|Trans||Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften||14. Nr.||Dezember 2002|
G. Daviau (Riverside/California)
A hundred years have passed since Austria reached the greatest flowering of its arts in the fin de siècle around 1900, a truly unique era by any standard and deservedly regarded as one of the most remarkable periods in the history of culture. As a further measure of its greatness my aim in this presentation is to show the lasting influence of this epoch. In terms of the conference theme "The Contemporary of the Non-Contemporary" I wish to demonstrate how the attitudes, ideas, innovations and thinking of the cultural and social program known as modernity have remained, albeit in modified form, the basis of the culture and society of Austria a hundred years later at the Millenium. Again Austria finds itself in a transitional era just as compelling as a century earlier. The earlier progress in every area of life and culture is now being carried further. The ideas, thinking and human values, while remaining intact in essence, are undergoing modification and are being expanded from a European or Western focus to accord with the new circumstances of multilingualism, transnationalism and globalization.
While the surface of what Stefan Zweig called "das goldene Zeitalter der Sicherheit" was tranquil, Austria was actually in a process of radical internal transition. Influenced by Nietzsche and by the progressive developments in other European countries, the young writers and artists in every field brought about a "revaluation of all values," thereby animating and driving Austria to shift from the 19th to the 20th century to keep step with the rest of Europe, despite the combined resistance of the Habsburg Emperor Franz Joseph with his policy of maintaining the status quo and the ultra-conservative Catholic Church. The artists and intellectuals increasingly desired to move stagnated Austria away from what Ferdinand Kürnberger called "Halbasien" and into the European sphere on a par with other Western nations. From its beginnings modernity was a transnational movement. In 1918 Hermann Bahr, the organizer, catalyst and chief publicist of the modernity movement, began to promote the idea of Austria as the center of a unified Europe,(1) five years before Richard Nikolaus Coudenhove-Kalgeri published his book Paneuropa(1923). Subsequently, in the 1940s, Raoul Auernheimer in Californian exile fostered the idea of postwar Vienna as the capital of a united Europe.
Much of the thinking and many of the prevailing ideas and developments taken for granted in society today were introduced during the extremely fertile era around 1900.(2) One of the greatest errors of recent criticism has been the pronouncement that Postmodernism spelled an end to modernity. In reality Postmodernism has faded away, while the cultural and intellectual innovations of modernity, because of their fundamental soundness, still remain as relevant as when they were introduced and continue to form the solid basis of society at the Millenium. Such ideas as what it means to be a human being, the value of treating the sexes equally, the need for more education for everyone to enable each individual to develop independence of thought and spirit, the necessity to allow all people to utilize their full potential, the negative effects of race prejudice, and a great many other concepts, as will be shown, still shape contemporary life.
In the halcyon days from 1890 to 1914 the arts did not simply flourish, they had been elevated to a position of primacy - to write a successful play for the prestigious Burgtheater seemed to be the aim of every young man with a modicum of talent. I say man advisedly, based on the experience of Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, who in those days of patriarchal rule was discouraged from writing dramas as unbecoming for a woman. That was the time when, in the view of Raoul Auernheimer, the arts meant everything and politics very little.(3) Vienna at the dawn of the twentieth century was not only idealistically, but also aesthetically and materialistically oriented as well. Beauty, art, the theater, and creativity were the main concerns of this artistically gifted generation, born in the 1860s, 70s and 80s. To have talent brought rich rewards in terms of status and served as a means of overcoming the strict, hierarchical class structure of society. An artist from the middle class could find acceptance into the higher social circles closed to him otherwise.
This glorious, glamorous dream world ended abruptly with World War I, a wake up call to the dawn of a new era. Following the demise of the Monarchy in 1918, these writers could no longer avoid political matters. Schnitzler confronted his time in his books of aphorisms and in his diaries,(4) while Hofmannsthal, whose assigned role during the war had been to promote the Austrian idea , tried to unify the country with his postwar plays such as Der Schwierige and Der Unbestechliche as well as with his readers such as Deutsche Erzählungen, an extension of his wartime Österreichische Bibliothek, designed to enable the country to draw strength from its rich cultural heritage. Bahr also worked on behalf of unification by publicizing the significance of Austria's baroque tradition, which made Austria a bridge between East and West, North and South.(5) Karl Kraus, one of the few authors who looked backward instead of forward, nevertheless contributed to progress by his lifelong battle against corruption in every form until his death in 1936. Not until writers, like Auernheimer, were imprisoned in concentration camps or driven into exile did they realize what their early lack of vigilance over politics had meant for the nation, not to mention for themselves. Yet it is difficult to see what they could have changed under the political circumstances that prevailed. Historically writers have exerted little influence on either politics or the public -- witness Kraus or Bertolt Brecht. Witness the situation today, when the writers are more politically active than they ever have been.
Today, after two world wars, the situation has changed radically. Contemporary authors no longer ignore politics but, on the contrary, are, in varying degrees, politically engaged, with some who are outright activists. Peter Turrini, for example, who for many years has been one of Austria's most fearless and outspoken political and social critics, analyzed, in collaboration with Wilhelm Pevny, the rise of National Socialism in Austria in the six-part television series Die Alpensaga (1974-1979). Over the years he has also served as a conscience of the Socialist Party (SPÖ), to which he belongs, portraying its recent weakness and ineffectiveness in comparison to its early strength and vigorous spirit. His exposures of malfeasance have included such major scandals as the Noricum affair, the government's illegally selling heavy weapons to the Middle East, and the costly political corruption involved in a phony new recycling method, among others, in the four-part television series Die Arbeitersaga (1984-1990), written in collaboration with Rudi Palla and Dieter Berner, who also directed the production. Turrini's books of essays bristle with criticism of political and social conditions, ranging from the ills resulting from excessive tourism, what he calls the Hawaiinization of Austria, to pleading for greater tolerance toward Slovenians and more government support for Slovenian writers.(6)
Although Turrini still features prominently in the media with his pronouncements, Robert Menasse has replaced him today as the most vocal and aggressive political and social critic, with writings such as Das Land ohne Eigenschaften(7) and talks that deliver a continuous barrage of criticism against offensive circumstances and conditions in Austria. As an activist gesture, he has threatened to found an organization of Austrian writers outside of Austria, Free Austria Kunst ges. m. b. H., with headquarters in Paris -- 100 writers have expressed interest so far -- to protest the cultural policies of the Minister of Culture, Franz Morak,(8) but it is more than likely only a threat that will never be realized. Other prominent outspoken critics include Joseph Haslinger, Elfriede Jelinek, Doron Rabinovici, and most recently and surprisingly Peter Handke, who, after spending most of his career as a Bewohner des Elfenbeinturms, has begun emulating Günther Grass as a partisan political commentator, beginning with Eine winterliche Reise zu den Flüssen Donau, Save, Morawa and Drina oder Gerechtigkeit für Serbien (1996) and the addendum Sommerlicher Nachtrag zu einer winterlichen Reise (1996) and continuing today. All of these writers and many more protested the new coalition government formed by the conservative Peoples' Party (ÖVP) with Jörg Haider's nationalistic Freedom Party (FPÖ), but to no avail. Particularly Menasse, Jelinek and Schindl have vehemently attacked the policies and the recent reelection (2002) of Wolfgang Schüssel as Bundeskanzler.(9)
The dramatic changes that took place in Europe during the second half of the nineteenth century - the rapid expansion of industrialization and the concomitant shift from an agrarian to an urban society, the breakthroughs and advances in the sciences and medicine, the change from a belief in absolute to relative values, the replacement of the aristocracy by the moneyed bourgeoisie which propelled the move toward democratization - produced the ferment and set the stage for the "transformation of all values" that occurred around 1900.
Every area contributed discoveries, inventions, and innovations. Society became more mobile with the advent of the train, the car, the airplane. Names such as Darwin, Billroth, Rokitansky, Semmelweis, Mach, Freud, Einstein, Planck, Nietzsche, Comte, Marx, and Adler profoundly advanced human understanding of life and changed the social outlook, setting the course for the twentieth century. These sweeping economic, political and social changes influenced the course of literature and the other arts by bringing a new conception of the form and meaning of art, the role of the artist, the relationship of art and life, and the conflict between spirit and nature, Geist und Natur, the dominant theme of literature between 1885 and 1914.
The confluence of all these ideas resulted in a revolution of the spirit, a reaction against the past, and a call by the sudden profusion of young writers, artists, and intellectuals for a regeneration of culture in the name of contemporary truth. They wanted their own literature and art in tune with their own time and repudiated the escapist flight into the historical past or to exotic regions. Austrian writers and artists wanted reality but at the same time one that avoided unpleasantness. After all, why could not a rose garden be as truthful as a sewer? The socially motivated desire of the Berlin Naturalists to render truth in terms of a photographic and phonographic reproduction of proletarian life in the slums of Berlin or in rural settings, or by portraying suffering and disadvantaged human beings struggling against ignorance and inherited defects, held no appeal for Viennese writers and artists. Rather they preferred to focus their pursuit of truth on eternal problems and on the moral and ethical issues of their society. This approach makes the fin de siècle around 1900 one of the most glamorous cultural epochs with enduring appeal, while Berlin Naturalism, which has proved to be zeitgebunden, has consequently lost a great deal of its relevance and importance.
Today the situation in Austria, as in the rest of the world, mirrors that of a century ago. The country is again engaged in a radical transition into the new technological age, into globalization, into the European Union (EU), into a world of space travel, cloning and biotech food, all dramatic changes that will influence and surely alter life, as we now know it. The great difference is that then it could be seen and felt at once that the inventions, scientific discoveries and changing values improved the quality of life. The impact was direct and immediate, such as when doctors, thanks to Semmelweis, began washing their hands between baby deliveries and stopped killing mothers and infants by infection. We have no such certainty today about what all the radical new changes such as stem-cell research and cloning will mean in terms of health, quality of life, or even concerning such a basic matter as the future definition of a human being. However, we do have enough experience to know that life spent before a computer or television set, or in a state of virtual reality on the Internet, can be harmful to one's health, if not to sanity. Since life will be altered in basic ways, the literature, which traditionally mirrors its society, will consequently change, too. For example, will membership in the EU influence authors and scholars to write differently, with a more European rather than a national orientation?(10) Actually, literature, the arts in general and ideas have never been respecters of borders and have always moved freely around the world both orally and through translations. The fact that the Austrian bestseller list consists almost entirely of foreign books in translation shows the willingness to buy and read well-written, entertaining, informative books whatever the source. In this attempt to homogenize the world through globalism, do we want to homogenize the literature and other arts, too? The EU is intent upon creating a business base through the unity of the members that will enable it to rival the USA economically. At the same time it sensibly insists that member states will retain the complete freedom to maintain their own autonomous cultures. In more material terms, the EU, which will make possible complete freedom of movement between member states, will clearly influence the way books and also music are distributed. For example, will the attempt of authors to sell their new books directly on the Internet prove successful, with all of the implications for the publishing and distribution of books, as we presently know it, not to mention what the shift to electronic transmission and storage will mean for libraries. The ability to download music through the Internet, which is more advanced and refined than the situation with books, has already demonstrated the serious financial consequences for the music publishing companies.
Around 1900 most people felt comfortable with their lives and their Austrian identity, so much so that they decided to give themselves a better past, one more in accord with the pleasant mood and upbeat tone of their agreeable present. Writers, critics, and cultural historians joined together to transform the portrayal of the tyrannical, repressive Vormärz into the warm, cozy idyll of the Biedermeier, one of the most flagrant, artificial acts of revisionism in cultural history.(11)Yes, the fin de siècle was all in all a most splendid period, offering a grand life for the well- to-do and a good life for those who could afford a decent living. As is historically the case, the underprivileged majority suffered a hard and harsh life at the survival level, but this did not trouble anyone. The upper classes, which adhered strictly to a hierarchical social structure, accepted the notion that some people were ordained to be poor and thought no more about it. It was a thankless position to be in, to be sure, but since this hierarchy was sanctioned by the government and the Catholic Church somebody had to do it, as Hofmannsthal demonstrated in the figure of the beggar in Das Grosse Salzburger Welttheater. Otherwise, according to the dogma, the world would be thrown off its course.
By contrast, today the Monarchy has long disappeared, and no desire to revive it exists, except possibly in the dreams of the Habsburg heir apparent waiting in the wings. Politically the country, after trying democracy in the form of the First Republic in 1918, engaging in civil war in February 1934, being forced into fascism in the Austrian style under Dollfuß in the early 1930s and in the German manner under Hitler in 1938, followed by a Second Republic in 1945, headed by the same leaders as the First, is now muddling as best it can through the present, trying to establish an effective government that can lead the country forward. The major parties, the ÖVP and the SPÖ, are waging a bitter battle that rivals the mutual enmity that led to the brief civil war with pitched battles in the city of Vienna in February 1934. The difference today is that the politicians and the parties are trying to discredit and destroy each other through parliamentary procedure and attacks in the media, that is, with words rather than with guns and executions, but the mutual hatred is no less vehement or vicious. No party is popular enough to obtain an outright majority, hence the need to continue a coalition system of government, which up to now has proved to be largely ineffective.
Fortunately for the country, economics and the requirements of the European Union rule the country today to a greater degree than internal politics, and this situation keeps the country on an even keel. Earlier, under the Emperor, progressiveness was discouraged. Franz Joseph pursued the goal of looking backward or at least of maintaining the status quo. Like his forbears, he would have liked to keep the country an agrarian society if he could have done so. Today, under the impetus and initiatives of the EU, Austria is becoming forward oriented and is slowly relinquishing the discredited socialist form of controlled economy in favor of a competitive, market-driven capitalist economy. A prime factor in this development is the 60% German investment in Austrian businesses, giving it a substantial voice in economic matters, while Austria is 30% invested in Germany. The necessity of conforming to the rigid guidelines of the European Union dictates fiscal policy and imposes a prudent course on the government. Thus even with the weakening effect of a coalition government, the EU's control over policies and the substantial, mutually beneficial financial ties to Germany maintain the country on a solid footing. Businesses are generally doing reasonably well, particularly because of prudent, forward-looking investments in former member states of the Monarchy that will soon join the EU, and the country as well as the majority of people are substantially better off today than 100 years ago, both in material and cultural terms.
With respect to the power structure, the Catholic Church no longer wields the great authority it did earlier, when it could join the Emperor and crush the spirit of liberalism that had arisen in the second half of the nineteenth century and help force the country back into its conservative mold. A better informed public, thanks to more education for more people, greater access to global information through the international media and increased travel, combined with the Church's unalterable stance on modern issues such as freedom of choice for women in matters of birth control, has not only weakened its authority, but has also resulted in a substantial decline in membership and influence. It plays little role in politics today in contrast to the powerful voice it once enjoyed.
Austria around 1900 was a patriarchal society with a male dictated and enforced double standard, which Schnitzler, among others, exposed repeatedly throughout his works from first to last, from Anatol to the postumously published Zug der Schatten Today the patriarchal society, though it still exists and is often debated in the newspapers and news magazines, seems to no longer be considered a significant literary theme. The topic has been exaggerated and sensationalized in such works as Elfriede Jelinek's Die Liebhaberinnen and Lust as well as in Marlene Streeruwitz's Verführungen, and portrayed with sympathy and pathos in Barbara Frischmuth's Haschen nach Wind and Turrini's Kindsmord. In other countries, including the USA, women still have not reached full equality in terms of professional and job opportunities or salary, except in universities and in politics, where many more are finding acceptance and are working and being paid on equal terms. Women have also achieved parity in the arts and in film making, where talent, not sex, is the decisive factor. Today plays by women are welcome in the Burgtheater, as the costly, bombastic six-hour performance of Jelinek's Sportstück shows. While women are also theater directors, filmmakers and screenwriters, it is noteworthy that few Austrian women authors actually write theater plays. The most prominent are Jelinek and Frischmuth. Whether the form interests them less or whether this is a cultural holdover from the past is not clear.
Around 1900 writers and artists, indeed Austrians in general, loved Vienna, loved Austria, and glorified this world in books, paintings and music. They were so enamored of the lifestyle, in fact, that when the Monarchy ceased to exist in 1918, they ignored the new Republic and continued to set their works in the Habsburg past. Such biographies of that era as Stefan Zweig's Die Welt von gestern, Hermann Bahr's Selbstbildnis, Raoul Auernheimer's Das Wirtshaus zur verlorenen Zeit and above all Arthur Schnitzler's Tagebücher provide eloquent testimony to their attachment to the society in which they lived. Zweig, in fact, was so committed to that lifestyle that he refused to continue his life when he became convinced in February 1942 that the only world he could feel comfortable in had irretrievably disappeared.(12) All of the major writers, like Schnitzler, Hofmannsthal, Bahr, Zweig, and Auernheimer, devoted their lives to analyzing, criticizing and glorifying their society, which they knew to be unique and which they found infinitely appealing and fascinating. Like his friend Zweig, Auernheimer could never change his theme or style away from old Austria, even during his years in exile (1938-1948), with the result that he could never establish himself as a writer in the U. S.(13) Even Karl Kraus, who lived in a love/hate relationship with Austria, devoted his life to serving as the self-appointed conscience of Vienna, which provided all of the subject matter for his writings. One wonders if he would have become a writer at all without Vienna and the Viennese, without the Neue Freie Presse and the Jung Wien writers to serve as the goad, the stimulus to fuel his particular satirical talent and apocalyptic vision.
Today, by contrast, it is fashionable for authors to despise Austria, to bite the hand that feeds them. For it is the case that being critical proves to be good business; the more writers calumniate and criticize the government and the country, the more prizes and monetary awards they receive. Peter Handke, Thomas Bernhard, Robert Menasse, Josef Haslinger, Elfriede Jelinek, and Peter Turrini head the list. Of these, Handke ("Österreich, das Fett an dem ich würge") is at least consistent, abandoning Austria to live in Paris. However, on turning 60 he appears to have mellowed somewhat, consenting to be honored by a birthday celebration in Klagenfurt and an honorary doctorate from the University. Bernhard, whose finest play Heldenplatz holds top honors as a comprehensive, methodical denunciation of Austria, carried his hatred beyond the grave; when he died, he took his works with him by banning their sale and performance in his homeland. Of course, no one took this seriously, and the ensuing publicity over this ban only increased the number of performances of his plays and the sales of his books. The others, although much more widely traveled than their forbears, remain in Austria and, like Kraus, find most of their subject matter in condemning social and political conditions. Indeed, even those, like Elfriede Jelinek and Peter Turrini, who initially made public threats to leave the country in protest against Jörg Haider's FPÖ joining the government, soon found excuses why they could not leave. Two of the leading authors today, Felix Mitterer and Michael Ransmayer, live in Ireland, but their choice has nothing to do with politics. Rather it concerns their desire to avoid the Literaturbetrieb and the media in Austria and possibly also involves tax considerations. Lilian Faschinger chooses to live in Paris, while others, like Elfriede Czurda and Walter Grond, prefer the atmosphere in Berlin.
None of the earlier writers could conceive of living anywhere else but Vienna or at least in Austria. The generation around 1900 made occasional trips, but on the whole they were content to remain at home in Vienna with summers spent in Alt Aussee.(14) The attachment was equally strong among the exiles. With few exceptions, like Fritz Hochwälder, authors driven into exile in the 1930s almost all lived for the day when they would be able to return home. Even if they became citizens elsewhere, their hearts and their minds remained in Vienna, and they continued to write about Austrian topics and to defend Austria in their host countries.
Writers today like to criticize social and political policies, but they never offer any positive alternatives. They give no indication of how they would resolve the problems they describe. Authors I have asked about this simply brush aside the idea that as critics they have a responsibility to propose solutions. Some admit honestly that they do not know the answers any better than anyone else. They insist that their role is to raise problems, not to resolve them. Their purpose is to act as a goad, prodding those empowered to run the country to work out solutions. One exception is Menasse, who is always ready to take a public stand on political and social issues and is prepared to offer concrete suggestions. He is the closest to a Karl Kraus on the scene today.
Except for Kraus, who proudly emblazoned his credo of negativity at the beginning of Die Fackel, announcing: "Das politische Programm dieser Zeitung scheint somit dürftig; Kein tönendes "Was wir bringen", aber ein ehrliches "Was wir umbringen" hat sie als Leitwort gewählt,"(15) some of the earlier writers did try to lead by proposing courses of action. Hermann Bahr, for example, devoted fifteen years from 1891 to 1906 to creating and publicizing a comprehensive program of modernity. He founded his own newspaper Die Zeit in 1894 so he could publish his views free of timid editorial control. He encouraged the development of a literature and other arts that would rank with the best of Europe in order to draw Austria away from being Halb Asien to a progressive western orientation. In the 1920s he described Austria as the geographical center of a united Europe, predicting the situation that will be realized with the establishment of the European Union and the addition of countries like Tschechien, Hungary, Romania, and possibly Poland and Turkey. It was also Bahr, who first proposed the idea of the Salzburg Festival to Max Reinhardt in 1903, based on the concept of the baroque outdoor theater for the people. It was Bahr who encouraged Gustav Klimt to found the Secession and to invite reciprocal international cooperation with artists from abroad. It was Bahr, who through his friend Max Burckhard, director of the Burgtheater, could modernize not only the repertoire, but also the acting style. It was Bahr who publicized the idea of an independent Austria and an autonomous Austrian literature. It was Bahr who began opposing anti-Semitism in Austria as early as 1894 and continued to do so until 1932. And it was Bahr who throughout his writings encouraged Austrians to develop an independent spirit to break out of hidebound tradition and feel free to develop themselves to the fullest of their potential.(16)
Hofmannsthal wrote about the larger themes of life: fidelity, the transitoriness of life, mutual transformation through love, social responsibility of the artist, the bankruptcy of aestheticism, the double standard, women's emancipation, the relation of the unseen to the seen world, and the importance of the Austrian baroque tradition as well as of literature and language. Like Bahr, he too was an enthusiastic supporter of an independent Austria and of Austrians as the better Germans. He took over Bahr's idea of baroque theater in Austria and founded the Salzburg Festival after World War I as a Catholic counterweight to Protestant Bayreuth. Hofmannsthal also produced an Österreichische Bibliothek during the First World War, reprinting a series of literary monuments to enable his countrymen to draw strength from their great past at a time of crisis. It is noteworthy that at the present troubled time the Viennese newspaper Der Standard is beginning a 52-part series to remind people of "die Ressourcen dieser Kulturnation als Potenzial für die Zukunft des Landes."(17) This is just one aspect of the continued popularity of the fin-de-siècle authors, whose works continue to be reprinted, who are performed regularly and who appear on television and in the media regularly. Schnitzler dedicated his life and works to a methodical examination of his upper middle-class society, portraying every variation of interpersonal relations and exposing the double standard, the patriarchal society, anti-Semitism, the relation of the unseen to the seen world, and stressing the moral responsibility of the artist.
These writers were responsible moral and ethical authors who contributed significantly to raising the intellectual niveau of the country and broadening its horizons. So, too, were Richard Beer-Hofmann, who devoted himself mainly to Jewish themes; Peter Altenberg who wrote in his unique way about Austria as he saw it and lived a free-spirited, Bohemien life; Felix Salten, the author not only of successful childrens' books, like Bambi and Fünfzehn Hasen, but also of the perennially popular Josephine Mutzenbacher, die Geschichte einer Wiener Dirne, which have remained in print in English as well as German since they first appeared and has now been made available on a double CD;(18) Stefan Zweig, the most cosmopolitan and most widely translated Austrian author ever and one of the great pacifists of his time; and Raoul Auernheimer, cousin of Theodor Herzl, drama critic and feuilletonist for the Neue Freie Presse and lifelong publicist of Austria in all of his writings. Herzl, the dazzling writer for the Neue Freie Presse who wanted to write plays but, motivated by the injustice of the anti-Semitic treatment accorded Dreyfus at his trial in Paris, devoted his energies and talent instead to founding the Zionist movement. There was Rainer Maria Rilke, who has entered world literature as Austria's greatest poet; Ferdinand von Saar, the military officer who wrote about life in the Monarchy, often setting his works in the remote garrison towns; and Peter Rosegger, perhaps the greatest of the provincial writers, who described life in the country in all of its variety and richness, to show that Austria consisted of more than just Vienna. So, too, did Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, while the other prominent woman writer, the emancipated Rosa Mayreder, encouraged women to fight for their independence and their right to equal treatment. Finally, there was Karl Kraus, who worked to cleanse Austria of what he considered negative influences, in the belief that by rooting out evil the good would flourish. That he considered all of the Jung-Wien writers in the category of evil remains one of the mysteries of his life. That a man of his intelligence and commitment to justice could allow personal animosities to completely distort his critical judgment is nothing short of amazing. He was a great pacifist, who wrote one of the greatest anti-war dramas ever - Die letzten Tage der Menschheit. His late drama Die Unüberwindlichen, in which he anticipated disaster for the country if the big criminals, top politicians, and the police ever entered into collusion, is more relevant now than it was at the time it was written in 1929, when the purpose was to expose and drive the crooked Imre Bekessy out of Austria.(19)
The major Jung-Wien writers were ingrained with a deep sense of social responsibility. They did not write just to entertain and sell books but with the moral purpose of making people think about life, about society, and about themselves. They usually had a central focus uniting their writings, a feature mostly absent in the book production today, when, beyond the topics Bewältigung der Vergangenheit and the Holocaust, authors write on whatever theme they can and mostly lack any unifying core or sense of larger purpose in their works. Around 1900 religion played an important role in the writers' lives and works. Their plays, among others, turned the theaters, particularly the Burgtheater, into the people's university. It was these writers, who together with the artists and musicians, helped usher Austria into the twentieth century on a cultural par with the rest of Europe. And they did so on their own initiative and at their own risk. At that time there was no government support for authors or other artists, no subsidies for publishers, no prizes with monetary awards, no grants for travels to read from their works in other countries. Andrian, Beer-Hofmann, Kraus, and Zweig were independently wealthy. Schnitzler and also Hofmannsthal, thanks to his successful collaborations with Richard Strauss, could live from their writings, while Auernheimer, Bahr, and Salten worked as full-time journalists to earn their livelihood. Altenberg got by as best he could with financial support from his friends, as did Rilke, Ferdinand von Saar and Robert Musil.
Following World War II, Austria developed a cultural policy of assisting writers, artists, and theaters, in order to restore culture life as quickly as possible. Over the years this enlightened program has been substantially expanded, based on the rationale that since Austria could not compete internationally either politically or economically, it could make its mark culturally. As a result, Austria today provides the most generous support for writers and artists of any country I know. Every writer can expect some measure of support for writing a book, and a publisher receives the money to put it into print. Often upon publication an official book presentation is arranged, with a performer engaged to read selections from the book, followed by a generous reception. Translations of the book into other languages are also supported. Authors are paid for interviews, for giving lectures and readings, for participating in conferences and for making reading tours in other countries. When they retire from writing, they can expect a government pension. Along the way they are honored with prizes and awards, which are usually accompanied by monetary rewards. All of these subsidies are designed to enable authors to earn a living from their writings and not have to work at another job. This cultural policy even extends to scholars, who can receive salaries for up to five years along with money to hire assistants to write bloated scholarly books, which then receive subsidized publication and often officially sponsored presentations.
This generous system encourages would be writers and has had the desired result of producing a disproportionately large number of authors in Austria for its size. The downside might be considered the appearance of a number of books, which would never have been printed if publishers had had to risk their own money and depend on sales to recoup it. Compare the situation in Germany, where the Suhrkamp Verlag estimates that of 5000 manuscripts submitted last year, it published about 120. Similarly, the Piper Verlag over the last two-year period published just four books from the 4000 unsolicited manuscripts received. In Austria many of the books appearing today are clearly Modeerscheinungen, most of which will never see a second printing, and the memory of which will not live as long as the authors. But, despite these drawbacks, the system, to look on the positive side, has achieved its aim; it has resulted in Austria having the leading German-language literature at the present time. And even if this were not the case, it is clearly an enrichment of the country to provide the intellectual stimulus of a wide range of literature, even if many of the books will not create any lasting resonance. The big question is whether the current budgetary concerns caused by the global economic downturn will permit a continuation of this invaluable cultural support, without which the present rich book production would unquestionably suffer a decline. So, too, would the number of translations in other countries and quite likely the number of symposia, which contribute to creating a positive Austrian image in other countries.
Around 1900 Austrian writers published their books preferably with S. Fischer for the prestige, but other German publishers would also do, if necessary. The situation remains the same today. Austrian authors move to German publishers, preferably S. Fischer or Suhrkamp, as soon as possible to have the greatest access to the German market. Earlier it was less a question of the market than the necessity of gaining recognition in Germany in order to attract attention and gain acceptance in Austria. However, even if an Austrian writer is a household name, the local market cannot absorb the vast number of publications appearing weekly, making it imperative to have open access to the German market. Exacerbating the problem is the large number of German translations of literature from other countries, making the competition for book buyers keener than it has ever been before. Usually the authors in the weekly bestseller list in Austria are foreign rather than native writers. It is also noteworthy that only rarely does an Austrian writer ever make the bestseller list in Germany.
The problem becomes magnified in foreign markets, where Austrian books are offered in translation and where no authors have any name recognition at all among the general public. This is especially true in the U.S., where Austria itself still does not possess a widespread image. The authors are known to specialists in Austrian literature, the number of which continues to grow because of the richness of the field, but the awareness of the average German professor in America usually does not extend beyond a few of the leading writers. Indeed, professors who are non-specialists tend to subsume writings from Austria under German literature, still stubbornly refusing to accept Austrian literature as autonomous, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Similarly commercial publishers usually present Austrian writings under the rubric of German literature. This situation naturally contributes to hindering Austrian literature from becoming known in its own terms and from helping to establish greater awareness of Austria in America. Other countries do not have any difficulty in recognizing Austrian literature as independent from German literature. It is specifically a problem only in the U. S., including the universities.
Earlier, writers did not travel to any great extent, and their themes almost exclusively concerned Austria. Authors today are much more widely traveled and worldly, resulting in a broadening of horizons and greater diversity of settings in their writings. Recent works have been set in various parts of the U.S., including Alaska, South America, St. Joseph's Land in the far north, Italy, Turkey, Israel and Japan as well as in ancient Rome and Greece. Usually in these books the foreign country merely furnishes the background; for example, Handke and Gerhard Roth both use Alaska to suggest remoteness and coldness as well as the last frontier, where one can still be independent. I cannot speak about the works set in other countries, but I can offer a word of caution about authors, like Haslinger (Das Elend in Amerika) and Christine Haidegger (Skizzenbuch zu einem Aufenthalt), who feel that a few weeks or months of living and sightseeing in America qualify them as authorities. Such works need to be taken with more than a grain of salt, but many Austrian readers have no basis of comparison to separate fact from the author's fancy or fantasy. Such works together with recent media coverage have stimulated what to now has been the more or less latent anti-Americanism in Austria.
In the late nineteenth century, Austria was gripped by fear of a Slavic invasion. Today the same anxiety persists, causing a majority of Austrians to oppose the entrance of Eastern countries like the Czeck Republic, Hungary, Romania, Poland and Turkey into the EU.(20) However, at the recent conference in Copenhagen (December 2002), ten countries were pronounced eligible, and Austria voted for their admission. Although it granted refuge to more fugitives during the recent war in Yugoslavia than other European countries, Austria has now closed its borders and is maintaining a tight immigration policy. Haider's FPÖ wants to limit immigration still further, refusing even to sanction the admittance of additional skilled technical workers needed to expand businesses. Austria is still coping with the problem of Turkish guest workers, who after almost two generations have still not completely assimilated. They represent today what the Galician Jews, who likewise resisted assimilation, did around 1900. Barbara Frischmuth, who trained as a translator and interpreter and spent a year studying in Istanbul, has throughout her career been the strongest voice pleading for greater tolerance of other ethnic groups and for the acceptance of multiculturalism. However, in one of her best books, Das Verschwinden des Schattens in der Sonne, she described on the basis of her own experience the barriers she encountered, making it impossible for her to be accepted in Istanbul as anything but a tourist. Similarly, in her autobiographical novel Auf nach Jerusalem. Anna Mitgutsch portrayed her protagonist being rebuffed in the same way in Israel. The problem occurred even though in both cases the women knew the language as well as the culture and history of the host country and arrived brimming over with good will and a desire to be accepted. These works demonstrate that an outsider, especially one with a passport in her or his pocket, will remain the "other" no matter what amount of expertise one brings. Only those who are willing to belong to the host culture by assimilation or at least acculturation can make the transition from outsider to insider, and even then true acceptance is debatable. Peter Henisch's recent novel Der schwarze Peter, which deals with the life of a black man in Vienna, likewise examines the difficulties resulting from cultural diversity, from being other. The treatment of the Roma today also illustrates this problem.
Tourism was always viewed as a positive matter earlier, but now, having grown into a major business with tourists overrunning the country, especially in the summer, it has come under attack by authors like Turrini, Menasse, and Felix Mitterer, who fear that Austria is sacrificing its individual character by turning itself into a service organization for vacationers. Turrini opposes what he calls the "Hawaiinization" of Austria and also refers to the country as "Die touristische Bananenrepublik,"(21) while Menasse has complained that, as a result of excessive tourism, Austria is a nation but no longer a Heimat. Mitterer addressed the question of those who did not come just to visit but who also bought choice properties. In the meantime that problem has been resolved. What these writers do not consider is how the financial loss, which amounts to approximately 10% of the national budget, would be made up if tourism were reduced, not to mention the problem of adding to the already too high unemployment. Despite these warnings about the dangers of foreign intrusion and tourism, recent polls actually show that 80% of the population is content with Austria and an Austrian identity. There is no longer any wistful looking toward Germany or yearning to rejoin big brother. Most people today seem to take their identity from the town or village they call their Heimat, and to a large degree from their political party, which has become the major identifying label. Around 1900 a strong hostility existed between the provinces and Vienna, and the same situation still prevails today between red Vienna and the black provinces.
A constant throughout the last hundred years has been Austrian anti-Semitism. Georg von Schönerer exacerbated the problem in 1882 when he introduced the hateful idea of racial anti-Semitism into his German National Party. As a result, all Jewish members, including Theodor Herzl, were summarily ejected from their university fraternities. Karl Lueger successfully governed Vienna by means of selective anti-Semitism ("Ich bestimme, wer Jude ist."). Schnitzler was dishonorably discharged from the army because of prejudice, but by and large the prominent authors were immune to the problem, since they were welcomed into the homes of the best families and in addition were well enough off financially to escape harassment. Except for Bahr, the other five members of the so-called Jung-Wien group were Jewish, totally or partially, but all were acculturated and assimilated. Bahr published Der Antisemitismus in 1894, a collection of interviews with leading European authors, to combat the problem, while Theodor Herzl, Bahr's onetime fraternity brother, founded Zionism in 1897. Schnitzler dealt with the question of Zionism particularly in Der Weg ins Freie (1908) and of anti-Semitism in Professor Bernhardi (1912). Neither Hofmannsthal, who was raised as a Catholic, nor Auernheimer, who was raised as a Protestant, ever considered themselves Jewish and never discussed the matter.
Today anti-Semitism still remains a dominant issue, as Austria struggles to make amends for the part it played in the Holocaust, for slave labor, for the aryanization of homes and property, for confiscating bank accounts and insurances, and for employing every legal and bureaucratic maneuver after the war to delay the redressing of past injustices. Only now is the matter of restitution being seriously pursued, because of the lawsuits that have been filed. As Peter Henisch showed in Steins Paranoia, anti-Semitism is still evident in Austria today, despite the Jewish Museum, the new Holocaust memorials, the opening of the rebuilt Synagogue in Graz, and the recent honoring of Simon Wiesenthal on November 8, 2000. At least there have been no physical violence and few acts of vandalism in Austria as compared to Germany. However, the reluctance of the government to redress the wrongs of the past and the acceptance of the right wing FPÖ into the government draw continuous criticism from Jewish activists, like the filmmaker and author Ruth Beckermann and the Israeli writer, Doron Rabinovici, who took an active role in the demonstrations staged to protest including this party in the coalition government. At the opening of Jewish Film Week, beginning with a restored version of Hugo Bettauer's Stadt ohne Juden, Ariel Muzicant, Head of the Jewish Kultusgemeinde, made a plea for Austrians to create a hospitable atmosphere, in order to induce more Jews to come and join the 6500 who presently live in Austria. Haider's personal attack on Muzicant, widely interpreted as overt anti-Semitism, may have backfired politically and hurt the FPÖ substantially in the elections in Vienna in March 2001. A lawsuit brought against Haider,(22) was settled with a public apology.
At the turn of the century around 1900 progressive thinking people, including the Burschenschaften, were seeking a strong leader and found their man in Germany's Iron Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck. However, Bismarck, who considered Austrians decadent and backward, did not want Austria represented in the new unified Germany. Today it appears that a substantial number of Austrians are still looking for a strong leader, and some 27% believe to have found him in the aggressive Jörg Haider, the man who wants to defend Austria from further dilution by outsiders, who is opposed to membership in the European Union because of the loss of independence, and who wishes to bring strength to government in place of the system of weak coalitions, in which the partners devote much of their energy to infighting and worrying more about reelection and holding on to power than governing. Fortunately, to cite the well-known Austrian adage, the situation is desperate but not serious, for the twin factors, the economic ties with Germany and the unbending financial requirements of EU membership, are keeping the country on course, while the political situation works itself out, specifically while Haider self-destructs because of his inability to control his wild rantings, which for a time brought Austria under EU sanctions. At the present time it looks as if he has been forced to end his political career after the devastating debacle the FPÖ suffered at the polls in the recent early elections in December 2002 made necessary by Haider's behavior toward the coalition.
Around 1900 there were no literary organizations. Jung Wien never existed as an organized group, simply as a useful designation of the six leading authors Andrian, Bahr, Beer-Hofmann, Hofmannsthal, Salten and Schnitzler, who as young friends liked to meet in the Café Griensteidl. There were some personal friendships but not much networking. After they married, the Jung-Wien authors remained friends but went their own individual ways. There were no government subsidies, and the government did not honor artists with medals and financial awards.
Today the government's cultural policy is to support art and artists. They also generously bestow honors, and there is scarcely an Austrian author, who cannot list a number of medals, awards, subsidies and travel grants. Earlier publishers had to earn money on their books to stay in business. Today all publishers are subsidized. There are two main literary organizations dividing the writers: The traditional Vienna PEN Club, founded in the 1920s, and the more recent Grazer Autorenversammlung, founded by Alfred Kolleritsch around the Forum Stadtpark in 1960, to give authors refused membership in the Vienna PEN Club an association of their own, complete with a journal, manuskripte (1960), and abundant opportunities for readings and lectures. Other organizations like Die alte Schmiede, the Literaturhaus and the Österreichische Gesellschaft für Literatur provide further forums for readings and lectures, as does also the annual Steirischer Herbst festival in Klagenfurt and the Rauriser Literaturtage near Salzburg, where authors compete for an annual prize. Authors have much more public presence today than ever before through continuous media coverage of them and their works. Barbara Frischmuth, for example, was mentioned over 200 times in newspapers in the first six months of the year 2000. Jelinek and Menasse exceed that total easily today. Reviews on television by the great showman Marcel Reich-Ranicki, originally with his Literarisches Quartett and then solo, interviews on radio and television cultural programs along with magazine and newspaper reviews and interviews can propel new authors to the forefront of public attention almost overnight. Jelinek, Ransmayer, Schwab, and Köhlmeier are examples of this power of the media today. At times it is difficult to know where objective reporting ends and commercial interests begin, because the line in the reporting is so blurred. The same is true of television programming. The films are often blatant advertisements for tourism.
Scholars also play a role in building the careers of living authors now in a way that was never the case previously. They promote new authors by teaching their works in their classes, including them in M. A. and Ph. D. reading lists, publishing secondary works on them as well as interviews with them, inviting them to give readings at conferences and to writers-in-residence programs, and adopting them in the literary canon. The conception of scholarship has undergone a considerable change in recent times. Departments of literature used to insist that authors pass the test of time before researchers could become seriously engaged with them. Dissertations could not be written on living authors. Literary history was truly that; researchers normally waited a generation and at least until an author was dead, insuring that the life's works was complete, before undertaking an analysis and assessment.
Today scholars, pressured by the demand to publish, eagerly seize upon every new work and every new author as fast as they surface. No longer is there any wait for literature to become history, no delay to gain the perspective of time. The system benefits authors, who become known much more quickly than used to be the case, and also literary scholars, who can receive grants for their research, write quickly without being impeded by having to consult a great deal of secondary literature, and get rewarded with promotions, despite the fact that most of the findings are obsolete before they are published. For all its weaknesses, this hothouse, force-fed approach, which in a sense parallels the support to authors, does no real harm since our field of scholarship is self-correcting. Just as the majority of books being published today will fade away, so too will the secondary literature be replaced by the next generation of scholars. As always, the marketplace, the final arbiter of enduring literary reputation and significance, will pronounce the final judgment. In the real world authors live as long as people buy their books, and in the protected world of the universities as long as scholars teach them and write about them. In the university environment writers are evaluated according to the prevailing aesthetic standards (which, it might be added, are steadily deteriorating), rather than the commercial criterion of sales, and may be hailed as a nation's leading authors whether anyone beyond a few scholars reads them or not.
One concession today represents a major advance in scholarly thinking - trivial or popular literature, which the broad public buys, reads and enjoys and which was always spurned by academics precisely for that reason, is now being considered as a serious field deserving of investigation.
Form and style were still taken seriously around 1900. Writers, at least the good authors, devoted the time necessary to produce meaningful works of literature. They still regarded form and style as important matters, and, mindful of the tradition of Lessing, Goethe, Schiller and Grillparzer, considered writing a high calling that posed obligations on those so engaged. They wanted to entertain their readers, but at the same time to illuminate important aspects of life and the world to benefit them, just as their illustrious forbears did. Today form and style mean little, and the goal of writing popular books such as detective stories is endorsed by the leading writers. They can hardly be faulted for trying to achieve success in their lifetime by giving readers what they want rather than waiting for posthumous fame. It used to be regarded as the Austrian fate for artists of every kind to have to wait until they were dead before they were recognized. That is no longer the case. To attract readers in a highly competitive market, authors are resorting to employing the forms that good writers formerly eschewed. Elfriede Jelinek, for example, subtitles her latest work, Gier, an Unterhaltungsroman. It headed the best-seller list in Austria for many weeks, as did Haslinger's Opernball and now Das Vaterspiel, both popular novels. Krimis by Gerhard Roth such as Der See, Der Berg and Der Strom all made the best-seller list in Austria, as did also Doron Rabinovich's, Suche nach M, Gerald Szyszkowits', Mord an der Klagemauer as well as Lilian Faschinger's bouncy, slightly erotic Scheherazade and Magdelena Sünderin and Michael Köhlmeier's retellings of Greek legends, Michael Köhlmeiers Sagen des klassischen Altertums and biblical tales, Geschichten von der Bibel von der Erschaffung der Welt bis Josef in Ägypten. These works and most others show that authors today are willing to use popular forms to appeal to a wide audience of readers. The latest success of Barbara Frischmuth, for example, who for thirty years has turned out a book a year, putting her in the top rank of Austrian authors, is a garden book. Literary esteem and posthumous fame are nice, but strong sales during one's lifetime are better.
The theater has suffered more than the novel. Whereas the drama was king around 1900, followed by lyric poetry, the novel is by far the most predominant form today. The theater is still important, but the poetry has faded considerably. Many plays now are scarcely more than unilinear sketches, fleshed out with stage business. Thematic complexity and character development on the basis of gained insight are no longer serious considerations. Earlier authors employed épater les bourgeois to force audiences to react and hopefully to think. Current dramatists no longer seem to trust their ability to create persuasive, meaningful characters in situations that can engage the mind, they no longer seem to trust the word. Instead they seem to feel that they must try to rival television and film in assaulting audiences with sex, brutality and above all vulgarity to sell tickets.(23) Theater goers no longer see themselves and their society portrayed on the stage but mostly disturbed eccentrics such as one finds in Bernhard and Werner Schwab particularly. The theater is clearly no longer the people's university that it once was. Today the theater offers primarily a voyeuristic experience, as dysfunctional characters exhibit obnoxious, obscene, monomaniacal behavior. Often the characters do not talk, they shout, and the plays do not so much come to a logical conclusion as mercifully just end. In general, one views these characters of Bernhard, Bauer, Turrini, Jelinek, and Schwab without involvement: Their fates simply do not arouse concern and watching them brings no beneficial insight or edification, not to even mention the issue of entertainment. At least Bernhard and Schwab introduce a little humor through their exaggerations and clever linguistic formulations. Bernhard's Heldenplatz, which does have something to say, stands apart from the rest, and for this reason I consider it his best play.(24) It is noteworthy that Turrini's most unassuming, quietest play, Joseph und Maria, is proving to be his most popular and enduring drama. One dramatist who runs contrary to the above trend is Felix Mitterer, who, like Fritz Hochwälder used to do, still writes solid plays that deal with topics relevant to normal human experience and gives viewers something to think about rather than meaningless histrionics.
Lyric, which was very popular around 1900, when Rilke and Hofmannsthal reigned supreme, is virtually dead today. That is, many authors are still writing poetry, but for whatever reasons fewer people like to read poetry any more, causing publishers to avoid publishing it because they know that they will lose money with it. The novel, by contrast, is profitable because it finds more readers and also because publishers have no qualms about taking what amounts to a prose tale, printing it in large type, double spaced, and calling it a novel. But apart from this contemporary commercial exploitation, the novel today provides remarkable richness of theme and diversity of genre and setting. Handke and Friederike Mayröcker have specialized in novels that trace the workings of the mind, that reveal their inner life, Bernhard has portrayed eccentric characters, often monomaniacs obsessed by one idea, as did also Canetti in his one novel Die Blendung. Canetti won the Nobel prize in 1981, something not achieved by any author of the previous fin de siècle.
The literature today displays a wider variety of themes and settings than ever before, a topic that can only be sketched very briefly here. One of the most popular topics is Vergangenheitsbewältigung, after almost two generations of ignoring the Nazi past and the Holocaust. Some authors use the form of the generational confrontation between son and father ( Henisch, Die kleine Figur meines Vaters), or daughter and mother (Elisabeth Reichart, Februarschatten). Other authors include Erich Hackl, Sidonie, Joseph Haslinger, Das Vaterspiel, Peter Henisch, Der schwarze Peter, Marie-Therèse Kerschbaumer, Der weibliche Name des Widerstands, Robert Schindel, Gebürtig, which is currently being filmed, Menasse, Schubumkehr, Anna Mitgusch, Haus der Kindheit, Norbert Gstrein, Die englischen Jahre and Gerald Szyszkowits, Puntigam, all of which, among many others, deal with the political past, Heimat and exile. Under the heading Archive des Schweigens, for example, Gerhard Roth has written a series of seven novels showing the effects of the Austrian social and political past on the present. Jelinek has portrayed the dreariness of life in Vienna in the 1950s (Die Ausgesperrten), portrayed a generational conflict, which results in the daughter engaging in self-mutilation (Die Klavierspielerin, currently being filmed). Anna Mitgutsch's novel Die Züchtigung likewise deals with a pathological mother/daughter relationship. Usually she focuses on women who feel themselves driven to the fringes of society (ausgegrenzt) for one reason or another (Das andere Gesicht, Ausgrenzung, In fremden Städten). Frischmuth, who has produced nearly a book a year over her thirty-year career, has challenged the teaching curriculum of Catholic girls' schools (Die Klosterschule), portrayed the world of elves and fairies (Die Metamorphose der Sophie Silber), the impossibility of integrating into a new culture (Das Verschwinden der Schatten in der Sonne), employed classical myth (Demeter), has written often about family life and children (Die Ferienfamilie) as well as about the need for more tolerance for other ethnic groups (Kai oder die Liebe zu den Modellen and Die Schrift des Freundes). Robert Schneider's Schlafes Bruder, dealing with a musician who was born with a special attunement to nature, is a special story in itself. It was rejected by 24 publishers, before being accepted by a small house on the verge of bankruptcy. It then became the biggest seller of any contemporary book with over well over a million copies sold. In addition it has been made into a successful film and into an opera. Schneider continued this series, called Rheintalische Trilogie, with Die Luftängerin and Die Unberührten., based on the true situation of the sale of unwanted children in Vorarlberg as cheap labor in New York. Peter Rosei is best known for Von hier nach dort and Das schnelle Glück, both works set in the transitional period of the Wirtschaftswunder. The detective story has become very popular and with considerable success: Elfriede Jelinek's latest novel Gier has topped the bestseller list for seven weeks. Others that have been on the bestseller list recently include: Gerhard Roth, Der See and Der Berg, Josef Haslinger, Opernball and Das Vaterspiel, Peter Henisch, Der schwarze Peter and Anna Mitgutsch, Haus der Kindheit. Others have turned to the classical past: Köhlmeier made his reputation by retelling classical myths, which he related in Sunday morning radio broadcasts. He also wrote Telemach, a modernized version of the son's searching for his missing father Odysseus, and Kalypso, one adventure of Odysseus on his long journey home. Inge Merkel retold the story of Penelope in Eine ganz gewöhnliche Ehe, and Elfriede Czurda portrayed Diotima in Diotima oder die Differenz des Glücks. Exotic questing is found in Ransmayer's Das Land des Eises und der Finsternis, a powerful work describing an exploration voyage to St. Joseph's land in the far north, in Die letzte Welt, which involves a search for traces of Ovid, and in Morbus Kitihara..
Let me conclude with a quick comparison of reception in the U.S. Writers from the turn of the century such as Freud, Hofmannsthal, Kafka, Musil, Rilke and Schnitzler belong now to world literature. All of their works have been translated, some several times. The important thing is that the works have stayed in print in English since they were first translated. Others whose works remain available are Felix Salten, Joseph Roth, Hermann Broch, Gustav Meyrinck, Leo Perutz, Jura Soyfer and Manès Sperber. Up to 1916 there were three theaters in New York performing plays in German. Since that time plays in German have been pretty much ignored, except for Schnitzler's Reigen, which remains a perennial favorite and has been presented in English in every conceivable form from burlesque to Gene Kelley's dance interpretation without words, and Hofmannsthal's librettos for the Strauss operas. Today the reception of Austrian drama is virtually non-existent. To date there have been only two performances: Bernhard's Vor dem Ruhestand and Jura Soyfer's Broadway Melody, both productions underwritten by the Austrian Cultural Institute.
The best known contemporary authors in English translation whose works remain available are Ilse Aichinger, one of the most widely translated postwar authors, Ingeborg Bachmann, Thomas Bernhard, Elias Canetti, Paul Celan, Peter Handke, the most widely recognized of all contemporary Austrian writers in the USA, Elfriede Jelinek, Felix Mitterer, Christoph Ransmayr and Peter Turrini. There are more than 100 contemporary Austrian authors who are represented by one of more books in English at the present time, far more than there ever were at the previous turn of the century.
It is abundantly clear that in material terms more poorer people in Austria are better off today than was the case a hundred years ago. Indeed, almost all people have richer, better lives, all attributable to the values implemented a century earlier and now implemented into the society and culture in an in-depth manner not achieved then. Similarly, many more writers, artists, sculptors and architects can live from their works than was possible earlier. Despite the important role that film played at the beginning of the 20th century with such film pioneers as Anton and Luise Kolm with their partner Jakob Fleck, Sascha Kolowrat, Wien Film, and such leading directors as Michael Kertesz (in Hollywood Michael Curtis), Willi Forst and Alexander Korda, the industry is sadly neglected today, producing approximately ten feature films a year. However, the lack of feature films is more than compensated for by the increased number of films and documentaries for television. The once flourishing Rosenhügel studio now exists primarily by renting some of its space to ORF for television shows. While the literature and other arts do not equal the high niveau of the past fin de siècle, they make up in quantity what they lack in quality. Many more people have the opportunity to express their creativity under the present cultural policy, and the culture is immeasurably enriched for all citizens by the dissemination literature and culture through television and radio as well as through all the public readings, lectures and exhibits. Government support enables many more writers and artists to devote themselves to their art without the necessity of holding a regular job.
The only questionable aspect today concerns the enduring quality of the literature and the other arts. Speaking solely in terms of the literature, if people are still reading books a hundred years from now, I feel confident that many of the discerning will still enjoy and benefit from Schnitzler, Hofmannsthal, Kafka, Freud, Musil, and Rilke, whose works will remain in print as long as people read books at all. The question is how many of the contemporary works will still be in print a hundred years from now at the next fin de siècle. How many of the present authors are producing books, which have the significance and universality to continue to speak to future generations their joint verdict. The other major question is whether future authors will continue to create their works, using the same system of values implemented in the fin de siècle around 1900 as the authors of the Millenium have continued to do or will the concept of what it means to be a human being have changed?
© Donald G. Daviau (University of California, Riverside)
Inhalt / Table of Contents / Contenu: No.14
(1) Hermann Bahr, 1918 (Innsbruck, 1919), p. 289.
(2) Cf. Donald G. Daviau, "Introduction," Major Figures of Turn of the Century Austrian Literature (Riverside, CA: Ariadne Press, 1991), pp. i-lxiv.
(3) "Und wie das Stadtbild war das Leben, ästhetisch um jeden Preis, sogar um den Preis der Gesinnung. An der Spitze der sozialen Pyramide, die sich unter Umständen über die gottgewollten Standesunterschiede erhob, stand der Künstler, der Musiker, der Maler, der Dichter -- wenn er fürs Theater schrieb --, vor allem aber der Schauspieler." Raoul Auernheimer, Das Wirtshaus zur verlorenen Zeit (Wien: Verlag Ullstein und Co., 1948), pp. 68-69. Also: "Schönheit war alles und Politik herzlich wenig." Ibid, p. 112.
(4) Arthur Schnitzler, Aphorismen und Betrachtungen, ed. Robert O Weiss (Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer, 1967). See also Schnitzler's Tagebücher 1879-1931, ed. Werner Welzig (Wien: Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1987-2000), ten volumes. Cf. also Clive Roberts, Arthur Schnitzler and Politics (Riverside, CA: Ariadne Press, 1989).
(5) Donald G. Daviau, "Hermann Bahr, Joseph Nadler und das Barock," in: Vierteljahresschrift des Adalbert Stifter-Instituts, Vol. 35, Issue 3/4 (1986), pp. 171-190.
(6) Cf. Peter Turrini, Es ist ein gutes Land. Texte zu Anlässen (Wien: Europaverlag, 1986); Mein Österreich. Reden, Polemiken, Aufsätze (Darmstadt: Luchterhand, 1988); Liebe Mörder. Von der Gegenwart, dem Theater und dem lieben Gott (München: Luchterhand, 1996). Cf. also Nicholas Meyerhofer, "Peter Turrini as Political Writer," in Jutta Landa, ed. I Am Too Man People. Peter Turrini -- Playwright, Poet, Essayist, (Riveride, CA: Ariadne Press, 1998), pp. 30-43.
(7) Robert Menasse, Überbau und Untergrund. Die sozialpartnerschaftliche Ästhetik. Essays zum österreichischen Geist (Wien: Sonderzahl, 1990); Das Land ohne Eigenschaften. Essay zur österreichischen Identität (Wien: Sonderzahl, 1992); Hysterien und andere historische Irrtümer (Wien: Sonderzahl, 1996); Dummheit ist machbar. Begleitende Essays zum Stillstand der Republik (Wien: Sonderzahl, 1999), Erklär mir Österreich (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2000).
(8) Reported in News, Number 8, 2001, p. 132 and Number 9, 2001, p. 172.
(9) Cf. News, No. 47, 2002, pp. 188-190.
(10) Cf. "Die Germanistik als nationale Literaturwissenschaft ist überholt," in: Der Standard, 16/17 September 2000, Kommentar Section, p. 40.
(11) Donald G. Daviau, "Biedermeier -- The Other Face of the Vormärz," in: The Other Vienna. The Culture of Biedermeier Austria (Wien: Verlag Lehrer, 2002), pp. 11-28.
(12) Cf. Donald G. Daviau, "Stefan Zweig, Model and Victim of the fin-de-siècle Lifestyle," in: Mark Gelber, ed. Stefan Zweig -- Exil und Suche nach dem Weltfrieden (Riverside, CA.: Ariadne Press, 1995).
(13) "Cf. Donald G. Daviau, "Raoul Auernheimer," in: John M. Spalek and Joseph Strelka, eds. Deutsche Exilliteratur seit 1933, Vol. 1, Kalifornia (Bern und München: Francke Verlag, 1976), pp. 234-246.
(14) Cf. Reinhard Lamer, Das Ausseer Land (Wien, Graz, Köln: Styria Verlag, 1998).
(15) Karl Kraus, Die Fackel (Vienna: April 1899), Vol. 1, No. 1, p. 1.
(16) Cf. Donald G. Daviau, Understanding Hermann Bahr, (St. Ingbert: Röhrig Verlag, 2002).
(17) Reported in Der Standard, 11 November 2000, Album Section, p. 9.
(18) Reported in News, Number 14, 2001, p. 196.
(19) Cf. Donald G. Daviau, "Karl Kraus's Die Unüberwindlichen," in: Maske und Kothurn, Vol. 47, Nos. 1-2 (2002), pp. 33-44.
(20) "Osterweiterung für EU-Bürger kein Thema," in: Der Standard, 28/29 October 2000, p. 7.
(21) "Der österreichische Wirt, die österreichische Wirtsgesellschaft opfert den Tourismus nicht nur die Familie, die Zeit, die Seele, sondern auch vor allem die österreichische Landschaft," in: "Die touristische Bananenrepublik," Mein Österreich. Reden, Polemiken, Aufsätze (Darmstadt: Luchterhand, 1988), p.14.
(22) Cf. "Herr Haider und der Jude Ariel," in: Der Standard, 19 March, 2001, Kommentar Section p. 23.
(23) Cf. Jutta Landa, Bürgerliches Schocktheater. Entwicklungen im österreichischen Drama der sechziger und siebziger Jahre (Frankfurt am Main: Athenaum, 1988). The theater today has not improved from the situation she describes then. If anything, it has deteriorated further.
(24) Donald G. Daviau, "Thomas Bernhard's Heldenplatz," in: Monatshefte, Vol. 83, No. 1 (1991), pp. 29-44.
For quotation purposes - Zitierempfehlung:
Donald G. Daviau (Riverside/California): Austria at the Turn of the Century 1900 and at the Millenium. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 14/2002.