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Journal of the History of Sexuality 15.1 (2006) 132-135

Reviewed by
Britta McEwen
Creighton University
Symptoms of Modernity: Jews and Queers in Late-Twentieth-Century Vienna. By Matti Bunzl. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004. Pp. 304. $60.00 (cloth); $24.95 (paper).

In Symptoms of Modernity Matti Bunzl has taken on questions of sexuality, minority status, and citizenship in ways that underline Central Europe's difficult passage through the twentieth century. This exhilarating book, based in post–World War II history, coolly investigates prejudice and points to possible future cases of political exclusion for Europe.

At the delicate heart of Bunzl's inquiry lie answers to that uncomfortable question, What happened to Vienna? How does one explain the transformation of this vibrant metropolis (and capital of sexology) at the beginning of the twentieth century to a conservative museum-city trapped in the amber of tourism at century's end? Bunzl very clearly links this metamorphosis [End Page 132] to the postwar legal status of Jews and queers, which closed off their participation in the public sphere. Yet just as Symptoms of Modernity reveals these disappointing municipal secrets, it also celebrates the "other Austria" many of us believe in. This storied city, made famous by Carl Schorske in his 1981 study, Fin-de-siècle Vienna: Culture and Politics, maintains those finest qualities of the imperial past: it is enlivened by artistic contributions to its hothouse culture, just in its treatment of peoples and communities, cosmopolitan and European. Bunzl relocates this "other Austria" in Vienna's new status as a postnational city within the European Union.

Symptoms of Modernity is written as a comparative ethnography that draws heavily on legal and cultural history. Rather than making two case studies, though, the author fruitfully explores antisemitism and homosexuality side by side. Bunzl's thesis rests in Central Europe's troubled experience of nationalism. The German-speaking nation-state, he writes, "was invented in the late nineteenth century as an ethnically homogenous and intrinsically masculinist entity, a narrative whose cultural coherence depended on the systematic abjection of Jews and queers" (ix). Germany, through its long process of coming to terms with Nazism and the Holocaust, transitioned out of this model of nationalism faster than Austria, which claimed its status as "first victim" of Nazi oppression in the immediate postwar years. Bunzl persuasively shows how this victimhood status for the nation as a whole depended on denying the claims of real victims of the Holocaust, Jews and queers.

As "symptoms of modernity" Jews and queers suffered under legal limitations and/or persecution in Austria until the mid-1970s. Bunzl rightfully stresses that it was not until the late 1990s that Jews and queers were able to claim meaningful participation in the city's public sphere. He offers a close read of several pivotal moments in this process, culminating with the 1996 success of both the Jewish Museum's exhibit Today in Vienna and the first Rainbow Parade. Throughout his study Bunzl illustrates change via personal testimony, damning public opinion polls ("Do you believe Austria would be a better country if there weren't any Jews living here?"), legal practices, advertising, and a particularly thorough reading of the popular press. The author consistently finds wonderful juxtapositions to illustrate the nature of change on the municipal level. One sterling example from the Europride festival of 2001 contrasts the adornment of Vienna's iconic red streetcars with rainbow flags to the recent past: "In 1988, the city's advertisement and transit authorities had categorically refused to mount posters . . . that carried the slogan 'Lesbians are always and everywhere.' In 2001, Vienna's entire public transportation system constructed the city as a positively queer place" (200).

Real progress for Jews and queers, Bunzl argues, was made only when groups begin to demand a positive and critical public presence in the city and when the state began to reverse its relationship with both populations. [End Page 133] The former development is chronicled in part 2...


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