- Wirklichkeit als Versuchsanordnung: Postavantgardistisches Schreiben in der österreichischen Gegenwartsliteratur des Postmillenniums am Beispiel von Thomas Glavinic by Nora Boeckl
In a recent advertisement for a public reading, Thomas Glavinic is described as Austria’s “enfant terrible.” Critics find his writing and public persona equal parts vexing and fascinating. He blurs autobiography with fiction and returns repeatedly to a narrow bandwidth of topics but each time with a compelling new story to tell. Glavinic is also a prolific writer, publishing at least one novel or book-length essay every one or two years since 1998, in addition to many shorter essays and contributions to a variety of online platforms. His most recent novel, Der Jonas-Komplex, was released in March 2016.
Wirklichkeit als Versuchsanordnung, Nora Boeckl’s dissertation, completed under the direction of Professor Andrea Bartl (University of Bamberg), appeared soon after the first essay collection devoted to the work of Glavinic, Zwischen Alptraum und Glück: Thomas Glavinics Vermessungen der Gegenwart (2014, edited by Bartl and others). Boeckl also contributed to the volume of essays with an article entitled “Verlust aller Sicherheiten: Zur Gesellschaft sanalyse in Thomas Glavinics Roman Lisa.”
Although the book is well researched and well written in places, Boeckl’s contribution feels nonetheless like a lengthy footnote to the essay collection Zwischen Alptraum und Glück. Each of the essays in the collection generated a fine intellectual snap and crackle that is lacking in Boeckl’s book. Perhaps I should have attended more closely to the decidedly subordinate role Glavinic plays in the book’s subtitle and not expected too much analysis of his works. In fact, the first three-quarters of the book are devoted to a thoroughly researched theoretical and contextual apparatus supported by two ponderous pillars: the characteristics of Austrian literature distinct from German literature, including an overview of trends in post–World War II Austrian literature and the conditions of the book publishing industry in Austria in comparison to Germany, and a discussion of the characteristics of post–avant-garde literature. While the author’s summary of the main arguments relevant to each of the two context issues was interesting to read, the first three-quarters of the book felt, on the one hand, underdeveloped because the two questions she wishes to address—Is there an Austrian literature? What defines post–avant-garde literature?—could have been the subject of individual books. On the [End Page 184] other hand, devoting three-quarters of the book to these two questions creates a very top-heavy theoretical section with comparatively little room remaining to discuss Glavinic’s writing.
Boeckl repeatedly promises the reader that she will eventually analyze the works of Glavinic in the context of each of these three topics, but the fi-nal quarter of the book, devoted to a discussion of four of Glavinic’s novels (Die Arbeit der Nacht, Das Leben der Wünsche, Das größere Wunder, and Das bin doch ich), only tenuously refers back to the context issues that were so thoroughly developed in the first three-quarters of the book. This is not to say that the section devoted to literary analysis was devoid of interesting content; some of Boeckl’s insights allowed me to see Glavinic’s work in a new light, and certainly the concept of “Wirklichkeit als Versuchsanordnung,” the book’s main title, seems tailored to Glavinic’s playful blending of autobiographical and intertextual references outside of and between his novels, and other texts: Glavinic’s literary approach “gleicht [. . .] einer Versuchsanorderung [. . .], in der die Figuren gewissermaßen unter der Voraussetzung eines Spielaufbaus, [. . .] in extreme Ausgangssituationen gesetzt werden und beobachtet wird, was mit ihnen geschieht. Eine dafür typische narrative Strategie ist, dass die Figuren merkwürdig unnahbar und unfassbar bleiben, man erfährt im Grunde sehr wenig über sie, ihre inneren Gefühlswelten und emotionalen Zustände sind nicht zugänglich.” Boeckl links this observation back to characteristics of Austrian post–avant-garde literature, but the discussion of this theoretical concept comes exceedingly late in...