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  • Wiener Moderne: Diskurse und Rezeption in Russland by Gennady Vasilyev
  • Katherine Arens
Gennady Vasilyev, Wiener Moderne: Diskurse und Rezeption in Russland. Literaturwissenschaft 47. Berlin: Frank & Timme, 2015. 444pp.

Russian Germanist Gennady Vasilyev, who teaches in Nizhny Novgorod after researching and teaching at many locations in Western Europe, is representative of the new generation of German and Austrian studies in the ever-expanding concept of Europe, bringing a cosmopolitan view to cultural studies of literary eras and aesthetics. Wiener Moderne is the fruit of such an interesting mind, a study of the reception of fin-de-siècle Austrian cultural icons in Russia. Even more important is the fact that this “reception” study starts with a detailed comparison of scholarly habits of representing the era, then moves on to specific defining assumptions about the era’s philosophy, to figures who played roles in both cultural and intellectual traditions, and [End Page 121] then to certain discourses and genres shared by both countries, before concluding with a set of reception studies defined more narrowly. The sensibility that Vasilyev brings to the project about the importance of method guiding research is a model for projects linking newer cultural studies analyses with traditional definitions of cultural movements.

The project’s introduction works through what scholars in Austria and in Russia actually mean when they refer to the “Viennese Modern” and then states its own agenda clearly. The first section is an extraordinarily useful review of the literature that ties literary-cultural history not only to secondary works that have set the scholarly agenda but also to available corpora of material, describing what types of texts and philosophical assumptions lie at the basis of these classifications. The second section works through what comparison means in an era of New Historicism and cultural studies; its value beyond the immediate context lies in its juxtapositions between theoretical work from multiple scholarly traditions, presented with careful attention to the kind of work facilitated. Neither section is comprehensive, but they offer critical insights into a set of tropes from cultural history scholarship that still pervade much of the scholarship. It is noteworthy that each chapter also carries its own bibliography forward.

Chapter 1 turns toward the forms of representation in Austria at the time, using as a reference point the Russian artist’s colony associated with the Modern and the themes they share with the Austrians. In subsequent sections, he takes up each of the discourse tropes in more detail in order to reconstruct the strategies of representation in the era. Most essential is the way that each trope is also contextualized in the secondary literature that has set up the terminology. His repertoire includes: perception, Decadence, Mach’s discussion of “spirit,” Impressionism and Jugendstil as applied forms of representation, discourses about “the Jews,” Judaism, psychoanalysis as representing an inner world, and language criticism and theater as presentation of the outer world. The period’s reference points are always reconstructed, and Otto Weininger, Georg Simmel, Fritz Mauthner, and Wagner are given special discussions to make the case of how they figure in period discussions and in the scholarship that presents them to us.

The second chapter is dedicated to making an inventory of the discourses of modernity, defining central concepts, and locating them in iconic texts of the era. Creativity, Jewishness, love/death (eros/thanatos), narcissism, and dandyism are examined and exemplified in literature from both Austria and [End Page 122] Russia, offering careful comparisons about how the representations work in the two countries, using representative authors for examples (notably, Vasily Rozanov, Fyodor Sologub, Mikhail Artsybashev, and Richard von Schaukal).

Genres of the modern era are the focus of the study’s third chapter, starting with lyric poetry, one-act plays, pantomime, poems in prose, novellas, essays, and diaries. In each case, significant secondary literature about the prime examples of each genre is placed next to discussions of the text. Vasilyev’s goal is to provide a “poetics of culture” (251) that will help to construct the cultural landscape of his modern era.

The fourth chapter takes up the detailed reception of Austrian moderns in Russia, with a focus on how they are perceived and received there...


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