The Decline Of Spengler

Hoffman died today.

The Decline Of Spengler
WBAI And NPR Playhouse
Original Broadcast Date
Barbara Sohmers, Joseph Palmieri, Lester Nafzger, Irene Wagner, Tim Jerome, Leslie Cass, David Rapkin, Rosemary Foley, Charles Potter, Arthur Miller, Brother Theodore, Joe Frank
57 minutes
Preceded by: Joe Frank In Concert
Followed by: Lies

The Decline of Spengler is a program Joe Frank produced as part of the series WBAI And NPR Playhouse. It was originally broadcast in 1982. Versions of this show were also published in text form in New Directions Volume 48 in 1984 as well as the 1993 short story collection The Queen Of Puerto Rico.


0:10: Hoffman is dead. Joe reminisces about his encounters with Hoffman, beginning with the time they met on a flight from Palestine; they agreed that modern technology has alienated man from nature. Hoffman forced himself on a pretty stewardess in the restroom; she broke apart: she was a robot.

3:40: Joe has a dream. Fists beat on his front door. As the only doctor in the district he has to ride his horse-drawn wagon to serve his patients. A servant takes Joe to a house. When he sees the patient, the servant tells Joe to take off his (Joe's) clothes.

6:10: Joe attends Hoffman's funeral. Joe finds a map of Florida in Hoffman's apartment, supposedly of possible locations of the fountain of youth (FoY); one of them is in Dreamland.

7:50: The day after Joe takes a trip of the Everglades, first possible location of the FoY, (huge winged lizards, Indians living nearly submerged, assembling tropical fish, holding their livestock above their heads to keep them from drowning.)

8:30: A few days later Joe takes a bus to Fort Lauderdale, a possible location of the FoY. Joe arrives during the Aryan convention, which he attends. A bomb goes off. Joe awakes at dusk on a merry-go-round in Miami Beach.

10:30: A guy (Arthur Miller) demonstrates his human centrifuge; some people like it. A woman chimes in.

12:30: Joe has another dream: he's in court, a prosecutor at a trial. While eating dinner, Joe notices his father sprawled in the hallway.

15: Joe receives a call from Mrs Waterman, who says a mutual friend suggested they meet. She claims to be beautiful. Joe takes a train to Rio David. She picks him up at the station. She turns out to be severely crippled; Joe can't go through with it. She tells him off. ('Diamond dust' - Jeff Beck)

21: Joe tells of beach on the Gulf coast covered with fossils. Old people collect and trade them, write about them. A group of old people quarrel about the weather.

22:30: Joe has a dream. He's in room filled with scrolls. He looks like an Orthodox Jew. He's called to design a new oven for a concentration camp. Joe takes the train there; it's standing room only, apparently a concentration camp train. Someone whistles, Ach du lieber Augustin. He wakes up in a pile of dead people, loaded into a wagon, taken to the burial trench. He recognizes the other people in the trench. That night, Joe climbs out, escapes, takes a train to the Bavarian Alps. Weeks later he arrives at the 'Retreat of the Redeemer'. When night falls, he climbs over the wall, cuts through the wire, evades the army. In the backyard he finds the messiah (Brother Theodore), planting trees in the moonlight. The messiah berates Joe for his ragged clothes.

29:20: A fellow (Arthur Miller) says that ING buries patients, waters and tends them carefully... Another fellow (Lester Nafzger) talks about burying people head-first. Another fellow asks about the loss of hearing.

31: Joe, reading Hoffman's notes, finds a play, with the comment, 'I wonder what Spengler would think of this?'. Joe narrates the play. The first act is a critic waking up. At the intermission the audience is served bitter herbs, unleavened bread, and sacramental wine. The actor playing the critic, Poole, sneaks into the audience, falls asleep. In the second act, Poole wakes up, then a movie is shown. The movie's protagonist doesn't know who he is, travels from town to town, asking people if they know him. His touch cures the sick. He never figures out who he is; disgusted at the badness of the movie, he walks out of the screen and into the audience, up to the Poole who, sensing a plot, pulls out a luger and shoots him. (Remember Huckleberry Finn?) Regretful at having shot him, Poole runs to the projection room, asks the boy there to run the film backwards to save the actor's life. The boy sends him to the manager's office, where Poole finds an old man sprawled on the floor. The action is shown to the audience. Other actors, who had seemed to be audience members, pretend to take care of the actor.

38:40: Act 3: Poole is hermetically sealed in a phone booth: the audience can't hear him. A panel of clergy on stage argues.

42:20: The audience, bored, walks out. The organist plays a concert. The panel falls to blows. Poole is amused.

43:20: A woman with a neck brace calls a radio doctor. She feels like she's dying. He has to move along.

44:30: The old people on the fossil beach complain about the weather some more then consider playing cards.

45:30: Joe has a dream: he's an expert in Jewish wisdom but he's unhappy, so he travels on foot to Rome to see its tzadik. The tzadik tells him that a great surgeon was called to operate but was operated on himself. The next night the tzadik tells him about a famous prosecutor who found himself guilty. Joe is about to leave when a man summons Joe to the tzadik, who tells him of a great engineer who awoke to find himself turned into a holy man - who has the experience of Joe's dream about the engineer. The tzadik reveals himself to be an SS officer, who sends him to a concentration camp. Jewish partisans rescue Joe from the train, take him to see the real tzadik of Rome, who dresses as an SS officer and lives in Palermo. This one tells him the same stories as the previous supposed-tzadik. Joe takes the next train to Berlin.

49:20: A guy with a German accent (Brother Theodore) tells us that things rot with age.

50:30: Joe imagines moving to Tampa, starting a small business, marrying, living an ordinary life.

52: Joe cleans out Hoffman's apartment. He keeps a prayer shawl, shofar, and Hebrew Bible; finds an SS officer's uniform in the closet. Hoffman's journal closed with a description of Dreamland.

52:40: Joe takes Hoffman's ticket, goes to Dreamland. They claim the rocket goes faster than the speed of light, thus reversing the aging process. The rocket crashes into a swamp, centuries into the future; civilization has been destroyed by nuclear war. Joe wakes up, wonders which is the dream.

56:40: A man with a German accent (Brother Theodore) disclaims responsibility for everything - he knew nothing.

Legacy Synopsis
  • Hoffman dies in surgery
  • Joe ponders technology and society on a plane. Robot stewardess.
  • Joe dreams he is a doctor on horseback. Hoffman's funeral and the fountain of youth is in Florida.
  • Dream: film of Austria with weapons demos.
  • Human centrifuge and fast-moving-foods dialog.
  • Dream: Joe is a lawyer before a jury of prophets and seers.
  • Joe gets cold call from Mrs. Waterman, they go to hotel, she is in a wheelchair (monologue, followed by actress).
  • A doctor is called to a hotel where an operation is performed on him.
  • A German engineer is mistakenly trapped on a train bound for a concentration camp, he escapes and finds the messiah.
  • A three act play about a film about a man who loses his memory, emerges from the screen and is shot. The shooter than begs the projectionist to run the film backwards. Later a muffled telephone conversation accompanies a theological debate.
  • A doctor dismisses a patient in a call-in medical program.
  • Old people at a beach chat. Joe visits the zaddik of Rome.
  • The messiah talks about time and decay, denies responsibility.
  • Joe imagines a life married to a woman in Tampa who finds Jesus.
  • Cleaning out Hoffman's room, finding a ticket to a rocket ship launch in Dreamland, ending up crashed in the swamp hundreds of years in the future.
  • Nonsense monologue.


Additional credits

The original broadcast credits state: "Directed by Arthur Miller, with technical production by David Rapkin. The performers were Joe Frank, Barbara Sohmers, Joseph Palmieri, Lester Nafzger, Irene Wagner, Tim Jerome, Leslie Cass, David Rapkin, Rosemary Foley, Charles Potter, Arthur Miller, and Brother Theodore."


  • The Decline Of Spengler won a Broadcast Media Award for Best Dramatic Program of 1982.[1]


Oswald Spengler was an early 20th century German historian and philosopher who wrote The Decline of the West (published 1917) which influenced many intelligentsia for a few decades, got some popular attention, then faded. It was a joke when I was a young man, the notion that it had ever influenced anyone serious. I think Joe took up the joke for the title; Joe's show has nothing to do with Spengler's philosophy. - Arthur Peabody (talk) 01:42, 19 February 2021‎


  1. Harrington, Richard (April 5, 1983). "Joe Frank: Dramas With a Twist for NPR". The Washington Post.