HOLLYWOOD—The passing of Nobel Prize Winner Otto von Klink, the great anarchist scholar and public intellectual, is a deeply felt personal loss. Von Klink was a frequent guest at my cabin in the San Bernardino Mountains, which evoked the majestic Alps of his boyhood.
I shall never forget that first visit, now more 20 years ago, when I made the alarming discovery that von Klink suffered from sleep apnea, a condition which induces lapses in breathing while a person sleeps. Fearing that the Nobel Laureate had died, I frantically poked him in the chest. When he finally roused, I breathed an enormous sigh of relief.
Years later we chuckled a great deal over that first occasion, but now the chuckling has stopped. While a guest at my cabin last weekend, von Klink passed away during what was mistaken as a prolonged episode of sleep apnea.
This certainly marks the end of an era. Von Klink was the last of a wave of European Ã©migrÃ©s who fled Nazi Germany for the tranquil shores of sunny Southern California. Having possessed the foresight to recognize the threat Hitler posed, he sailed from Germany in 1933 and obtained a visa to travel to the U.S.A. He finally arrived in 1974, citing “a very poor sense of direction,” for the delay.
For von Klink, Southern California was not love at first sight, he told a Times interviewer in 1998, “Here was this beautiful sunshine, day in day out. I could go to the beach whenever I wanted or swim in the pool. The weather was miserable from a creative standpoint.
There was no reason to hole up in a cafÃ© and voice society’s woes. You simply couldn’t be depressed. Without the depressing European winter, I was just another contented bourgeois. Why should you want to write and change the world, when nothing seems to be wrong?”
In his Nobel acceptance speech von Klink credited an affair a pool cleaner had with his wife for renewed literary output. “I realized that amid the gorgeous succession of days, it was still possible to be depressed. That was the turning point.”
During the crisis provoked by his wife’s affair, he produced his seminal work: “Capitalism and Schizophrenia.” When it was discovered that French authors Deleuze and Guattari had written a two-volume work by that name, Klink’s publishers renamed it “Million-Dollar Legs,” and the rocketed to the top of the bestseller lists. Its central metaphor of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde illuminated the then-heretical notion that capitalism may not be “the best of all isms.” He wrote, “The proper and polite doctor is shocked the crimes of the vicious drunkard and murderer. And it is he, himself. In this way the capitalist becomes ultimately being divided, able to plunder and yet be in blissful ignorance of his crimes against society. Now if I could only figure out whether Jeckyl is the bad guy or the good guy, I’d be sitting pretty.”
Klink always felt that the foremost duty of the cultural critic was to both expose and heal society’s ills. “But not too much,” von Klink once told LukÃ¡cs, “or we might put ourselves out of business.”
Ever engaged by the issues of the times, Klink was passionate in his ideas advocating change. About the United States’ growing independence on foreign oil, he declared, “We will resolve this problem as soon as we learn to make use of the all the oil in the turmoil. There’s plenty of that to go around.” He proposed a dramatic solution to the problem of homelessness. “To solve the problem of homelessness,” Klink declared, “why not place all the homeless under house arrest?
Dr. Martin Luther King embraced many of von Klink’s social ideas for his campaign against poverty. When introduced to Dr. Martin Luther King, von Klink pointed to his abdomen and complained that he had been experiencing intermittent pains in his appendix. He later expressed shock that King “wasn’t that kind of doctor.”
Von Klink was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1989, a year before the purse was tripled to a million dollars. “Drat! If they had only waited one more year,” an embittered von Klink later complained.
Always sensitive to the latest American cultural trends, he recently observed, “The important thing to remember about Betty White is the compelling demonstration that there is life after Allen Ludden.” This is highly significant in the context of Klink’s frustrated efforts to appear on “Password,” which he always attributed to corporate censorship (its producers cited his incredibly thick accent.) Active to the end, von Klink was accused of groping a female grad student while in his 90s. He claimed to be researching the shared etymological roots between philosophy and philandering.