is an exotic sexual initiation: instead of being initiated into an accepted social form of erotic satisfaction, he becomes a fetishist.

Panizza, who gave up his early career as a psychiatrist to be a writer, added some pre-Freudian theories of fetishism to his text. For early nineteenth-century philosophers such as Auguste Compte, and late nineteenth-century psychologists such as Alfred Binet – who was the first to use the term to denote sexual fetishes (Binet 1887: 142-167) – the origin of fetishism is a singular personal event that structures desire. This notion of a traumatic fixation on a unique, powerful experience as the source of compulsory repetition is, of course, elementary to the psychoanalytic concept of fetishism (cf. Pietz 1985: 9). So, too, is the notion of the fetish object’s basic materiality. "Marxism’s commodity fetish, psychoanalysis’s sexual fetish, and modernism’s fetish as art object all in an essential way involve the object’s untranscended materiality." (Pietz 1985: 7)

This mania for a material thing, and the compulsion to look at it and visualise it again and again, mark the protagonist’s fast-emerging erotic practice in Der Korsetten-Fritz once he has had his original experience in front of the shop window. This rite of passage accommodates some irony by crossing boyish naïveté with imaginary necrophilia. As young Fritz has no idea that what is behind the glass is women’s underwear, he believes he is attracted to preserved human skin. The ordering power of the fetish is derived from his favourite object: an orange-coloured 'body' with 'black piping', made for a tiny waist and a 'bold giant breast': "Besonders ein orangegelber Leib nahm meine ganzen Sinne gefangen, er war schwarz gerändert, die Hüftschwingungen zart [...], die Brust war kühn und gewaltig" (Panizza 1997: 117).

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Thinly disguised, literature’s model of exclusive love is at work here: true obsession means being obsessed with one, and only one fetish, for life. What is more, Panizza cites a literary discourse of his time that deals with the connection between desire and clothing. As early as in 1869, two decades before Binet gave the word significance in the new social science of psychology, it was Leopold von Sacher-Masoch who published a novel about fetish called Venus im Pelz. His Venus in furs had far-reaching consequences. It turned out to be a source for Kafka’s Verwandlung (cf. Kremer 1998), and it inspired Richard von Krafft-Ebing, a Viennese psychiatrist, to appropriate the clinical term of masochism. Concerning the story-line of Venus im Pelz, the title rather speaks for itself, for the hero’s erotic fantasies are triggered by women wrapped up in fur (Sacher-Masoch 1997). Panizza’s Korsetten-Fritz also gets straight to the point, fusing a persona and a common sex toy in its title. Fetishism as a whole, however, is not only about objects;

desires and beliefs and narrative structures establishing a practice are also fixed (or fixated) by the fetish, whose power is precisely the power to repeat its originating act of forging an identity of articulated relations between certain otherwise heterogeneous things. (Pietz 1985: 7-8)

This definition can be applied to the corsets in Panizza’s novella. At the beginning, they epitomise the economic seductions of the city and establish a discourse of desire. This discourse is linked with a discourse of spectatorship and then topped with adolescent imagination gone utterly astray. It is true that Fritz, peering into the window of the lingerie shop, comes to realise that the displays he sees must be dead. But this does not stop him from thinking that the objects of his desire are still living and breathing in nature. So he fantasises that there is "eine farbige, glitzernde Menschenrasse", a 'multi-coloured, radiant race of human beings' hidden from the civilised world, and he longs to find its enclave (Panizza 1997: 117).

When he starts to examine the shop window more carefully, he notices that the corsets are filled with some strange white 'content'. This "Inhalt" is enough evidence for him to prove that he is seeing the mortal remains of human beings. If they are to be put up for sale, human beings, of course, must be cleansed of 'blood and entrails': "Oh, ich lasse mich nicht so leicht täuschen! – Es sind also veritable Menschenhülsen – gewiß! Man kann doch das Blut und die Eingeweide nicht darinlassen!" (Panizza 1997: 118). With this deception disguised as a truth, the hero’s erotic pleasures drift away into a fantasy that transforms feminine undergarments into a real woman’s body.

As the woman’s body is replaced by its clothes (and vice versa), male desire is not directed to the body but to its fancy exterior covering. Although Fritz recognises that the cover is a cover ("Menschenhülsen"), he misinterprets it as a reference to a living body. He is fooled by something that, according to Michel Foucault, is fundamental to every erotic arrangement: masquerade. In his essay Un si cruel savoir, Foucault says that masquerade, like a veil, has the power to both hide and show; like a mirror, masquerade reflects the truth as if it were an illusion and withholds it from the viewers while offering it to them; masquerade is also a filter, he says, because it conveys impressions that are both natural and illusionary (Foucault 1988: 68).

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In Der Korsetten-Fritz, there is yet another filter which obscures the hero’s view, and this is why the orange seducer remains behind glass even in his fantasies. The shop window keeps the object of desire at a distance and makes sure it stays out of reach. All the precious things on display are pushed even further away for poor Fritz, for he believes they are prohibitively expensive. 'Only a king' could possibly afford goods made of human beings, he thinks: "Aber wer kann so kostbare Menschen kaufen? Wohl nur ein König!" (Panizza 1997: 118). He prices each corset at several thousand "Gulden", and he concludes that he will never obtain them. It is precisely this distance, established by the window, which permits sexual fantasies that actual possession would make impossible. Desire’s energies are generated and sustained by frustration and longing; they disappear with the possession of the object.

Analogous with the artificial filling of the corsets, Fritz stuffs his inner self with imaginings of the female body so outrageous that they subvert his everyday reality. Standing in front of the shop window, he fantasises:

Diese Geschöpfe haben also, fing ich jetzt an zu konstruieren, einen höchst zarten, grazilen Leib, das heißt, Hüfte, Taille, Brust und diese zwei höchst interessanten, an ihr hervorspringenden, schäumenden Kugeln; rechts und links von der Brust fliegen zwei nackte, schlanke Arme heraus, zum Rudern, zum Fliegen. Farbige fledermausartige Flughäute verbinden diese ihrer ganzen Länge nach mit dem Körper, [...] und zwischen den zarten Perlmutterfingern gibt es noch weiche, durchsichtige Schwimmhäute. Oben an die Brust setzt sich ein blendendweißer, vielleicht schon befiederter Hals an; dann folgt ein Mäulchen von Korallenfarbe [...]. (Panizza 1997: 124)1

The fantastic imagery grows rampant because there is no actual body to be seen. Renate Werner (1999: 222-224) has shown that the images of bodily excess, delivered by the narrator, are typical symbols of feminine eroticism in literature written by men at the turn of the twentieth century. Among the most prominent examples, we have the female body laced up, and the female demon shaped as a pre-historic creature that swims or flies and has webs between its claws. Panizza also cites the sweet cross-breeds between girls and fluffy birds, as well as the fantasy of a female vampire bat. At the other end of the scale, there are necrophilous and sadistic images of mutilated and dismembered women. This kind of imagery is dramatised when it comes to looking into the shop window, where the corsets represent what Benjamin calls the "exchange between woman and ware – between carnal pleasure and the corpse. [...] For fashion was never anything other than the parody of the motley cadaver, provocation of death through the woman" (2003: 62-63). Fritz, who is obsessed by the window, believes he sees human torsos stripped of their heads and legs. He says they do not exactly look slaughtered ("nicht gerade geschlachtet"), but rather as if limbs have been hacked off ("mehr abgehackt"), in sum:

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ausgeschälte Rümpfe mit drangelassener Hüfte, aber blutlos, sogar höchst säuberlich, glänzend, seidig, furchtbar graziös und elegant und wie zum Umarmen und Küssen eingerichtet [...] – wie soll ich sagen! – leichenartig konservierte Hüften mit vorgequellter Brust, Menschenmumien [...] (Panizza 1997: 116).2

A medical discourse of dissection is linked with a discourse of love drifting into necrophilia. Meanwhile, attention swings between the body’s image and the body’s embalmed texture. Small wonder the protagonist’s sexual drive is not aimed at satisfaction; it is a schematic desire, kept alive by compulsively repeated projections of the grotesque. But there is yet another element which is essential to the structure of this obsession. 'How can I say this!' – that self-directed cry of the narrator shows his erotic practice is also a matter of words. Given that he declares he is writing his own biography in the end, it is also a practice of writing.

Der Korsetten-Fritz is suffused with self-referential imagery of art, focused on the fetish and partly on the fetish’s medium: the shop window. Much of the action takes place in or in front of a draper’s shop window, and with props like a "Vorhang" (Panizza 1997: 119) the window-related scenes are clearly dressed up as stage events. The window’s theatrical status is joined by allusions to another medium capable of entertaining fantasies: the written text. Among these, the most powerful self-referential imagery is provided by the novella’s obsessive game with "Stoff" and "Inhalt". Since Stoff denotes things like cloth, fabric, or weave, as well as semantic material and topics, Panizza takes the allegoric potential of this contrast between exterior shell and content to its limit. On a metaphorical level, it is the weave of the text itself, the textures of writing which are on show behind the clothes in the shop window; and therefore the novella itself becomes a fetish, lusted after by the reader.

All this runs on the established assumption that a text is something "woven". If this is the case, then the fashionable garment is made of a weave whose texture equals the text. In a similar sense, Benjamin (1991: 118) pointed out that fashion is a "Medium" enticing the sexual drive into a "Stoffwelt". What is more, in occidental history, the function of the written sign has long been analogous to that of Panizza’s corsets: the function of a cover hiding an unseen content that is to be unveiled by the reader. Panizza, however, undercuts this metaphor of the text as an off-the-peg dress, because he gradually eliminates the contrast between cover and content. The cover is not really a cover, for there is no well-defined content beneath the undergarments. Although their white filling suggests that there may be a hidden meaning, the text leaves it to the reader – and to Fritz – to make sense of that blank. So the corsets become an allegory for art’s way of playing with language. Literature is a game that players only play successfully when they refrain from cracking its code. Instead, literature works like a surface, where possible meanings may pop up at one moment and vanish at the next.

In his book Le Plaisir du texte, Roland Barthes elaborates such a definition of literary artworks. 'Text' means 'something woven', he says, but instead of seeing this weave as a ready-made veil that covers the meaning, it must be viewed as a process, whereby the text emerges from constant weaving.

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'Lost in this weave, in this texture, the subject dissolves like a spider melting into the constructive secretions of its own web' (Barthes 1992: 94). Getting lost in one’s own imaginary constructions is something Panizza’s hero is obsessed with, and thus the whole novel turns out be an allegory of reading. Reading, then, is not about hunting down a singular and fixed content, but about an imaginary game with signs where the sky is the limit.

Thomas Mann: Gladius Dei (1902)

Research has shown that Thomas Mann, in fact, knew Panizza and his works. The novella Gladius Dei shows some striking similarities to Der Korsetten-Fritz that suggest Panizza’s influence. Both texts focus on the shocking perception of a shop window full of purchasable women, simulacra of female bodies displayed for consumption, which provoke male erotic projections. In Gladius Dei, Panizza’s corsets are reproduced in a garment covering the lower parts of an otherwise naked "Madonna". Her photographic depiction is at the centre of the plot. An ascetic called "Hieronymus" tries to enforce the removal of this Madonna image from a Munich shop window, because he deems it distasteful and sinful. Although he feels he is appointed by God himself, his heavenly mission fails, and he develops an earthly obsession for the pretty and blasphemous icon. At last, in a hallucinatory vision, he sees the sword of God threatening the town, destroying the picture of the Madonna and all the city’s arts and crafts in a magic, divine blaze.

Social factors are glanced at in this novella about Virgin Mary worship taken to extremes. The repressive Catholic Church is to blame for this man of God going mad, just as Panizza’s fetishist – the son of a preacher who becomes a preacher himself – is a product of the Protestant Church. As in Panizza’s novella, the shop-owner who possesses the object of desire in the window is Jewish. The photograph in question is a reproduction that is lusted after by the entire town. The image is so successful, according to the narrator, that the State of Bavaria acquired the original to make it a museum piece. Thomas Mann, therefore, turns his shop window into a metaphorical museum. This museum, however, exposes the avant-garde atmosphere of an artist’s studio, too:

Die große, rötlichbraune Photographie stand, mit äußerstem Geschmack in Altgold gerahmt, auf einer Staffelei inmitten des Fensterraumes. Es war eine Madonna, eine durchaus modern empfundene, von jeder Konvention freie Arbeit. Die Gestalt der heiligen Gebärerin war von berückender Weiblichkeit, entblößt und schön. Ihre großen, schwülen Augen waren dunkel umrändert, und ihre delikat und seltsam lächelnden Lippen standen halb geöffnet. Ihre [...] Finger umfaßten die Hüfte des Kindes, eines nackten Knaben [...], der mit ihrer Brust spielte [...]. (Mann 1981: 203-204)3

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The female image, a hybrid of mother and whore, must be taken literally here, as this irresistible woman is actually put up for sale. What is more, the whore disguised as a saint has another connotation. From the earliest history of human communal life, the city has been related to mythological images of femininity, ranging from the unapproachable goddess, to the Babylonian whore, to the great mother (cf. Sykora 1999). Symbols of the desirable woman and the threatening woman alike, this paradoxical imagery of the city marks the picture of the sultry Madonna. Hieronymus cannot help falling for her, and as she induces sexual fantasies, she is the thorn in his flesh. Unlike the action in Panizza’s text, however, the fetishistic fixation of Hieronymus remains bloodless and rather cold. To his own disgust, he cannot get rid of the Madonna image: whether he stays in his 'cool narrow chamber' or whether he kneels in 'cool churches', his soul is always faced with the fetish. 'And no prayer could chase it away' (cf. Mann 1981: 206). With the stigma of religious fanaticism, the hot, erotic obsession turns chilly.

Meanwhile, the independent narrator tries to win the reader over for an off-shoot of Munich’s art industry linked with the Madonna image: "Blick um dich, sieh in die Fenster der Buchläden! Deinen Augen begegnen Titel wie [...] 'Die Renaissance im modernen Kunstgewerbe', 'Das Buch als Kunstwerk' [...]" (Mann 1981: 200).4 This ironic address to the reader keeps the addressee at a distance to the text. Irony deepens as the narrator points to the medium of his own narration: the written text. In addition, the book titles echo the novella’s depictions of Munich as a Florence-style, sixteenth-century city. Mann parodies the turn-of-the-century excitement about the Renaissance, and hence the shop window indeed represents "a city, a world in miniature" (Benjamin 2003: 31). While the books outline the view over the actual city, in turn, the city itself melts into a text put on display in a shop window.

In this context, the novella makes a whole range of self-directed puns. Street life is buzzing "auf Plätzen und Zeilen", shop windows are presided over with "linearer Humor", buildings are decorated with "fließenden Linien", and the whole town is devoted to a 'cult of lines', "Kultus der Linie" (Mann 1981: 189-200). All this can be related to the ornamental style of Art Nouveau, but it is not limited to that. The imagery of writing refers to houses, windows, and the residents of the city, with a veil of signs. This metamorphosis into a text can also be seen in the Madonna photograph, the city’s exemplary window display and epitome of Munich’s optical temptations. Taking the shop window as a medium, it can be seen as a symbol for the self-description of art.

Right at the beginning, the narrator announces that in Munich, one is used to seeing women 'through the medium of art' (Mann 1981: 200). This is mirrored by the icon and the photograph and the shop window.

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The Madonna’s self-referential framing is backed up by allusions to the written text; take the odd "Linienfluss [ihres] Gewandes", the 'floating lines of her dress', which are "wirklich eminent" (Mann 1981: 205). Again, the shop window turns out to be the link between text and texture and between writing and lines. Printed material also plays a role, for Munich has been showered with posters advertising the holy (or nearly so) virgin just as the shop window does. Finally, the erotic promises of glass and paper condense in the central arts-and-crafts shop, the glass door of which is covered with art magazines. And as one of the employees there writes a brochure about modernist art, the novella’s ironical self-portrait is finally complete.

Concluding remarks

The beloved woman as an image, a spectacle, a display of beauty – she does not only challenge the eye but also the imagination of the beholder. In art’s game of simulation, shop windows are important to the literary discourse of love, for they refer to paradigms such as subjectivity, eroticism, and the media. Panizza’s Der Korsetten-Fritz (1893) and Mann’s Gladius Dei (1902) play with aesthetic traditions of the myth of female seduction and male projections thereof. In both novellas, erotic attraction is triggered by a window display of surrogate femininity. Male fantasy brings the surrogate to life and disconnects it from the actual object in the shop window.

Panizza’s protagonist becomes obsessed with everyday objects exhibited in a draper’s shop window. Its corsets inspire him to invent a race of women that outdoes the underwear in eroticism. Hybrids between birds, bats, vampires and mummies are not only proof of a decadent sexual fetishism, they also expose the repressive nature of a moral code by taking the bull by the horns: the hero escapes into a world of unbridled fantasies, of exoticism and of perversion. In Mann’s Gladius Dei, too, the shop window suggests the metamorphosis of women into wares. The common image of the holy whore is transposed onto the medium of photography. Unlike Panizza’s hero, here the monk-like protagonist escapes into prayer, into suppression and neurosis. This is visualised by a sexually-driven fantasy of violence, where the female body bursts into flames and erotic temptation is annihilated. Eroticism is replaced by the insane ideal of an Ego that imagines itself as a religious leader. And just as in Panizza’s novella, femininity pressed behind glass tricks male desire into pathological madness.

With these implications, the window motif is anchored in a literary discourse of love established in the Romantic period (cf. Lieb 2010). In E.T.A. Hoffmann’s fiction, for instance, the simulacra of female bodies behind glass take the form of oil paintings and machines. The male imagination and gaze breathes life into their inorganic forms; take "Olimpia", the robotic heroine of Der Sandmann (1816), who draws the hero’s passion when he sees her through windows and a telescope, with devastating effects (cf. Lieb 2009).

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Early nineteenth-century writers such as Hoffmann and turn-of-the-century writers such as Panizza and Mann challenged their contemporary cultural norms of love because they explored the substitution of the beloved body by an inorganic thing. Under the name of fetishism, this model remained in full swing throughout the twentieth century.

In 1905, Sigmund Freud branded fetishism as a 'pathological case' of 'normal love' and as an aberrant sexual practice. He defined the fetish as a 'substitute for the sexual object', i.e. for the living body. The fetishes he had in mind included 'lifeless objects' such as garments, underwear, and furs (Freud 1999: 52-54). While Freud continued to work on his psychoanalytic concept of fetishism until 1938 – and fetishism has never ceased to be subject to psychologist investigation until today – it was Gaetan Gatian de Clérambault who researched cloth fetishism as part of a large-scale ethnological project throughout the 1920s in Paris. In 1935, Paris-based Walter Benjamin connected the Freudian sexual fetish with Marxism’s commodity fetish and related both to fashionable clothes. "Fashion", he wrote, "couples the living body to the inorganic world. To the living, it defends the rights of the corpse. The fetishism that succumbs to the sex appeal of the inorganic is its vital nerve. The cult of the commodity presses such fetishism into its service." (Benjamin 2003: 8) Today, it is precisely the cult of the fetish that is one of fashion’s vital nerves. Sexual fetishism is no longer hinted at, but openly exhibited in fashion – leather, lacquer and corsets having conquered the catwalks years ago. In the 1970s, Christian Metz started to theorise about fetishism as a cinematic effect, while Jean Baudrillard stressed its semiological significance, identifying the fetish as a work of art and of signs. From 1985 on, William Pietz traced the history of fetishism and then identified it as a "cultural discourse" (Pietz et al. 1993). In 1991, Emily Apter published her book Feminzing the fetish, which prompted a range of feminist studies in this field. Valerie Steele (1996), too, analysed fetishism as a cultural discourse and highlighted the importance of visual perception for its world-wide spread.

Much of today’s visual attention is directed to the glassy surfaces of TV and computer screens, where countless programmes, websites and games depend on the sex appeal of digital images. For a user, screens and windows share the quality of transparency as well as solidity; both are invisible glass walls. The media evolution, however, is paving the way for the walls to be knocked down, and in this context, the fetishistic practices of bodily substitution may have reached a new level. According to Keisuke Ori (1997: 172), who is researching Japan’s "Anime" industry, some users of computer games do without girl-friends, because they are obsessed with IT-generated girls. They go so far as to store them not only in data carriers but also in organic bodies (also cf. Kremer 2000). Gaming devices such as data gloves, i-glasses and other head-mounted displays are steps in a similar direction. Current research into wearable computers aims at developing intelligent textiles and clothes which can record, store, send and display data while interacting with the wearer, and hence fetishism may indeed do away "with the boundaries separating the organic world from the inorganic" (Benjamin 2003: 69).

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Benjamin’s inorganic world of the 1930s did not include wearable computers but did include equally delicate articles of fashionable clothing. Relating these to love, he wrote: "Every fashion is to some extent a bitter satire on love; all sexual perversities are suggested in every fashion by the most ruthless means; every fashion is filled with secret resistances to love." (2003: 64). Replace the word "fashion" with "medium", and what you get is a sceptical view of the twentieth-century media industry.


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1 'So these creatures have, I started to construct now, an utterly soft and graceful body, that is, hip, waist and breast, as well as these two most interesting and foamy balls springing out of the chest; on each side of the breast, a slim naked arm sticks out, made for paddling, for flying. Colourful bat-like wings join these two arms lengthwise onto the body, [...] and then there are supple and transparent webs between the delicate mother-of-pearl fingers. A radiant white and perhaps feathered neck sits on the upper part of the breast; what follows is a little coral mouth [...].' (Panizza 1997: 124)

2 'carcasses with their insides scooped out, with remaining hips, but hygienic rather than bloody, and shiny, silky, terribly graceful and elegant as if they were made for hugging and kissing [...] – how can I say this! – some corpses’ hips with protruding breasts, all preserved from decay, human mummies [...]' (Panizza 1997: 116).

3 'The big reddish-brown photography sat, most tastefully framed in dark gold, on an easel in the midst of the window. It was a Madonna, a thoroughly modernist work free of any convention. The figure of the holy bearing girl was of appealing femininity, bare and beautiful. Her large and sultry eyes were dark-rimmed, and her delicate and strangely smiling lips stood half open. Her [...] fingers embraced the hip of a child, a naked boy [...] who was playing with her breasts [...]' (Mann 1981: 203-204).

4 'Look around, peer into the windows of the bookshops! Your eyes will read titles such as [...] 'The Renaissance in Modern Arts and Crafts', 'The Book as an Artwork' [...]' (Mann 1981: 200).