New Perspectives on Contemporary Austrian Literature and Culture

by Katya Krylova (Volume editor)
©2018 Edited Collection XII, 442 Pages


This volume brings together contributions arising from papers originally presented at the Contemporary Austrian Literature, Film and Culture International Conference held at the University of Nottingham in April 2015. It examines trends in contemporary Austrian literature, film and culture, predominantly over the past thirty years. This period has been one of great transformation in Austrian society, with the Waldheim affair of 1986–1988 marking the beginning of a belated process of confronting the country’s National Socialist past. The sixteen chapters of the volume analyse literary texts, films, memorial projects and Austria’s musical heritage, considering works by cultural practitioners operating both within and outside of Austria. The collection offers a multi-perspectival view on how contemporary Austria sees itself and how it is, in turn, seen by others from various vantage points.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Illustrations
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction: Contemporary Austrian Literature and Culture (Katya Krylova)
  • The Chapters
  • Bibliography
  • Part I Austria and the World: Transnational Perspectives
  • 1 The New Cosmopolitanism in Second Republic Narratives: Revisiting the Vienna–‘Orient’ Connection (Dagmar C. G. Lorenz)
  • Bibliography
  • 2 ‘You’ll never know the old Vienna’: The Third Man (1949) as Historical Referent in Contemporary Austrian Culture and Literature (Anne-Marie Scholz)
  • ‘Jenseits von kaiserlicher Pracht und Walzerherrlichkeit’: The Third Man Tour
  • ‘Wie[n] ennt sich diese Stadt?’: Jörg Albrecht’s Harry Lime Lebt! Und das in diesem Licht!
  • Film und Verhängnis: Ilse Aichinger’s Third Man
  • Bibliography
  • 3 Austria’s Ambiguous Smile: Transnational Perspectives on Austrian Belatedness in the Fiction of John Irving (Benedict Schofield)
  • American Dreams and Austrian Idylls
  • Topographies of Tourism and Terror
  • Habsburg Myths and Post-war Realities
  • Transnationalizing Austrian Belatedness
  • Bibliography
  • 4 Ariadne’s Thread: Storytelling, Digression and Flâneurship in the Recent Films of Ruth Beckermann (Katya Krylova)
  • I
  • II
  • Bibliography
  • 5 „Mit möglichst großer literarischer und intellektueller Qualität ein Sartre zu werden“. Parodie und (Selbst)-Bestätigung in Robert Menasses Gegenwarts- und Intellektuellenkritik (Valentina Serra)
  • Prämisse
  • Die Intellektuellen in Österreich, die Intellektuellen und Österreich
  • Menasses Intellektuellendarstellungen zwischen Parodie und (Selbst-)Bestätigung
  • Teufelsbündnisse in Marktwirtschaften: von der Europa-Kritik zur Republik Europa
  • Schlussfolgerungen
  • Bibliographie
  • Werke von Robert Menasse
  • Interviews und Gespräche
  • Sekundärliteratur
  • Part II Space, Place and Boundary Crossing in Contemporary Austrian Literature and Film
  • 6 Fortress Europe as Frontier: Adaptation of the Western Genre in Austrian Cinema (Nikhil Sathe)
  • Black Brown White (2011)
  • Spanien (2012)
  • Grenzgänger (2012)
  • Bibliography
  • Filmography
  • 7 „Ganz Tirol ist eine Grenze“ und Felix Mitterer. Verkaufte Heimat (Ursula A. Schneider / Annette Steinsiek)
  • Begriff „Grenze“
  • Hintergrund: Die Geschichte Südtirols im 20. Jahrhundert
  • Mitterer und Südtirol
  • Mitterers dramatische Strategie
  • Verkaufte Heimat im Vorlass Mitterers
  • Ein Blick in die Drehbücher: die Figur Dario
  • Die Verfilmung als eigene mediale Ebene und deren Rezeption
  • Bibliographie
  • Primärtexte
  • Sekundärliteratur
  • 8 The Visible Uncanny: Anna Kim’s Novels Frozen Time and Anatomy of a Night (Silke Schwaiger)
  • Topographies of the Uncanny
  • ‘Pristina, a city that is not a city’
  • ‘The nights in Amarâq are an impenetrable black mass, what one imagines nothingness is’
  • Bibliography
  • 9 ‘Leichen im Keller’: The Basement in New Austrian Film (Rachel Green)
  • The Basement in Austrian Literature
  • The Basement in New Austrian Film
  • Bibliography
  • 10 Der Rhythmus als subversive Textstrategie. Gezeigt an Texten Thomas Bernhards und Ernst Jandls (Lydia Haider)
  • Warum Thomas Bernhard und Ernst Jandl?
  • Zum Rhythmus
  • Methodische Erweiterung um das Pattern
  • Zur Subversion
  • Die Rede: Evozierte Mündlichkeit
  • Rhythmische Subversion
  • Conclusio
  • Bibliographie
  • Primärtexte
  • Sekundärtexte
  • 11 Desires for a Third Space: A Critique of Elfriede Jelinek’s Winterreise by Reading Georg Simmel’s ‘Exkurs über den Fremden’ (Peter Höyng)
  • I
  • II
  • III
  • IV
  • Bibliography
  • Part III Confronting the Nazi Past
  • 12 Historische Traumata, Vergessen und Erinnerung. Literarische Vergangenheitsdiskurse in der zeitgenössischen österreichischen Literatur (Magdolna Orosz)
  • Vergangenheitsdiskurse: Erinnerung und Vergessen
  • Familiengeschichten als Erinnerungsdiskurse
  • Vater und Sohn in Verkleinerungsperspektive
  • Eine Generation zurück: Großmutter im Fokus
  • Erinnerung im familiären Gespräch
  • Eine Generation zurück – historische Streitpunkte
  • Historischer Zwiegespräch in dialogischer Gestaltung
  • Bibliographie
  • 13 The Grandmother in Recent Austrian Literature: Peter Henisch, Eine sehr kleine Frau (2007) and Melitta Breznik, Das Umstellformat (2002) (Petra M. Bagley)
  • Bibliography
  • 14 ‘Farben, die es auf dieser Welt nicht gibt’: Remembering Reality in Lenka Reinerová’s Late Prose (Traci S. O’Brien)
  • Bibliography
  • 15 Blurring Fiction with Reality: Robert Schindel’s comédie humaine of 1980s Vienna in Gebürtig and Der Kalte (Joseph W. Moser)
  • Bibliography
  • 16 ‘Walzer für Nazis’: The Vienna Philharmonic and the Nazi Past (Lauren Freede)
  • Classical Music and Austrian National Identity
  • Coming to Terms with the Orchestral Past: A Recent History
  • ‘Wiener Philharmoniker – stellt man sich der Vergangenheit im NS-Staat?’
  • Shadows of the Past
  • Staging Reconciliation
  • Aftermath
  • Bibliography
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index

| ix →


Fig. 1. Felix Mitterer on his research visit in Moravia, spring 1988. Photographer unknown. Vorlass Felix Mitterer, Forschungsinstitut Brenner-Archiv, Universität Innsbruck, Sig. 18-37-21.

Fig. 2. Ulrich Seidl, Im Keller (2014) © Ulrich Seidl Film Produktion GmbH.

| xi →


This volume arises out of an international conference on Contemporary Austrian Literature, Film and Culture (CALFAC), which took place at the University of Nottingham on 13–15 April 2015. The conference organizer and the editor of this volume was a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow there, working on the project ‘The Treatment of the Past and Austrian Identity in Contemporary Austrian Literature and Film’. I am very grateful to the Leverhulme Trust for funding this project, and for sponsoring the conference in conjunction with the Austrian Cultural Forum London and the University of Nottingham. In addition to keynote lectures from Professor Allyson Fiddler (University of Lancaster), Professor Jonathan Long (University of Durham), and Professor Dagmar C. G. Lorenz (University of Illinois at Chicago), a total of twenty-four papers were presented at the conference by speakers from the UK, the United States, Canada, Austria, Germany, Italy and Hungary. The conference also featured film screenings and Q&As with two award-winning Austrian documentary filmmakers: Dr Ruth Beckermann (Vienna) and Dr Frederick Baker (Cambridge). More information about the conference, programme, and abstracts may be found on the following webpage: <http://www.katyakrylova.org/calfac-conference.html>.

Almost all of the chapters in the present volume are based on papers originally presented at the CALFAC conference. They have been substantially expanded for this volume and have undergone a peer-review process. I would like to thank members of the conference committee – Professor Allyson Fiddler, Professor Dirk Göttsche, Dr Hillary Hope Herzog, Dr Todd Herzog, Professor Florian Krobb, Professor Jonathan Long, Professor Dagmar C. G. Lorenz, Professor Imke Meyer, Dr Manfred Mittermayer, and Professor Andrew Webber – for generously reviewing the individual contributions. I would also like to thank both contributors and peer-reviewers for the great spirit with which they have approached this process. ← xi | xii →

I would like to thank the anonymous reviewers of the manuscript for Peter Lang for their thoughtful comments and suggestions. I am very grateful to Dr Laurel Plapp at Peter Lang Publishing, Oxford, for expertly seeing this volume through to its completion.

Katya Krylova
University of Aberdeen
June 2018

| 1 →


Introduction: Contemporary Austrian Literature and Culture

In post-war Austria, it is almost exclusively the artists who engaged with the past […]. After the war, Austria has not brought forth any noteworthy philosophers or theorists, at least not in the country itself; thought was driven out by the Nazis and has not actually returned since, therefore all of this was displaced into art. What in other countries was achieved in the realm of scholarship, in Austria, transferred into the realm of art. This is where the more significant achievements were accomplished.1


It is somewhat of a cliché to extol Austria’s rich cultural heritage and to marvel at the fact that a country whose present-day population numbers just 8.7 million2 has given the world so much, in terms of literary, artistic ← 1 | 2 → and cultural achievement. In the popular cultural imaginary, Austria is often associated with the artistic and cultural flourishing that took place in the then Austro-Hungarian capital, Vienna, at the turn of the twentieth century, and with the mourning of this culture’s loss following the Second World War and the Holocaust. This preoccupation with the loss of a vanished culture in the popular cultural imaginary often comes at the expense of a neglect of Austria’s present, apart from when it seeps back into consciousness with sensationally presented scandals such as the Josef Fritzl and Natascha Kampusch cases, or as a consequence of reactionary politics in the shape of Kurt Waldheim, Jörg Haider, Norbert Hofer, or Heinz-Christian Strache.

The present volume aims to recentre attention firmly on contemporary Austria, predominantly over the past thirty years, and show how the various shifts that Austrian society has undergone during this time have been refracted in contemporary Austrian literature and culture. It is fair to say that the past three decades have been a period of great transformation in Austrian society, for which the Waldheim Affair of 1986–1988 was the trigger, marking the start of the belated process of confronting the country’s National Socialist past. The attempts of Austrian presidential candidate, and later president, Dr Kurt Waldheim, to cover up the extent of his involvement in the Nazi war machine inadvertently sparked a long-overdue discussion about Austria’s Nazi past and a shift in the nation’s self-understanding of its role during the Nazi period, from that of perceived victimhood to the acknowledgement of Austrian complicity in the crimes of the Second World War and the Holocaust. This is a process that Austrian writers, filmmakers and cultural practitioners were at the centre of, leading the protest movement against Waldheim. This generation of artists and intellectuals was also, as Dagmar Lorenz has traced, instrumental in the formation of a civil society and oppositional culture in Austria.3

As the epigraph to this introduction, taken from an interview with the Austrian Nobel laureate for literature, Elfriede Jelinek, makes clear, ← 2 | 3 → Austrian artists and writers have played a particularly significant role in post-war Austria. Crucially, in just two sentences, Jelinek uses the word ‘verschieben’ [to be displaced/to be transferred into] twice,4 which alludes to the Freudian term ‘Verschiebung’ [displacement], a term which describes how a repressed traumatic symptom eventually manifests itself in a different place and time.5 Thereby, in Jelinek’s view, literature and art in the Austrian context have been a realm in which all that was repressed by official discourse, for example the experience of the Nazi era and its legacy in the present, could be thematized and expressed. This diagnosis of post-war Austrian literature and culture is one that is borne out in the work of many post-war Austrian writers and artists, such as that of the seminal authors Ingeborg Bachmann (1926–1973) and Thomas Bernhard (1931–1989), as I have argued elsewhere.6 Reflecting and illuminating the real lived experience of human beings is a characteristic of all great art and literature, and is, of course, not limited to Austria, but it has a long Austrian tradition. As the cultural historian Carl Schorske famously diagnosed,7 at the turn of the twentieth century, the crises plaguing Austria-Hungary’s political life caused writers and artists to either turn inwards in an exploration of interiority, sexuality and the self, as can be gleaned from the paintings of Gustav Klimt (1862–1918) and Egon Schiele (1890–1918), or to deliver satirical diagnoses of the already-crumbling Austro-Hungarian Empire in the manner of Karl Kraus (1874–1936). The work of writers such as Robert Musil (1880–1942) and Arthur Schnitzler (1862–1931) successfully combined both of these thematic orientations. Despite their aesthetic innovations, the writers and artists of the fin de siècle were ‘alienated from ← 3 | 4 → political power’.8 As Edward Timms has traced, this generation of artists and writers became ‘more politically engaged’ during the First World War,9 only to then lament the disappearance of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and its ‘goldene Zeitalter der Sicherheit’ [golden age of security].10

Claudio Magris, writing in 1963, notably diagnosed a continual preoccupation in Austrian literature since the beginning of the twentieth century with the Habsburg Myth,11 the valorization of the perceived advantages of the old order vis-à-vis an unsatisfactory present, accompanied by ‘a fleeing from political engagement into an idealised monarchic past’.12 While this was certainly the case for many of Austria’s more conservative writers, such as Heimito von Doderer (1896–1966), we find a much more nuanced engagement with the Habsburg Myth in the work of authors such as Bachmann and Bernhard. Writing after the Second World War and the Holocaust, their work is suffused with an awareness of what an escapist retreat into Habsburg nostalgia masks, namely the horrors of the recent past, and their enduring legacy. In truth, in Austrian cultural production of the post-war era, which the writer Robert Schindel (1944–) posits as having ended in Austria with the Waldheim Affair,13 we find both the political engagement that Jelinek commends (one need only think of Bernhard’s 1988 play Heldenplatz and the controversy it caused in the country), particularly with regard to confronting the country’s Nazi past, and the conservative ← 4 | 5 → tendencies that Magris diagnoses. What has perhaps been the defining characteristic of Austrian literature and culture since the Waldheim Affair is the profound level of political engagement and commitment characterizing almost all notable contemporary Austrian writers, filmmakers and artists, who, as I have traced elsewhere, draw attention in their work to injustices both in the past and in the present.14

Against the background of a growing discussion in Austria about the country’s role in the Third Reich over the past thirty years, figures such as Gerhard Roth (1942–), Elfriede Jelinek (1946–), Robert Schindel (1944–), Anna Mitgutsch (1948–), and Robert Menasse (1954–) – many of whom came of age as writers during the Waldheim era – have offered incisive commentaries on the shadow that Austria’s past continues to cast on the country’s present. Meanwhile, recent translations of novels by Robert Seethaler (1966–), Der Trafikant [The Tobacconist] (2012) and Ein ganzes Leben [A Whole Life] (2014), have served to bring treatments of twentieth-century Austrian history to international attention.15 For a younger generation of writers, such as Melitta Breznik (1961–), Eva Menasse (1970–), Doron Rabinovici (1961–), and Vladimir Vertlib (1966–), the legacy of Austria’s past remains a key preoccupation. The enduring legacy and significance of the Waldheim era may be gleaned from the award-winning 2018 documentary by Ruth Beckermann, Waldheims Walzer [The Waldheim Waltz], a film which reflects on the profound impact of the Waldheim Affair on Austria three decades on, as well as implicitly highlighting the topicality of the Waldheim case for populist movements of the present, both in Austria and beyond, as Beckermann made clear both in the film’s publicity ← 5 | 6 → material,16 and in her prize acceptance speech for the Glashütte Original – Documentary Award at the 2018 Berlin International Film Festival.17

Since the Waldheim era, Austrian artists and intellectuals have remained at the heart of protest movements against populist and far-right politics, notably mobilizing, for example, in 1992–1993 against an Ausländervolksbegehren [anti-immigration referendum] instigated by the Austrian Freedom Party to curtail immigration to Austria, in 2000 following the entry of Jörg Haider’s Freedom Party into the Austrian coalition government, and, most recently, in 2018, following the entry of the same party, now led by Heinz-Christian Strache, into government. In the 2016 Austrian presidential election, the Austrian Freedom Party’s Norbert Hofer achieved 46.2 per cent of the vote share in the final election round,18 while the 2017 Austrian legislative election saw the Freedom Party (FPÖ) poll 26 per cent of the vote and enter into a coalition government with the conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP).19 Although the successes of the Austrian Freedom Party are part of what has been identified as a growing trend of support for populist and far-right movements in Europe,20 the 2017 election made Austria ‘the only western European country with ← 6 | 7 → a far-right presence in government’.21 It remains to be seen precisely what the lasting impact of Austria’s new coalition government will be. However, a mobilization of Austrian artists, writers and intellectuals was already observed from the inauguration of the coalition in December 2017, with the Nobel laureate Elfriede Jelinek publishing texts on her widely read website, reflecting on the new government and on Austrian Freedom Party regional election candidate Udo Landbauer’s links to a fraternity, whose song-book, uncovered in January 2018, was found to contain anti-Semitic texts.22 Other prominent Austrian public intellectuals, such as Robert Menasse and Doron Rabinovici, have used their platform to criticize the new government both in opinion pieces,23 and in interviews.24 Additionally, Austria’s filmmakers have formed the #KlappeAuf [clapperboard/mouth open] initiative, using the forum of both national and international film festivals, for example, that of the 2018 Berlin International Film Festival, to draw attention to the presence of members of German nationalist fraternities in the Austrian government and to cuts to social spending. The group includes prominent Austrian filmmakers such as Ulrich Seidl, Ruth ← 7 | 8 → Beckermann and Jessica Hausner, as well as actors such as Birgit Minichmayr and Klaus Maria Brandauer.25

A notable aspect of the protest culture arising in the wake of the 2017 legislative election has been the formation of the Omas gegen Rechts [Grannies Against the Right] protest group in November 2017, a group of older women whose founding members include the pastor and columnist, Monika Salzer, and writer and former ORF journalist, Susanne Scholl. The group, which is not affiliated to any political party, has become a distinctive presence in demonstrations against the ÖVP/FPÖ coalition’s policies, for example, spending cuts, which the Omas gegen Rechts view as disproportionately affecting women.26 Additionally, the organization aims to promote the visibility of older women as a political force, with their slogan being ‘Alt sein heißt nicht stumm sein!’ [Being old doesn’t mean keeping stumm!]27 This visibility is achieved by combining a serious political message with a performative, humorous aspect, for example through the singing of self-composed songs,28 the wearing of distinctive hand-knitted pink and red hats, and a strong web and social media presence.29 Through what the group’s leaders describe as the shock value of grandmothers going ← 8 | 9 → out onto the street to protest,30 the group has indeed succeeded in their aim of gaining recognition for older women as a political entity, drawing attention from both the national and international press.31

As well as being politically attune to events within Austria itself, Austrian writers, filmmakers and intellectuals have traditionally always looked beyond Austria’s borders in their creative practice. Austria was historically the centre of the Habsburg Empire, a Vielvölkerstaat [multi-ethnic state], and, as such, its capital Vienna attracted migrants from all corners of the Empire. Thereby, ‘Austrian’ culture was inflected both by the cultures of migrants to the country, as well as, in turn, leaving an influence upon countries far beyond its contemporary borders. The lasting legacy of this can be observed today both within and outside Austria. It can be seen in everyday culture, with ‘Viennese’ cuisine cooked by migrant women famously gaining ‘a Bohemian flavour and Hungarian menus’.32 It can be gleaned from architecture, with cities which constituted regional capitals of the old Habsburg Empire, such as Chernivtsi (Czernowitz) in modern-day Ukraine, still bearing a ‘Vienna-look-alike’ appearance.33 In the literary sphere, Friedrich Torberg famously wrote about the porous cultural exchange between Vienna, Budapest and Prague in his nostalgic work Die ← 9 | 10 → Tante Jolesch oder Der Untergang des Abendlandes in Anekdoten [Tante Jolesch or the Decline of the West in Anecdotes] (1975), an exchange which still continued for two decades following the collapse of the Habsburg Empire, until the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany brought an end to this freedom of movement, especially for the many Austrian Jews who formed part of the country’s creative avant-garde.34 As such, in the twentieth century, Austria also became a country of emigration, with many Austrians, predominantly Austrian Jews and those opposed to Hitler’s regime, forced to leave the country in the 1930s. As cultural historian Steven Beller has emphasized, this emigration ‘has meant to this day that Austria’s heritage exists around the world in a way which many modern-day Austrians still only partly grasp’, with ‘much of Austria’s contribution to the modern world [taking] root not in Vienna but in Hampstead, Berkeley or Jerusalem’.35

The year that the conference, out of which this volume arises, was held was particularly rich in anniversaries of significance for Austria: seventy years since the foundation of the Second Republic on 27 April 1945, seventy years since the end of the Second World War, as well as sixty years since the signing of Staatsvertrag [Austrian State Treaty] on 15 May 1955, which marked the end of the post-war Allied occupation of Austria. These historical events have all been deeply significant for Austrian identity and the way that Austria sees itself and its place in the world. Meanwhile, the current Gedenkjahr 2018 [commemorative year 2018] in Austria offers further opportunities for reflection, with its anniversaries of one hundred years since the end of the First World War and the collapse of the Habsburg monarchy, as well as eighty years since the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany. The Gedenkjahr will not least be observed by the opening of the much-anticipated Haus der Geschichte [House of History] in Vienna, scheduled for 12 November 2018 (the one hundredth ← 10 | 11 → anniversary of the foundation of Austria’s First Republic in 1918),36 which has prompted heated debates in Austria about the design and cost of the project.37 One of the central points of discussion about the museum, which will be housed in a section of the Hofburg Palace, has been the question of how to incorporate the building’s so-called Führerbalkon (the balcony from which Adolf Hitler addressed an assembled crowd of an estimated 200,000 on 15 March 1938, proclaiming the Anschluss) into the museum.38 The Führerbalkon exemplifies the omnipresence of Austria’s past in the present, irrevocably inscribed in the country’s topography and architecture.

Following the period of Allied occupation from 1945 until 1955, when the country regained its sovereignty, there was an emphasis by politicians of all stripes on the promotion of ‘a specifically Austrian identity’ (as opposed to the wish to subsume Austria within a ‘Greater Germany’),39 an identity based on an Alpine image of ‘little Austria’. However, successive waves of migration into Austria from the second half of the twentieth century onwards, for example, following the Hungarian Uprising in 1956, the Prague Spring of 1968, and the Yugoslav Wars of 1991–2001 (which saw thousands of refugees flee to nearby Austria), and the collapse of state socialist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe in the late 1980s and 1990s, have meant that Austria is and has continued to be a country of migration. The entry of Austria into the European Union in 1995, and the expansion of the EU in 2004 to encompass Central and Eastern European countries, ← 11 | 12 → with whom Austria shares not only borders but traditional historic links through the common heritage of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, has also facilitated immigration to Austria. While liberals have heralded this as a welcome return to Austria’s cosmopolitan roots in the Habsburg Empire, and as a move away from the narrow focus on national identity in post-war Austria, it has, however, also prompted a nationalist backlash, in the form of the rising support for the far-right Austrian Freedom Party from the late 1980s onwards (under Jörg Haider’s leadership) into the present day, as Michał Krzyżanowski and Ruth Wodak describe.40 Notwithstanding the anti-immigrant rhetoric adopted by many of Austria’s politicians, the country’s demographics tell a story of their own, with approximately half of Vienna’s population having a so-called Migrationshintergrund [migration background], which means that they were either born outside of Austria’s borders or have a parent who was.41 As we shall see in the following chapters of this volume, many contemporary Austrian writers, filmmakers and intellectuals draw upon Austria’s cosmopolitan heritage to reflect upon the real, lived experience of migration in present-day Austria, and in Europe more broadly, in their work, as well as expanding the notion of what constitutes ‘Austrian’ culture, and what it means to be ‘Austrian’ in the twenty-first century. The engagement with the topic of migration by writers such as Tarek Eltayeb (1959–), Anna Kim (1977–), and Vladimir Vertlib (1966–), who are themselves first- and second-generation immigrants to Austria, bears relevance not only for discourses on migration within Austria itself, but for multicultural societies around the world.

In the genre of film, the medium that increasingly defines a nation’s cultural identity in an international context, the rise of New Austrian Cinema in the 1980s, facilitated in part through the introduction of federal support for filmmaking in the shape of the Film/Fernseh-Abkommen [Film ← 12 | 13 → Television Agreement] of 12 October 1981,42 led to a wave of innovative and socially engaged films in diverse genres, a trend that has continued to this day. While Michael Haneke (1942–) and Ulrich Seidl (1952–) are the most well-known exponents of New Austrian Cinema, Austria’s contemporary cinematic landscape is characterized above all by the plurality of its voices, both in fiction and documentary film, with directors such as Barbara Albert (1970–), Ruth Beckermann (1952–), Jessica Hausner (1972–), Ruth Mader (1974–), Anja Salomonowitz (1976–), Markus Schleinzer (1971–), and Erwin Wagenhofer (1961–) critically reflecting the present (and, in the case of filmmakers such as Beckermann, also the past) both of the Austrian nation as well as that of Europe and the world more broadly. This has led to international recognition, in the shape of both film awards and public appreciation for a film aesthetic ‘diametrically opposed to Hollywood values’, expressed in Austrian directors’ frequent examination of taboo subjects (such as euthanasia, paedophilia, and sex tourism), and in the detached style adopted for these investigations.43

While the work of Austrian writers and film directors is undeniably informed by their Austrian background, as mentioned above, their attention is frequently turned to issues that transcend the country’s borders. Moreover, questions of national and supranational identity, of how a country treats minority groups, or how a country confronts difficult aspects of its own past, are clearly issues relevant not just to Austrian culture. This is why the present volume is not only concerned with perspectives on Austrian culture by cultural practitioners within Austria. Transnational perspectives, such as those offered by the works of the American writer John Irving (1942–), the Czech-Jewish writer Lenka Reinerová (1916–2008), Austrian writers of Arab origin, or recent engagements with Carol Reed’s iconic film The Third Man (1949), are a key concern of the volume. The consideration of works by authors originating outside the borders of modern-day Austria, ← 13 | 14 → alongside the work of cultural practitioners operating within the geographical confines of Austria itself, allows for a multi-perspectival view on how contemporary Austria sees itself, and how it is in turn seen by others from various vantage points. The volume includes contributions from scholars working in literary studies, film studies, and cultural history, allowing for a range of multidisciplinary perspectives to be brought to bear on the plurality of contemporary Austrian literature and culture.

The Chapters

The following chapters are grouped into three interconnected parts. The groupings are not designed to be in any way prescriptive – and certainly some chapters can fit under more than one heading – but are there to highlight points of comparison and connection between the sixteen chapters which make up the volume. Part I of the volume, entitled ‘Austria and the World: Transnational Perspectives’, has as its focus transnational perspectives on Austria and Austrian culture, as well as perspectives offered by Austrian writers and filmmakers on countries beyond Austria’s borders, including the Middle East, the United States, Italy, and the European Union as a political entity. Dagmar C. G. Lorenz’s chapter examines cosmopolitanism in Second Republic narratives, and the re-emergence of the Middle East as a topos in post-1945 Austrian literature. Lorenz examines changing post-war representations of the Middle East in the works of Ingeborg Bachmann and Elias Canetti, in the light of colonialism, Nazi campaigns, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She proceeds to analyse works from the 1990s by Anna Mitgutsch, Gerhard Roth, Ruth Beckermann and others, as well as writing since the millennium by Austrian-based writers of Arab background. Lorenz’s analysis of these works highlights affinities between mainstream and transnational authors, demonstrating that the authors all draw on literary practices that are part of the Austrian tradition. Anne-Marie Scholz’s chapter examines Carol Reed’s iconic film The Third Man (1949), a British/US co-production, as a historical referent in contemporary ← 14 | 15 → Austrian culture and literature. Scholz explores the ways in which contemporary Austrian culture relies on images of and from the film to promote a certain version of post-war Austrian history, one which downplays questions of coming to terms with the country’s past and instead valorizes the film as a transnational masterpiece. In this context, Scholz focuses on contemporary treatments of The Third Man, which call this reading into question, including a theatre production by the German playwright Jörg Albrecht, Harry Lime Lebt! Und das in diesem Licht! [Harry Lime lives, and that in this light!] (2010), and references to the film in the Austrian writer Ilse Aichinger’s autobiography Film und Verhängnis: Blitzlichter auf ein Leben [Film and Fate: Flashlights on a Life] (2001). As Scholz demonstrates, through parody and satire, these texts illustrate how The Third Man can function as a more problematic historical referent in Austrian culture.

Benedict Schofield’s chapter focuses on transatlantic perspectives on the Waldheim Affair and Austrian ‘belatedness’ in the fiction of the American novelist John Irving. The chapter contextualizes the discussion of Austria’s belated process of Vergangenheitsbewältigung [coming to terms with the past] undertaken elsewhere in this volume, through an analysis of Austrian memory politics in the bestselling fiction of the American author John Irving. Schofield traces how Irving’s novels from the late 1960s to the late 1990s reveal post-war Austria as a site of both fascination and contempt. The chapter demonstrates how transatlantic voices, such as Irving’s, provided a consistent critique of Austria’s memory politics, both pre- and post-Waldheim: a critique which challenges the idea of the Waldheim Affair as a clear turning point for contemporary Austria. Ultimately, Schofield demonstrates that Irving’s transnational perspective on Austria’s past is critically distinct to that within Austria. Katya Krylova’s chapter focuses on recent films by the renowned documentary filmmaker Ruth Beckermann, whose narrative concerns extend far beyond Austria’s borders. The chapter examines how the thought of German-Jewish philosopher Walter Benjamin, whom Beckermann has cited as a key influence for her work, informs her recent film projects. This is analysed both in relation to Beckermann’s investigation of the United States, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, in American Passages (2011), and in relation to the interpellation of the myth of Ariadne, in her exploration of issues affecting Europe today (in ← 15 | 16 → particular, the European migrant crisis) in Those Who Go Those Who Stay (2013). Drawing on Laura Rascaroli’s ideas on subjective cinema, Krylova argues that in Beckermann’s recent films it is the film montage that takes centre stage, and that the films’ lack of an overarching narrative frame is symptomatic of the multifaceted and ambivalent subject matter that they portray. Valentina Serra’s chapter analyses the work of Austrian writer and intellectual Robert Menasse, who both in his fiction and non-fiction work subjects both present-day Austrian and European society to thorough scrutiny. Serra analyses the narrative strategies employed by Menasse in order to trace the idea of the engaged intellectual that he valorizes. The chapter shows how Menasse formulates his theoretical positions using an ironic, postmodern play of quotation and self-quotation. Serra demonstrates that, as the defender of the original project of an economic, political and social community, Menasse views the current state of the European Union as a caricature, and that the EU’s postnational dimension as a ‘European Republic’ has yet to be fulfilled.

Part II thematically adjoins the contributions in Part I of the volume, with a focus on questions of space and place, Heimat and identity, self and other, which are key concerns for many Austrian writers and filmmakers, as well as thinking about space and boundary crossing more broadly, in terms of the spaces that texts and films come to occupy and claim for themselves, and which, through their aesthetic strategies, seek to challenge and subvert conventions, and/or present challenges of various kinds to us as readers and viewers. Nikhil Sathe’s chapter traces how the key themes in contemporary Austrian cinema since the 1990s of migration, border crossing, and integration have been augmented in more recent Austrian films through the utilization of the American film genre of the Western, symptomatic of the cultural exchange between Hollywood and the Austrian cinema industry in the twentieth century, as well as that between the US and Austria more broadly. Focusing on Erwin Wagenhofer’s Black Brown White (2011), Anja Salomonowitz’s Spanien [Spain] (2012), Florian Flicker’s Grenzgänger [Border Crossers] (2012) and Andreas Prochaska’s Das finstere Tal [Dark Valley] (2014), the chapter examines how, to varying degrees, the films adopt elements from different phases of the Western’s development, and how this genre allows these films to thematize injustices of migration policies and controls that construct and perpetuate a Fortress Europe. ← 16 | 17 →

Ursula A. Schneider and Annette Steinsiek examine the topos of the border in Felix Mitterer’s Verkaufte Heimat [Bartered Homeland] (1988–1994) drawing on the writer’s Vorlass [preliminary literary estate]. The chapter examines how Mitterer attempts to overcome ‘internal borders’ in the multipart Verkaufte Heimat series, which treats a central topic in his work: the Brenner border, which has existed between Austria and Italy since 1918. Schneider and Steinsiek show that Mitterer’s Verkaufte Heimat not only offers a historically accurate treatment of the history of South Tyrol, but also serves as an example for the constructive negotiation of borders and identities, both with regard to national borders as well as those between groups or individuals. Silke Schwaiger’s chapter examines the centrality of topography for constructions of identity in the novels of the Austrian-Korean writer Anna Kim, whose writing does not feature Austria as a setting, with the writer instead positioning herself beyond a national Austrian context, with a strong focus on Europe and beyond. Drawing on Marc Augé’s concept of ‘non-place’ and Sigmund Freud’s concept of the uncanny, Schwaiger traces how identities in Kim’s novels are shaped by wider historical and political contexts and highlights how political power relations are criticized through individual life histories. By contrast, Rachel Green centres her analysis firmly on Austrian domestic space, examining the recurring trope of the basement in New Austrian Film. In her chapter, Green examines works by New Austrian filmmakers, including Ulrich Seidl, Ruth Mader, Jessica Hausner, Michael Glawogger and Markus Schleinzer, and demonstrates how their films depict the basement as a site where the basic primal instincts of sex (Eros) and violence (associated with Thanatos) are fulfilled. Drawing on Freudian psychoanalytical theory, the chapter argues that the basement in New Austrian Film acts as a primordial space – a spatial variation of Freud’s id – for hidden drives and urges, which remain hidden beneath the surface of Austrian life.

Lydia Haider’s chapter foregrounds rhythm as a subversive textual strategy in the texts of Thomas Bernhard and Ernst Jandl. The chapter demonstrates that in the texts of both writers, the crossing of boundaries, or the destruction and deconstruction of boundaries, is performed on the rhythmic level, as well as on the thematic level, and that, therefore, one can speak of a double subversion. In her analysis of Bernhard’s Auslöschung [Extinction] and Alte Meister [Old Masters], and Jandl’s ‘die humanisten’ ← 17 | 18 → [The Humanists], Haider shows how the writers’ subversions take place through a rhythmic process, where the areas of focus are, for example, cultural values, National Socialism and its legacy in Austria, gender images and stereotypes, art, and the role of the state. Peter Höyng’s chapter advocates for a third space with relation to established criticism on the Nobel laureate Elfriede Jelinek by examining the author’s play Winterreise [A Winter Journey] (2011) in conjunction with Georg Simmel’s text ‘Exkurs über den Fremden’ [Excursus on the Stranger] (1908). Höyng poses the question: ‘What are we as scholars supposed to do with literature that has already inscribed the very critique that literary theory has offered in the form of deconstruction?’ In order to tackle this impasse, Höyng draws on Georg Simmel’s canonical short essay ‘Exkurs über den Fremden’, which encompasses a figure of the third without sublating opposing differences. Höyng persuasively argues that Simmel’s text on the stranger presents a key for unlocking central aspects of Jelinek’s Winterreise on the one hand, and creating a third space that allows for a critique of her work on the other.

Part III of the volume has as its focus a central topic in contemporary Austrian literature, film, and culture; namely, confronting the Nazi past. Contributions focus on memory discourses in contemporary Austrian literature, the figure of the grandmother in recent Austrian literature, Lenka Reinerová’s late prose, Robert Schindel’s novels, and the Vienna Philharmonic’s confrontation with its Nazi past. Magdolna Orosz’s chapter undertakes a survey of the themes of historical traumata, forgetting and memory in contemporary Austrian literature. The chapter traces how the literary treatment of Austrian historical caesuras of the past century – notably two world wars, the collapse of the Habsburg monarchy, National Socialism and the Holocaust – has particularly intensified in recent years. Orosz traces the turn to ‘family histories’ in Austrian literature since the beginning of the twenty-first century, and analyses forms of historical memory in family novels by authors including Eva Menasse, Elena Messner, and Peter Henisch. Ultimately, Orosz demonstrates the centrality of dialogue in the texts under discussion and the openness and incompleteness of working through both familial and collective pasts. Petra M. Bagley’s focus on the figure of the grandmother in recent Austrian literature complements Orosz’s discussion ← 18 | 19 → of family novels. Here Bagley explores further a term she coined in 2006, namely ‘Grossmutterliteratur’ [grandmother literature]. In this context, the chapter analyses recent works by Peter Henisch (Eine sehr kleine Frau [A Very Little Woman], 2007) and Melitta Breznik (Das Umstellformat [The Transfer Form], 2002). As Bagley makes clear, both authors have previously made significant contributions to ‘Väterliteratur’ [father literature]. Henisch’s Eine sehr kleine Frau focuses on the secrecy surrounding the grandmother’s Jewish descent, while Breznik’s Das Umstellformat centres on the story of the narrator’s grandmother, who was murdered in the Nazi euthanasia programme. Bagley demonstrates how these texts exemplify an emergent trend, which is symptomatic of the growing distance from the Nazi period, whereby grandmothers are not presented as victims, but rather as agents for the revelation of truth.

Traci S. O’Brien’s chapter focuses on the representation of history and memory in Lenka Reinerová’s late prose. O’Brien explores how Reinerová (born a German Jew in 1916 in Prague, at the time part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) used postmodern associational and nonlinear narrative strategies in order to bring history to life in her later prose (1985–2000). The chapter demonstrates how Reinerová provides a literary counterpoint to the views of German-speaking cultural critics, who implicate the Western humanist tradition in the rise of fascism. O’Brien argues that, in finding ways to maintain respect for the humanist tradition, Reinerová seeks to revalidate human reason and language, specifically the German language, thereby proving that the epistemological uncertainty, which dominates in a post-Holocaust age, does not necessarily mean the destruction of all existing forms of meaning. Joseph W. Moser’s chapter examines Robert Schindel’s Gebürtig [Born-Where] (1992) and Der Kalte [The Cold One] (2013), novels which contributed to historicizing the 1980s in Austria, and which Moser describes as a Balzacian comédie humaine. The chapter illustrates how Schindel’s realistic depiction of 1980s Vienna draws on a wide range of characters, from Nazi criminals to survivors of the Holocaust, with Schindel’s Der Kalte offering a fictionalization of the Waldheim Affair. Moser examines how, in his writing, Schindel uncovers Austria’s historical lie of having been the first victim of Hitler’s aggression, and traces the progression in Austrian society from Austria denying its role in the ← 19 | 20 → Holocaust to striving for greater historical transparency. The final chapter in the volume by Lauren Freede interrogates the Nazi past of the Vienna Philharmonic, the orchestra famous for its annual New Year’s Day concert, broadcast around the world. Freede analyses the growing focus, since 2012, on the orchestra’s activities during the National Socialist period. The chapter traces how increasing media and political pressure eventually forced the orchestra’s administration, under the leadership of Clemens Hellsberg, to commission a number of studies into the orchestra’s Nazi past, investigating Nazi party membership rates among members of the orchestra, and the fate of its Jewish musicians during the Third Reich. Freede demonstrates the missing aspects of the orchestra’s historical investigations, namely that these have been limited to exposing the orchestra’s actions between 1938 and 1945. The chapter focuses on the orchestra’s presentation of its own history, and questions the view that the orchestra and its repertoire can be seen as wholly positive aspects of the Austrian nation.

The diverse contributions in this volume reflect the plurality of contemporary Austrian literature and cultural production. The range of critical approaches in this volume is as rich as the texts, films, and other cultural products under examination. Taken together, the sixteen chapters demonstrate how Austrian cultural production has great political import, not flinching away from treating difficult aspects of its present (see, for example, Rachel Green’s discussion of the depiction of child abuse in contemporary Austrian cinema), or of its past (see, in particular, the contributions in Part III of the volume). Jelinek’s assessment of the political engagement of post-war Austrian literature and culture,44 discussed earlier in this introduction, continues to ring true nearly two decades into the twenty-first century. There is no doubt that Austrian writers, filmmakers and artists in the twenty-first century form an important part of Austria’s civil society, shedding light on aspects of the country’s present-day reality and its historical legacy, marginalized by official discourse. This continuation of an iconoclastic tradition of cultural and social criticism accounts for the enduring allure and relevance of Austrian literature, film and culture, which extends far beyond the country’s ← 20 | 21 → borders. The inflection of contemporary Austrian cultural production both with the country’s heritage of having been at the centre of a multi-ethnic Empire, and the lived experience of multiculturalism today (regardless of the discourse of successive Austrian populist politicians), which manifests itself in Austrian writers’ and filmmakers’ outward-looking attention towards the world, further adds to the transnational appeal of contemporary Austrian literature and culture. The contributions in this volume demonstrate precisely why Austria, and its literature and culture, continue to fascinate audiences and scholars around the globe.


Beckermann, Ruth, ‘Director’s Statement’, The Waldheim Waltz: A Film by Ruth Beckermann <http://www.waldheimswalzer.at/en/content/synopsis/> accessed 28 April 2018.

Bell, Bethany, ‘Austria: Protests in Vienna Over Far-Right in Coalition’, bbc.com (13 January 2018) <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-42676774> accessed 30 April 2018.

Beller, Steven, A Concise History of Austria (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

Berlinale – Berlin International Film Festival, ‘Glashütte Original – Documentary Award Winner 2018: Ruth Beckermann’ [video], YouTube (recorded 24 February 2018, uploaded 25 February 2018) <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDZGbzfaJ78> accessed 28 April 2018.

Binder, Dieter A., ‘“Rescuing the Christian Occident” and “Europe in Us”: The People’s Party in Austria’, in Michael Gehler and Wolfram Kaiser, eds, Christian Democracy in Europe, ii: Christian Democracy in Europe Since 1945 [Taylor & Francis e-Library] (London, New York: Routledge, 2005), 121–134.

‘Bundespräsidentenwahl 2016: Österreich, endgültiges Endergebnis’, Bundesministerium für Inneres <http://wahl16.bmi.gv.at/> accessed 24 August 2017.

Dassanowsky, Robert von, Austrian Cinema: A History (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2005).

de Stella-Palikruschewa, Fanya and Monika Salzer, ‘Omas, Omas, uns braucht das ganze Land’ [video], YouTube (uploaded 19 December 2017), <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DzVYvc0bRTQ> accessed 30 April 2018. ← 21 | 22 →

Firth, Catriona, Modern Austrian Literature Through the Lens of Adaptation (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2012).

Freud, Sigmund, Der Mann Moses und die monotheistische Religion [1939], in Alexander Mitscherlich, Angela Richards and James Strachey, eds, Sigmund Freud: Studienausgabe, 11 vols (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1969–1975), ix, 459–581.

‘Geografie und Bevölkerung’, migration.gv.at <http://www.migration.gv.at/de/leben-und-arbeiten-in-oesterreich/oesterreich-stellt-sich-vor/geografie-und-bevoelkerung/> accessed 30 April 2018.


XII, 442
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (October)
Contemporary Austrian literature and culture Postwar Austrian culture Contemporary Austrian Literature, Film and Culture
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2018. XII, 440 pp., 2 fig. b/w

Biographical notes

Katya Krylova (Volume editor)

Katya Krylova is a Lecturer in German, Film and Visual Culture at the University of Aberdeen. She studied German and Italian at Churchill College, Cambridge, where she then completed an MPhil in European Literature and Culture and a PhD in German Literature in 2011. She has also held research and teaching positions at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for the History and Theory of Biography in Vienna, in the Department of German Studies at the University of Nottingham (where she held a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship), in the Department of German at King’s College London, and in the Department of Modern Languages at the University of Birmingham. Her first monograph, Walking Through History: Topography and Identity in the Works of Ingeborg Bachmann and Thomas Bernhard (2013), was the winner of the 2011 Peter Lang Young Scholars Competition in German Studies. Her most recent monograph, The Long Shadow of the Past: Contemporary Austrian Literature, Film, and Culture, was published in 2017.


Title: New Perspectives on Contemporary Austrian Literature and Culture
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