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Belle Necropolis

Ghosts of Imperial Vienna


Katherine Arens

Since coming to public notice through major museum catalogues and the work of Carl Schorske around 1980, fin de siècle Vienna has been cast as the final bloom of a dying culture. Yet this assessment is itself a historical construct, deriving from the politics of the twentieth century. This volume argues that «Habsburg nostalgia» is anything but backward looking: instead, images from this glittering Habsburg past become evidence of a culture’s sophisticated sense of how and why history is made, in both official and popular spheres. Including the first translation of an original account of Crown Prince Rudolf’s suicide at Mayerling in 1889, Belle Necropolis argues for Austria’s continued reuse of its own history to point the way toward the future rather than simply memorializing a past that only exists as living memories of shared stories, not as a truth in itself. Case studies included here range from imperial stereotypes before 1900 through their adaptations in the film 1. April 2000 and today’s musicals, and from the politics of representing Austria since Rebecca West up through Schorske’s master narrative of the Ringstrasse. Through these studies, Habsburg culture emerges as a culture of commemoration that uses its own past to overcome the limits of a small country seeking a role on the contemporary world stage.
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4. Habsburg Nostalgia as Postmemory, and What Comes After


Habsburg nostalgia has long been defined by scholars like Larry Wolff (in The Idea of Galicia: History and Fantasy in Habsburg Political Culture[2010]) in the sense identified by Svetlana Boym in The Future of Nostalgia (2002)—as a force connecting national history/biography with personal identities. Wolff highlights nationalism; Boym stresses how nostalgic memories of the past set the path toward a future.1 As we have seen in the case of Rebecca West, however, the imperial history of the Habsburgs as seen from the mid-twentieth century offered anything but positive nostalgia, except as the narrative of trauma and decadence.

This chapter will thus reconsider “Habsburg nostalgia” as a different kind of collective narrative: as a complex case of post-memory aimed not at the nations of the world, but at post-World-War-II Austria itself. The nostalgic images of Wien anno dazumal, fin de siècle Vienna, and the purported humanism of art and Josephinism that proliferate after the Second World War cannot be considered attempts to create a postwar Austria in the image of a mythic past—neither Habsburg history itself nor the allies’ memories of it sustain that fuction Instead, I will address them as more complicated acts of public memory aimed at tying individual experience back into an Austrian collective space of public discussion about historical legacies.

← 61 | 62 → The most public early example claimed for Habsburg postwar nostalgia is the 1952 film by Wolfgang Georg Louis Liebeneiner, 1. April 2000, supposedly made to help argue...

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