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Carlo Michelstaedter

MICHELSTAEDTER, CARLO (1887–1910), Italian philosopher and poet. Michelstaedter was born at Gorizia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, into a well-known family. His mother was a descendant of Abraham *Reggio, chief rabbi of Gorizia in 1830, and Isacco Samuel *Reggio, who held the same office some years later, and who, together with Samuel David Luzzatto, co-founded the Rabbinical Institute of Padua. His father, Alberto, who came from a family of German origin, was an important part of the intellectual and social life of the city.

The young Michelstaedter strongly opposed his father's 19th-century positivist views, but politically, he did not disagree with him on the Irredentist cause. Michelstaedter undertook classical studies at the University of Florence. There he was greatly influenced by the writings of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Ibsen and based his philosophy on the assumption that all human endeavor, spiritual or physical, is merely an illusion. Moreover Michelstaedter's Jewish origins gave his thought an original twist. Jewish Diaspora themes of the loss of self, exclusion from the fullness of life, the inability to enter deeply into existence, reflect a strong drive toward completeness. His ideas, as well as his Jewish identity, were reflected in his interest in the Kabbalah. On the other hand, Michelstaedter dissociated himself from the Zionist movement.

Michelstaedter's fundamental pessimism is expressed in his Dialogo della Salute (1912) and, in a more poetic fashion, in his Poesie (1912). He spent the last years of his short life in his native Gorizia preparing a thesis on "The Concept of Persuasion and Rhetoric in the Writings of Plato and Aristotle." After completing the second volume of this work (La persuasione e la retorica, 1913) Michelstaedter committed suicide. In this last book he anticipated the main doctrines of European existentialism. Michelstaedter's philosophical outlook led him to the extreme step of taking his own life out of inner conviction. His works, all posthumously published, were widely circulated and greatly influenced Italian philosophy and literature after World War II. A critical edition of Michelstaedter's complete works, including the first collection of his letters, was published in 1959.

His mother and sister, Emma and Elda Michelstaedter, perished in the Shoah.


C. Pellizzi, Gli spiriti della vigilia (1924), 13–73; G. Chiavacci, in: Giornale critico dela filosofia italiana, 5 (1924), nos. 1–2; T. Moretti-Costanzi, in: L. Pelloux (ed.), Esistenzialismo, saggi e studi (1943); E. Garin, in: Cronache di filosofia italiana (1955), 36–41; A. Piromalli, in: Saggi critici di storia letteraria (1967), 165–81; G. Chiavacci et al., in: La fiera letteraria (July 13, 1952); L. Soperchi, in: Rivista di Psicologia, 28 (1932), 26ff., 280ff., incl. bibl. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: O. Altieri, "La famiglia Michaelstaedter e l'ebraismo goriziano," in: Dialoghi intorno a Michaelstaedter (1987), 35–41; A. Neiger, "Michaelstaedter e la sindrome ebraica," in: ibid., 43–57; P. Pieri, La differenza ebraica, Ebraismo e grecita' in Michaelstaedter (1984).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.