Ghosts of Imperial Vienna
6. Building the Habsburg Subject: Scholarly Historical Fictions
Scholarly Historical Fictions
The goal of scholarly research is not only the cognition, but also the understanding of phenomena. We have gained cognition of a phenomenon when we have attained a mental image of it. We understand it when we have recognized the reason for its existence and for its characteristic quality (the reason for its being and for its being as it is).
(Menger, Untersuchungen, 43)
The prior case studies suggest that Austria’s uses of history and narrative have been misassessed as evidence of its purported conservatism and unwillingness to innovate, or, in even less charitable assessments, as a blatant sell-out to tourism as a major domestic industry. But such interpretations are all too often based on generalities: Helene Vetsera has to be a grieving mother (and not someone capable of manipulating the crown); Rebecca West’s memories, presented as a travelogue, must represent the Balkans as they really were, not through the lens of specific politics of victimhood; films like 1. April 2000 have to be read as nostalgia rather than satire; popular theater cannot possibly support serious political goals. However, closer attention to such texts as specific interventions into public consciousness and public discourse reveals them as deploying traditional mass media to renegotiate historicist monumentalism and map a newly reimagined Austrian history. Such alternate readings may seem willful, a scholar’s attempts to vindicate Austria from its historical culpability or to overread texts which in actuality speak in overly simplistic ways.
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